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Fees may soon be stopped
Commission floats 2-year grace period
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In an effort to stimulate the local economy, the Dawson County commission has proposed doing away with impact fees on new development for up to two years.


The measure would give developers a 12-month window to submit applications and begin construction. They would then have another 12 months to finish their projects before the fees would kick in.


Two public hearings are required before the county can implement the change, which would involve lowering the impact fee rate to zero. The meetings are set for May 7 and 21.


Collected on new development, impact fees help offset the costs of infrastructure and other services, including fire stations, parks and libraries.


Fees on businesses are calculated by square footage and location. The cost for a single-family home runs between $2,051 and $3,086. The fees have brought in more than $1.5 million since they began in July 2006.


The commission’s plan, which passed 4-0 last Thursday, comes at a time when developers are shying away from Dawson.


Officials have said that several restaurants, including Olive Garden, Krystal and the Varsity, and at least two fuel companies, have been discouraged by the county’s impact fees.


“I have letters from the restaurants, Racetrack and QuikTrip saying they are ready to come here once the impact fees are gone,” said Mike Berg, chairman of the county commission.


Rory Cunningham, president of the Dawson County Homebuilders Association, said he was grateful for the commission’s decision, though the impact on home building may take a while.


“I think if you get the commercial here, that will bring the residential,” Cunningham said.


The association has lobbied for nearly two years to have the fees reduced. It recently presented the commission with a study from the state homebuilders association indicating the county’s fees are among the highest in north Georgia.


“I think we got a better outcome than what we ever could have expected,” Cunningham said. “We’re really pleased the commission stepped up and did the right thing to help everybody and help Dawson County.”


Berg said the board’s aim is to spur new development in the county, notably the Sembler project at Ga. 400 and Dawson Forest Road. Plans call for 900,000 square feet of retail space, with at least four anchor stores.


Charlie Auvermann, executive director of the local development authority, said suspending impact fees may not be much incentive for developers of the Sembler project, which is set to break ground in early 2010.


“The big box retailers — stores the size of Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowes and Target — due to the economic turndown in retail and consumer business, those types of stores have no plans for expansion in the U.S. right now,” Auvermann said. “Although I’m sure Sembler will be pleased, the impact fees have not been their main driving force.”


But the commission’s decision could be more visible in at least one area.


“I expect to see a lot more action in restaurants and small businesses on the 1 and 2 acre tracts that run up and down the 400 corridor,” Auvermann said.


E-mail Michele Hester at