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Saint Leo reaches impact fee deal

Commissioners and the Lake Jovita golf development agree on a total of $108,000 rather than fighting a costly court battle.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 2000


SAINT LEO -- Small-town commissioners stood toe-to-toe with developers of a luxury subdivision, considered the prospect of spending thousands on a court battle, and decided to strike a deal.

After months of wrangling, commissioners and the Lake Jovita golf development across the street from Town Hall solved their impact fee impasse, agreeing to a $108,000 compromise.

The compromise came after developers in October challenged the town's $2,000-per-house impact fee package, which covers sewer, water, public safety and roads. Builders of the 900-home Lake Jovita project have argued the new community provides its own sewer and that the 108 homes inside city limits will hardly affect town services while residents continue to pay full town property taxes.

On Monday, with the $300 sewer fee already off the table, Jovita developer -- and future resident -- Roy Gaddey said the remaining $1,700 fee was unacceptable. His attorney, Deborah Tracy, told commissioners she was prepared to fight it in court.

Tracy said developers would agree to a $500 fee per home and offered that as a starting point. Town Attorney Charles Critton said a court battle could cost up to $40,000 with no guarantee of victory.

Commissioner Richard Christmas voiced his displeasure.

"It's another case of a developer coming in here and bullying a small town into getting what you want," he said. "The impact fees were here before all this went on."

Critton warned that while one study shows the town could charge up to $1,900 for transportation impacts, developers could produce experts to testify otherwise. And the town's $700 public safety impact fee also could be challenged, since the Sheriff's Office estimated the development would add no additional costs in town and the nearby volunteer fire department reported the impact would be minimal.

Home buyers already pay a $2,143 sewer and water fee to the county, but Gaddey said the county is unbending on sewer fees. He said builders outside city limits are also paying about $2,000 more for roads and other impact fees, noting while residents in his community would likely use only their own roads and a state road in the town of Saint Leo, they would certainly impact county roads any time they left the development.

Gaddey offered to double his offer of $500 to the town, if commissioners would meet him at $1,000 per house total.

"I'd hate to see this have to go to court," Sister Donna DeWitt, a commissioner, said.

Commissioners agreed to take the $1,000 as a transportation impact fee and drop the $700 public safety fee, because the town contracts with the Sheriff's Office for coverage. The fees will bring in $108,000 for road improvements when the development is complete.

In other business, commissioners unanimously selected San Antonio Water Clerk Joan Rogers as the town's new clerk, the only full-time employee the town has. She replaces Patty Richter, who resigned unexpectedly last month.

Mayor Janis Klingle said Richter did not explain her reasons for leaving, and Richter could not be reached for comment Monday or Tuesday.

Rogers, 42, has worked for neighboring San Antonio for more than six years and has experience in budgeting and in dealing with county, state and local governments. She oversees the water department and acts as assistant city clerk for Barbara Sessa.

Commissioners agreed to offer her a $22,000 yearly salary, above the advertised maximum of $20,000, because of her experience. A starting date, sometime in July, was not immediately set.

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