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Planning Dept. proposes fee increases

July 9, 2014

The Inyo County Planning Commission – (l-r) Paul Payne, Bill Stoll, Cindy Wahrenbrock, Sam Wasson and Ross Corner (shown with Assistant County Counsel Dana Crom) – may be making a switch to digital agendas to cut back on paper and printing costs. County leaders are also considering an increase to the fee for filing an appeal to any decision the Planning Commission or Board of Supervisors makes. Photo by Charles James

Inyo County Planning Director Josh Hart proposed several fee changes in his department report to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday in an effort to generate new revenue or at least break even on some department responsibilities.
Hart proposed fee increases for mine evaluations, appeals and for the Lone Pine Architectural Design Review Board. He also proposed legalizing and taxing the use of vacation homes in residential areas, and a switch to online notices for the Planning Commission agenda.
His proposals were received with mixed reactions from the Board of Supervisors, which wanted to pursue some ideas and drop others.
One proposal Hart pitched to the board this week was to legalize the use of residential homes as vacation rentals. If homes are used as vacation rentals, Hart said the county can apply its Transient Occupancy Tax.
Currently, the county does not permit residential rentals for less than 30 days, because vacation rentals can impact nearby residents.
“ … Many jurisdictions permit vacation homes, resulting in significant tax benefits for the community,” Hart’s staff report states. “The county could conditionally permit vacation homes in the restricted Zoning Districts, thereby providing oversight of noise, trash, traffic and other potential impacts.”
Hart said the move could increase revenue by as much as $200,000 through Transient Occupancy Taxes.
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said her decision on the matter is a simple no. “We shouldn’t turn our neighborhoods into business districts,” she said, adding that the availability of vacation rentals in residential areas could lead to loud parties and other disturbances, and negatively impact the real estate market in the neighborhood.
Second District Supervisor Jeff Griffiths, whose district is within the city limits and subject to city regulations, said the county could identify specific neighborhoods that could support vacation rentals, and require each vacation rental to go through a Conditional Use Permit process, which would allow nearby residents to weigh in on the proposal.
Griffiths was the only supervisor who wanted to look more into the proposal. The idea was dropped.
Hart also proposed a fee increase for the Lone Pine Architectural Design Review Board. Currently the county charges a flat fee of $200 for processing design review applications within the Architectural Design Review Control Overlay Zoning District in Lone Pine.
Hart said the cost of handling those applications is about $500. Rather than a flat fee, Hart proposed full cost recovery on the applications. “This action would result in $500 in additional revenue per year,” he said.
Fifth District Supervisor Matt Kingsley, whose district includes Lone Pine, pointed out that this is the only Architectural Design Review Committee in the county. He said he would like to see the fees increased to help cover costs, but an increase from $200 to $500 is too much to absorb in one hit.
He requested that the Planning Department review the process and trim as much fat as possible to make a $300 processing fee cost neutral for the county.
Hart also recommended an increase to the fee for appealing a decision made by the county Planning Commissioner Board of Supervisors.
“In instances in which the appeal is tied to an application, most of the costs are recovered from the applicant,” a staff report prepared by the Planning Department states. “However, staff believes that the appeal fee does not cover the remaining costs, or most of the costs in instances in which there is no applicant.”
That means that a resident who applies for a Conditional Use Permit or similar request that is appealed must cover the costs. However, when someone appeals a policy decision the commission or board makes, those costs are not recovered. Hart is recommending that the appeal fee be raised from $300 to $500. He said staff will quantify the un-recovered appeal costs and return to the board at a later date with more information.
(Read more about the board’s reaction to the proposal to increase mining fees and move towards digitalization in the Saturday, July 12, 2014 edition of The Inyo Register.)

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