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Woodstock approves lowering impact fees

WOODSTOCK – City Council members Tuesday night unanimously voted to lower impact fees, saying developers would see the reduced rates as a small but practical reason to choose Woodstock and lauding the move’s symbolic implications.

The Woodstock City Council also voted, 6-1, to allow those paying impact fees to defer payments one year or until a certificate of occupancy is received, whichever comes first.

Impact fees aim to charge residential developers for the equivalent fiscal impact that their new residents will have on services such as schools, parks, libraries and streets. The fees are based in part on land values, which haven’t been updated in the ordinance since 2003.

The reduction means 23 to 29 percent cuts to the fees for nearly all kinds of residences, which boil down to about $1,200 in savings for a one-bedroom apartment. A builder of a house with four bedrooms or more will save about $3,700.

Councilman Mike Turner called impact fees a tax and said any break would help developers, who already face McHenry County’s high property taxes.

“This is not a silver bullet, nowhere close,” Turner said. “But it is both a reasonable assumption with some data to back it up, and a bit of a gut check that says lower taxes on houses may produce more building activity than we’ve seen previously.”

He added that both reduced fees and the ability to defer them provide an added benefit – their appearance.

“It’s a small benefit as it relates to cash flow for someone,” he said of the deferral. “The subjective measure: it sounds good.”

The vote came after about an hour of discussion, with the council hearing from five members of the public – one strongly opposed, three real estate agents in favor, and a resident who felt the council should reimburse those who’ve paid impact fees in the last few years to align with the change.

“If the narrative is that you think reducing impact fees will bring additional development to our town, I urge you to really get the data to support that,” said Molly Oakford, who opposed the decision.

Some city officials have said the change is only fair – bringing land values more in line with the current market. Jim Kastner, Planning and Zoning administrator, has said the change makes the city more “legally defensible.”

But much of Tuesday’s conversation centered on how prospective developers would view the lower fees.

Casey Meyers, managing broker at Prudential First Realty in Woodstock, said the change on its own is probably not enough to bring much growth.

“I applaud the diligent approach taken here and I wholeheartedly agree,” she said. “I just don’t want anyone to be disillusioned.”

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