What is an expedite fee, and how do they impact new developments?
Mar 29, 2019 09:33AM
● By Bill Hardesty
One of many construction projects in South Salt Lake City is the Liberty Crossing townhome-style apartments being built between Main and State streets. (Bill Hardesty/City Journals)
By Bill Hardesty |[email protected]
When is a fee not a fee? When it is a expedite fee. This is a fee routinely paid by developers to help the city move their project through the city approval process. It is common for cities to charge this fee and to developers it is part of the cost of doing business.
“It is not a fee. It pays for actual costs,” Hannah Vickery, deputy city attorney, reminded the South Salt Lake City Council in a recent meeting.
The use of the expedite fee has been discussed much in city council and planning commission meetings. Members of both bodies have voiced concern that the fee is one of the stumbling blocks for community-focused projects like the Salt Lake County Library or the Tracy Aviary. The opposite is true.
How it works
An expedite fee does not work like the FASTPASS at Disneyland. It does not move a developer to the head of the line, but rather a developer can move their project out of line and create a new line.
Currently, South Salt Lake City’s Planning Division is processing more than 18 projects involving conditional use permits, ordinance changes, and zoning changes— the result of a strong economy. All this work is done by two planners. In the past, a small staff worked for the city because the number of development requests was much lower than now. Not only are application numbers higher, the projects are more complex requiring multiple steps including general plan changes, zone changes, and amendment to Title 17 (what you can put on a property). Each of these steps requires a great amount of time by the small planning division staff.
This added work results in a backlog of work and projects get caught in the approval jam. By applying the expedite fee, the city can hire third-party engineers to evaluate the requests. This allows projects to move forward to the planning commission, if needed, or be approved administratively faster. All work completed by third-party vendors are subject to the planning division oversight.
Another way to look at the current project list is like the shopping rush during the holidays. Stores bring on temporary employees to handle the large amount of volume and, when the rush is over, the store goes back to its former staff size. Currently, South Salt Lake City is experiencing a development rush, but like all rushes, it will end. By using the expedite fee, the planning division can hire additional help without increasing long-term employee count and running the risk and cost of layoffs later.
Expedite fee and the library
Regarding the library proposed for part of the remaining Granite High School property, an expedite fee was never charged to the Salt Lake County as some have indicated. Salt Lake County Library is not the applicant. Wasatch Residential Group, proposing to build 113 townhomes on part of the property, is the applicant. An expedite fee was charged to Wasatch Residential Group and a verbal agreement to pay was made. However, Wasatch Residential Group has yet to pay the fee holding out until a zoning change allowing the high-density housing is approved.
Mayor Cherie Wood directed her staff in February to fast track the project in the absence of the expedite fee.
In a blog post on SSLC.com posted on March 5, the Mayor said,
“As Mayor of South Salt Lake and as a clear advocate for a new county library in our community, I feel the need to address the flurry of rumors and blatant misinformation about the status of the Granite Library. My entire administration and I are working for a new library for South Salt Lake – and we will get a library for South Salt Lake.
“It’s important to note that this planning process is unprecedented and complicated, requiring the oversight of our planning, legal and public safety staff. We have two talented planners on staff managing hundreds of millions of dollars of development projects in South Salt Lake. I want to thank them for navigating this unique process.”