Recently, there have been social media comments regarding permit fees in the City of Milford, especially when it comes to Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). These are dwellings that are either constructed on the property of another residence or an already existing structure that is converted to a living quarter. According to some residents who are planning ADUs on their property, permit fees are as much as $10,000, a cost that many feel is higher than it needs to be to add another dwelling on their property. However, according to Rob Pierce, City Planner, about 40 percent of those fees are costs required by Kent County.
“We are a contract user for Kent County, no matter where your house is in town. If you flush your toilet, it gets processed and treated at Kent County’s treatment plant by Meding’s,” Pierce said. “So, we are obligated by our contractor user agreement with the county to collect the impact fees for the county based on their ordinance. And there are rules say, any dwelling it could be an efficiency apartment, it could be a house, it could be a trailer. It’s all one EDU. And so, to keep things simple, historically, the city has followed the same guidelines as the county. So, we’re not collecting ours at a different rate or calculation than the county.”
The average permit cost for any new structure in the city is around $8,200, according to Pierce. However, there are other charges involved. To create an ADU, electric must be upgraded, water and sewer lines must be connected, all with additional costs. The cost for water and sewer backfill are $35 each. The cost of electric inspections are usually included in the estimate given by the electrical contractor as they must have inspectors come in to be sure everything is done properly. Pierce explained that some residents may think that an ADU will have lower costs than building a completely new structure, but this may not be the case.
“You can say “I have a detached garage in my yard. I can build a new accessory dwelling unit in my backyard.” But there’s still an impact on the system of a new family living on your property,” Pierce said. “So, even if I took an old house that was too big for one family and I got council to approve it to make it into two apartments, I would go from one to two. They’d have to pay impact fees for that improvement.”
According to Pierce, the city has been handling permit fees in this manner for more than 20 years, but because ADUs were just added to code, there were more questions about the cost. Often, when it comes to ADUs, the homeowner is handling the renovation themselves and they may not be as aware as professional contractors what the fees are to construct the new dwelling unit. Pierce also pointed out that many municipalities do not permit ADUs. The number of bathrooms or bedrooms a residence will have has no bearing on the impact fees either, Pierce explained.
“If I have if I have a household that’s got seven bedrooms and seven bathroom the fees are a little less than $8,000 in impact fees. If you build a one bedroom ADU, the impact fees are $8,000. If we got down to the point where we had to count every bathroom in every house, it becomes difficult,” Pierce said. “That little old lady may not use as much as a larger family. The county doesn’t have water service, they don’t meter water use. It is based on the Sewer Commission because the way we bill our customers is we measure the water service consumption. And we assume that’s how much they’re flushing down their toilets. At the county, they don’t have that ability. So, the only one living in the house pays the same sewer bill as the family of 13 living next door. And is that right? I don’t know. But it’s the only way to do it though.”
Pierce explained that there are concerns with changing the code so that more bathrooms require higher fees as people may not be honest, something that already happens with commercial buildings.
“Commercial is based on the number of toilets, sinks, floor drains, urinals. drinking fountains. We have to add them all up. And we get the state plumbing office who administers the plumbing code, and they go out and inspect things,” Pierce said. “We make sure that they have their approval ahead of time. Because they’ll sneak fixtures in on us because one fixture is probably two grand in impact fees.”
This means that impact fees for commercial buildings can be difficult when people do not understand how they work.
“We’ve had the same discussion from people that develop apartment buildings, like a three bedroom apartment is assessed the same impact fee as a one bedroom apartment,” Pierce said. “And they’re like, “well, we should get a discount or prorated rate.” Well, the ordinance isn’t really set up that way. Council can certainly change it if they’d like, same thing with ADUs.”
Some of those who comment about permit fees are likely hoping to bring awareness in an effort to get council or management to present something council to modify the fees, but that could be difficult with the way the fee structure is set up to meet county requirements. The city could adjust their fees, but the 40 percent that goes to the county cannot be changed unless Kent County Levy Court chooses to change it, something Pierce felt was unlikely.
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