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Fees waived downtown
City renews program to encourage housing, new businesses in district
W The Fountain
Hendley Properties, represented here by its property manager, Bryan Davis, at its The Fountain at Mulberry apartments, has been the leader in downtown residential developments benefiting from the incentive program. - photo by Herald File

Last week, Statesboro City Council restored an incentive program for redevelopment in the downtown district that had waived almost $200,000 in building permit, water and sewer connection and other fees over the past five years.

Originally adopted in October 2010 and renewed and amended in July 2011 and again in July 2012, the Downtown Statesboro Incentives Program expired Nov. 1. The resolution approved Feb. 2 re-establishes it for three years. The new version specifies, for the first time, that single-family homes qualify for the exemptions. Another new provision caps the amount of water and sewer tap fees that can be waived, not including other kinds of fees, at $25,000 per project.

"In total, we have incentivized about $200,000 across-the-board, which would mean that right at $200,000 in fees were waived," city Planning and Development Director Mandi Cody told the council.

Asked for a more exact figure after the meeting, she said that the waived fees topped $196,000.

Businesses and residential

The resolution provides two categories of incentives.

For new businesses, the city waves occupational taxes, commonly known as business license fees, and administrative fees for the first year of operation. Building permit fees, not including inspection fees, up to $1,000 per project are also waived, as are fees for initial connection to city natural gas, alcohol license fees for the first year of operation, and initial tap fees for water, sewer, fire and irrigation connections, up to $25,000 per project.

For the residential construction, renovation and rehabilitation, the city waives demolition permit fees; building permit fees, not including inspection fees, up to $1,000 per project; fees for initial connection to city natural gas; and initial tap fees for water, sewer, fire and irrigation connections up to $25,000 per project.

Fees for land disturbance activities, such as grading, are not waived. Neither are inspection fees nor aid-to-construction fees.

Special incentives possible

A final provision of the program, which was already in the old version but has never been used, allows developers to submit a request for additional waivers to the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority and the city planning and development director. The planning director and DSDA would review the project and make recommendation to the mayor and council, which would have to approve any additional incentives.

"I particularly like that clause in this because it opens up opportunities for us to negotiate for projects that maybe this program would not give enough relief to, to make them competitive for the downtown, but it gives them an avenue to apply," Cody told council members.

A project qualifying for additional incentives would need to be "game-changing" in its importance to downtown redevelopment and fit the city's guidelines for the district, she said. The new resolution calls for any such project to meet "the objectives, visions and goals of the 2011 Downtown Statesboro Master Plan and the 2014 City of Statesboro Comprehensive Plan."

The resolution begins with a series of justifying clauses. One states that the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority demonstrated to the mayor and council that the "growth and development of Downtown Statesboro suffered significantly" during the recession.

Another says that the DSDA "finds that the incentive program ... contributed significantly toward new growth, development and revitalization in both residential and commercial sectors."

Although fee waivers for construction or renovation of single-family homes were not specifically barred before, they are now included, along with a specific reference to loft apartments.

"It's designed for loft apartments, so we're hoping somebody will step up and use it for that, and we expanded it to single-family homes if somebody wants to go in and do some work on their own home in the area," DSDA Executive Director Allen Muldrew said in an interview.

"And it's not a lot, but it's to show that we're trying to help out where we can for people who want to redo their property," he said.

No per-person cap

A single company, Hendley Properties, has been responsible for most of the recent residential construction and renovations in the downtown area, and has benefited from the incentives, as council members noted during the discussion. The company creates single-bedroom apartments for rent, often in duplexes or arrangements of multiple houses, and is continuing to expand this investment.

"If you've got a number of residential properties in that district, can you qualify for this each and every time, and is there some kind of limit per business or per person that we're putting on this, or can you just start getting $25,000 off the fees on every property you develop?" Councilman Phil Boyum asked during the meeting.

The limit is per-project, and there is no cap on individuals or companies applying for multiple projects, as interim City Manager Robert Cheshire confirmed.

Mayor Jan Moore said she felt no per-person was needed because everyone can apply for the same incentives.

"I don't feel right now like discouraging development on any level by capping incentives to, you only get two if you're this person, or if you've already gotten three you don't get any more," Moore said.

The city, she said, will monitor the program's impact on its revenue.

"If we find that the impact is at a point that we can't tolerate being at this particular level, then we can always come back and discontinue this at that point, but right now I wouldn't want to limit any particular developer," Moore said.

With one council member absent, the reauthorization passed on a 4-0 voice vote.

The district where the incentives are available is the same as for the downtown design standards the city adopted last year. It overlaps, but is not identical, with the South Main Street tax allocation district.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.



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