April 09, 2020

LURC considers raising fees for territories plans

Developers of larger projects in Maine’s Unorganized Territory could face steeper administrative fees in the future under a proposal pending before the Land Use Regulation Commission.

LURC staff are seeking authorization from the commission’s governing board to update the fees charged to applicants planning to build in the Unorganized Territory. Commission members are expected to vote whether to initiate a new rule-making process on the fees during a LURC meeting in Caribou today.

Staff are recommending that LURC move away from the flat-fee schedule that charges just $75 for applications for either building an addition to a small house or constructing a 10,000-square-foot mansion.

Likewise, the current rate structure charges applicants for commercial developments just $325 regardless of whether they are adding to an existing development or planning a new large-scale business complex.

Instead, the current proposal calls for the imposition of “base fees” plus additional charges tied to the amount of development being proposed.

For instance, new home permit applicants would be charged a $200 base fee plus 40 cents per square foot of the structure footprint and 4 cents per square foot of disturbed areas. Road permits would cost a base fee of $200 plus additional charges ranging from 10 cents to 30 cents per linear foot.

The fee for subdivision permit applications would go from the current $300 per lot flat fee to a $1,500 base fee plus $500 per lot. Charges for most other LURC services, such as advisory rulings and zoning changes, would also increase significantly.

LURC staff said the new schedule is intended to create a more equitable system.

“Those with larger and more intensive, and typically more complex and staff time-consuming applications, will be required to pay a fee more commensurate with the proposed development,” staff wrote in a memorandum accompanying the proposed fee schedule.

Catherine Carroll, LURC’s director, said the commission had gone to the flat-fee system years ago after encountering problems with a sliding-fee system based on the cost of construction. But development pressure – and, in particular, the increase in larger projects – has made the flat-fee system unfair, she said

The LURC staff proposal also would charge a $5,000 base fee plus $25 for each developed acre in a “concept plan.”

In addition, developers would have to reimburse the state for the cost of public hearings related to their applications.

LURC’s director already has the power to designate especially large developments as “extraordinary projects” if deemed to “significantly impair” staff time or require excessive costs. Developers of such projects will be billed for the actual costs of the review.

Plum Creek Timber Co.’s concept plan to build nearly 1,000 houses and two resorts around Moosehead Lake has been designated as an extraordinary project. LURC has already billed Plum Creek more than $260,000 so far for its concept plan review.

“If trends stay the way they have been, we can expect to see a significant jump in revenues from these fees,” Carroll said.

Money generated from the new fees, if approved, will continue to go to the General Fund rather than directly to LURC. With Plum Creek’s and other significant projects on the horizon, Carroll said she expects to see more support in the Legislature to reinstate LURC positions lost during budget cuts several years ago.

The Legislature will have final say over the proposed fees.

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