By Katie Fallon

Sandy Springs held the first meeting of the city’s Impact Fee Advisory Committee (IFAC) Feb. 28 to introduce the members to their responsibilities over the next several months.

The seven-member team met with a variety of city government representatives, including Mayor Eva Galambos and Community Development Deputy Director Vann McNeill, to chart the committee’s course as part of the city’s overall Comprehensive Plan. McNeill is also the project manager for the Comprehensive Plan planning team.

Members of the IFAC include Donna Gathers, executive director of the Sandy Springs Business Association, J. David Nickles, Joel J. Griffin, William F. Gannon, Neal L. Nodvin, Seth G. Weissman and Patrick Dennis.

Authorization for implementing an impact fee program comes, in part, through the Capital Improvements Element (CIE) of the Comprehensive Plan. The CIE includes a list of projects eligible for capital funding through an impact fee program.

The city’s impact fee ordinance will cover monetary payments imposed on developers as a condition of development approval to pay for a proportional share of the cost of the city’s system improvements needed to serve new growth and development. The city’s impact fees will only apply to new development and could not be applied retroactively.

Jerry Weitz, whose firm Weitz and Associates is the lead consultant for the Comprehensive Plan, addressed the committee with the purpose and process of developing an impact fee program.

“Growth should pay its own way,” Weitz said. “Growth creates a need for new facilities.”

Weitz said Sandy Springs’ capital improvements could be financed through impact fees in addition to general obligation bonds, the city’s capital improvements budget, a SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) or federal and state grants. He said because of the city’s relatively short existence, impact fees would be a proper funding source. “They have to be justified as benefiting new development,” Weitz said.

Weitz said the city’s first draft of an impact fee ordinance would be due along with the first Comprehensive Plan draft on April 9. The plan has to be passed before the ordinance and the city council must hold two public hearings before passing the ordinance.

One of the hardest parts of developing the program, Weitz said, will be ensuring it is equitably applied. Likewise, Galambos said the committee’s task would not be easy.

“This is a very sensitive job,” Galambos said. “Designing an impact fee ordinance may be more difficult than a tree ordinance. It has to represent equality.”

The mayor was referring to the contentious passing of the city’s new tree ordinance at its Feb. 6 council meeting. The group did not take council member Karen Meinzen McEnerny’s suggestions, as well as residents’, to increase the residential tree canopy requirements and reduce the diameter of trees that can be cut down without a permit.

Mayor Galambos also cautioned the IFAC that, even after months of hard work, their ordinance may not be passed as they intended even though their specific expertise outweighs the expertise of city council members.

“It is advice and it could get changed,” the mayor said.

Similarly, Community Development Director Nancy Leathers said the ordinance will not cover all of the costs of the effects of development.

“Impact fees are not the end-all, be-all of financing improvements,” Leathers said.