Changes Aimed At Simplifying Zoning Fees

OCEAN CITY – The City Council unanimously approved changes in zoning fees this week, in an effort to simplify the process for calculating preliminary and final fees for permit applications.

“After the zoning fees were changed for FY09, while attempting to input them into our permitting program we discovered several instances in which formulas no longer made sense or were much more complicated than necessary,” explained Director of Planning and Zoning Jesse Houston.

Currently, zoning fees are divided into preliminary and final fees, which are calculated through a fairly complex formula.

Houston explained that preliminary fees are used to ensure that staff time for at least a portion of the administration of an application is paid for, particularly if a building permit is never issued. The preliminary fee is calculated, through the current formula, as a portion of the final fee. The final fee is the actual total, which the applicant pays when a building permit is pulled.

Houston deemed the current formula for calculating the preliminary fee as unnecessarily complicated. Houston provided the following example for calculating a preliminary fee for a commercial development.

With the current method of calculating the preliminary fee for a commercial development set at a $360 minimum for the first 5,000 square feet plus $.033 per square foot greater than 5,000 square feet, an 8,000 square foot commercial permit would yield a total fee (at $0.16 per square foot) of $1,280 and the preliminary fee of $459.

To simplify the process, Houston suggested setting the preliminary fee at 50 percent of the final of total fee. In the above example, the preliminary fee would simply be 50 percent of the $1,280 total, $640.

Examples for residential developments and commercial lots were also presented, with Houston concluding that using the 50 percent formula is more logical and indicative of the staff work put into the review.

Houston also suggested implementing a fee for signs less than 10 square feet. Currently, signs less than 10 square feet require a permit, but are exempt from fees. “We see no reason for this exemption, because if a sign requires a permit, no matter how small the sign is, there is administrative work to be done on the part of the staff,” explained Houston.

The council voted unanimously to approve the recommendations. The changes will move to resolution form for final approval.