Coldwater sees increase in fees for rental housing, zoning, soil erosion

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The Coldwater city council has started the process to raise fees for rental housing inspections and for soil erosion and sediments control on projects within its limits.

The council delayed fee hikes, site-plan reviews, special land-use permit reviews, rezoning and building variance reviews, to obtain additional information and explore options.

Debra Sikorski-Bernath, neighborhood services director, said fees for rental housing have not increased from the basic $5 since the ordinance and program was enacted in 1992.

“The $5 per inspection fee is not high enough to come close to offsetting the costs of the inspection," Sikorski-Bernath said.

The fee, in line with other area cities, would go to $50 for one unit and $5 per unit for additional units at a project. That fee also covers a second inspection if issues are found.

If issues are not corrected, a third inspection would cost $75, and any thereafter would cost $100 each. Rental units must be inspected every two years.

The resolution approving the increases was passed along with one raising fees for erosion control. That was necessary after building/code enforcement officer Ken Fickle retired then came back as an independent contractor. He will continue to do building inspections with Spartan Inspections for electrical, and SAFEbuilt for plumbing and mechanical.

Because of these professional service contracts, Sikorski-Bernath said, the current fees do not recoup the city’s costs for soil erosion. On building projects, the city is required to monitor soil erosion and sedimentation under the federal Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.

Sikorski-Bernath said only an engineer or a state certified inspector may conduct the administration and review for the state-required SESC permitting process. Fickle is certified.

The $50 fee will rise to $500. There is a pre-permit inspection, monthly inspection, inspections after any major rain event and a final inspection required. That fee includes will include engineering review, a one-hour internal review and six on-site inspections.

Often visible for erosion control are small, plastic materials skirting building sites, staked up to prevent soil from washing into storm drains or ditches.

As for site plan, special use permits, zoning board of appeal variances, rezoning and historic district permits, Sikorski-Bernath said the average cost for required publications alone is $297.

"At present, the city also pays for the costs of mailing of required notices to neighboring properties," she said.

Staff could find no record of when those fees were adopted. A review of the costs shows the current fees do not come close to covering the publication and mailing costs, or any administrative time involved, Sikorski-Bernath said.

She recommends the current site plan review fee increase from $125 to $400; special land use permit fee from $125 to $500; ZBA variance fee from $30 to $350, and rezoning fees from $175 to $350. Historic district fee would remain no-cost.

Mayor Tom Kramer questioned the ZBA fees.

“These are often citizen related for smaller projects," Kramer said.

City planning board member Dean Walrack said those must go to a public hearing with all legal notifications. Walrack said these often come from enforcement actions or where the land cannot be used because of on-site limitations.

Site plans and special-use permits often have major impact on property and adjacent land, Walrack noted.

Council member Jim Knaack noted there is a difference between small projects and major ones. He asked if there could be a different smaller fee for residential projects.

“My concern is charging so much to a homeowner with a lower value home," Knaack said.

Council member Mike Beckwith said a public service is "not a profit-making operation.

"I think we have a responsibility to provide a public service," Beckwith said.

Staff members will come back with further review and suggestions.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Reporter: Coldwater sees increase in rental housing, zoning, soil erosion fees

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