In "Street funding woes need state response" (Sept. 22), the Star Tribune Editorial Board omitted several important facts about who pays for new development, including needed public infrastructure such as streets and utilities.
The landmark Harstad vs. Woodbury case is about the total absence of any statutory authority under which municipalities can properly impose fees on developers for unspecified road improvements that may be needed elsewhere in the city, totally unrelated to a planned development. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed a district court decision that found Woodbury lacked such authority and that its major roadway assessment violated state law.
In its opinion, the Court of Appeals was clear: "A statutory city lacks express or implied authority … to impose a road assessment as a condition for its approval of a developer's subdivision application." The court noted, in contrast, the Legislature's express grant of authority for cities to impose fees for such things as trunk sewer and water lines and related access charges. The Minnesota Supreme Court reached the same conclusion about a similar transportation fee more than a decade ago.
The editorial by the Star Tribune misses several key points.
Most troubling is the false notion that new-home buyers and developers are not paying for the impacts related to new development. In fact, they're paying for the cost to develop the land, including engineering studies; dedicating land for streets, ponds and trails; building roads, paving sidewalks, adding traffic signals when required; the placement of utilities, and sewer and water connections. While very expensive, developers accept these responsibilities.
Additionally, cities can require each new-home buyer to pay park fees, which can exceed $8,000 per home, depending on the community.
The editorial also makes it appear as though Woodbury's actions are common in Minnesota and that the city is the aggrieved party. It is not.
The majority of cities follow the law, with developers and cities readily agreeing on how much public infrastructure, including street improvements, are required for a proposed new development and how it will be paid for.
Woodbury truly stood alone when it withheld approval of a new subdivision unless the developer, Martin Harstad, consented to fees to which he and the new-home buyers had no obligation as they were totally disconnected from the proposed development. With the fees in question, the city wasn't asking Harstad's future home buyers to cover the costs of their required development improvements, but rather to write a check to fund unspecified roadway projects to be completed elsewhere in the city at some point in the future.
By shifting to a discussion about expanding a city's authority, the Star Tribune misses the major point, and conveniently omits the fact that Woodbury violated state law. In fact, records obtained from the city confirm its awareness that Woodbury's assessment policy lacked legal authority.
Minnesota's homes are already among the most expensive in the country, eclipsed only by coastal regions like California and New York. Because of the myriad state regulations and unchecked city fees, our homes cost a jaw-dropping 26 percent more than our neighbors'. Granting cities expanded authority to levy fees against new-home buyers would only exacerbate this problem.
Minnesota's homebuilders and developers try very hard to build safe and durable homes at prices families can afford and help Minnesotans achieve the dream of homeownership. But achieving these goals is made much harder when cities impose fees that are not legally authorized and not directly related to new development, including new housing.
David Siegel is executive director of Housing First Minnesota and the Builders Association of the Twin Cities.