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Encinitas raises traffic mitigation fees

Unanimous decision doesn’t raise fees as sharply as proposed

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council backed off of a proposal to sharply raise the fee it charges homebuilders for traffic impacts, but said the issue is not over.

The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve raising the so-called traffic mitigation fee from $2,225 per unit for a single family residence to $2,254 per unit — the amount originally proposed by staff last week before the council requested a higher increase.

But the council directed staff to return as soon as possible with information to determine why Encinitas’ neighboring cities charge significantly higher fees than they do, possibly leaving the door open for a future increase.

“This will allow us to look at the issue from a more holistic approach rather than it just showing up on the agenda because we have to meet a deadline,” Councilman Tony Kranz said. “But we need to bring it back so we can address the issues of traffic impact, which are significant.”

The proposal at Wednesday’s meeting would have raised the fee by more than 60 percent for single-family homes, from $2,225 per unit to $3,552 per unit, and 30 percent for other developments.

Representatives of the regional Building Industry Association — including three who attended the council meeting — called the increase unjustified and said it would add to the cost of buying a home, further pricing young residents out of the local housing market.

“Some may reason that it’s only a small increase, however, housing is an industry that dies by a thousand cuts,” said Jim Schmid, CEO of Carlsbad-based Chelsea Investment Corp., which has developed affordable housing in Encinitas.

The City Council said it was sympathetic to the issue of affordability, but several council members questioned why the city’s traffic fees were much lower than neighboring cities, some which charge as much as $2,000 more per unit for similar fees.

They then directed staff to return with information about how those cities justified the higher rates.

“San Marcos and Carlsbad are considered development friendly, but nothing has stopped them for having these significantly high fees,” Mayor Teresa Barth said. “I strongly urge (staff) to bring this forward as soon as possible.”

The council had to approve the small fee increase to keep it above the county’s minimum requirement of $2,254 per unit, a requirement to receive the city’s share of funds from TransNet, the voter approved half-cents sales tax that is earmarked for regional transportation projects. Encinitas is annually entitled to $1.5 million in TransNet funds.