Developer appeals county application of impact fees

TEGA CAY -- The developer of a Tega Cay retirement community wants the courts to give the project a pass on school impact fees.

The developer of Stonecrest Villas, a primarily 55-and-older community, has filed an appeal with the 16th Circuit Court of Common Pleas to the York County Council's decision to collect impact fees from the community.

The developer, Fankhauser Property Group, argues that the residents don't strain the schools, but the council said an exemption could bring similar development -- and children -- to the area. Council members were worried that allowing this community to skip paying $225,000 in impact fees, which help offset the cost of growth in the district, could set a dangerous precedent.

The Villas, at the intersection of Dam Road and S.C. 160, is in the same complex as the Tega Cay Wal-Mart. The community opened in 2006 and more than two-thirds of the 90 residences have been sold starting at $190,000 each, said Brock Fankhauser, spokesman for the developer.

The Villas qualify as housing for older persons under federal law with 80 percent of residents ages 55 and older. Fankhauser said no school-age children currently reside in the units.

Because Stonecrest Villas doesn't increase the demand for school facilities, it shouldn't have to pay the fee put in place to help the district deal with growth, said Daniel Unumb, attorney for the development.

"We believe that requiring this older persons' development to pay the fees is unfair and does not comply with the law," Unumb said Tuesday.

The York County Council unanimously rejected the development's request for exemption from the fees in January. The appeal to the council came after county staff had determined the development wasn't exempt from paying the fees. Though the school district receives the proceeds from impact fees, York County collects the fees and turns them over to the district and has the discretion to grant waivers.

Fort Mill is the only district in the state with the right to charge the one-time fees on new housing units. A 1996 ordinance established the local fees just before the state eliminated school districts' rights to charge them.

An appeal to the courts, filed in March, says the council committed six errors of fact and law when they decided the development has to pay these fees.

"This is not about people seeking to avoid paying their fair share of costs of schools," Unumb told the council in January. "This case is about an application of the law on impact fees."

Michael Kendree, assistant county attorney, said York County is expected to respond to the appeal by next week. He referred questions to County Attorney Melvin McKeown, who could not be reached for comment.

S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster recently issued an opinion about the validly of York County's impact fees.

Development impact fees for schools were banned by a 1999 state ruling. Until the courts explain the grandfathering policies of the rule, York County's fees will be presumed valid, the February opinion states. But McMaster recommended the courts judge whether changes in 2003 and 2005 to the county's impact fee ordinance are constitutional.

These ordinances eliminated waivers of the impact fees for retirement and low-income housing.

Since impact fees were enacted in 1996, the number of students in the Fort Mill district has more than doubled. The $2,500 per housing unit fee helps offset school needs created by additional students and can be used for capital projects to offset bonds or lower taxes.