Millville re-examines agreement

Millville Town Council members were deluged with concerns from developers at their Tuesday-night workshop, in the wake of adoption of a public works agreement framework at their most recent council meeting.

The agreement is designed to establish what the town expects from developers as they build inside town limits and how the town will monitor and control compliance with those expectations. It dictates standards for streets and other infrastructure, as well as establishes fees charged by the town to offset the costs of engineering reviews and administration.

Though the agreement was meant to be a framework from which individual agreements with developers could be made, there were serious objections to the agreement as adopted by the council.

Those concerns were aired briefly before the council adopted the agreement earlier this month, with last-minute input from the Millville Group — developers of Millville By the Sea. But no changes were made prior to adoption.

On Tuesday, representatives of the Millville Group, of Dove Barrington/Dove’s Landing developers Beazer Homes, of Gulfstream Development and of Toll Brothers all gathered to address the council with their concerns about the agreement and ask for clarification on some related issues.

For Millville Group’s Al Ruble, the issue was clear: “Stormwater is inspected by the Soil Conservation District. Sewer is inspected by the county,” he said. “I’m not paying for two inspections. I’ll pay to the agencies that have jurisdiction — not to somebody who doesn’t have jurisdiction.”

The developers were generally in agreement that the possible requirement for two sets of engineering inspections — and related fees — was a major issue for them. Ruble was particularly adamant that the charges were unfair.

“There was no mention of these inspections or fees made at the time we applied to the town for approval,” he said, noting that the Millville Group — being the town’s first master-planned community — had been the subject of deep speculation on their end as to how much development would cost, including any inspection fees.

Ruble said they’d received no guidance from the town, let alone any hints of a possible future inspection requirement or fees, and had been forced to estimate costs as best they could based on past experience elsewhere.

“This is outrageous,” Ruble told council members. “We should be able to do something equitable so that everyone is happy.”

Ruble said he’d checked in other states for average rates of fees for such inspections by a municipality, and they were just a fraction of the 4 to 6 percent of infrastructure costs that Millville had listed in the initial public works agreement.

“They’re a far cry from what he is talking about,” Ruble insisted, referring to town planner Kyle Gulbronson of URS, who was the primary person behind development of the agreement.

Town: additional inspections needed

Gulbronson, for his part, said that his experience had shown that Soil Conservation officials were paying little attention to culverts and other potential concerns in the town’s book. He said that was why the town had set about to require its own set of engineering inspections.

Furthermore, Gulbronson said the town was able to institute the agreement despite a lack of specific mention of it during the MPC zoning process because even MPCs are subject to the town’s subdivision ordinance, of which the agreement is a part.

Lincoln Davis of Beazer Homes said he also felt the 4 to 6 percent rate was out of line with real costs — particularly as the town appeared to desire URS to perform the engineering inspections without competing bids for the work to help reduce the costs.

“Four to 6 percent is a pretty wide range,” Millville Group’s Bob Harris agreed, emphasizing that on $10 million of infrastructure costs, the difference between the two figures could be $100,000 or more for the developer. “This should be reflective of the actual costs of the inspector’s work,” he added, suggesting that 3 to 4 percent of construction costs was a more typical range for such fees.

Beazer Homes developers said that they considered 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent to be more typical when competing bids were included, rather than having the town engineer automatically do the inspection work.

Toll Brothers representatives agreed with that sentiment and also asked for assurances that developers would be able to do the inspections, fees and agreements in multiple phases when working on a multi-phase development. Gulbronson said that had been the plan.

“The town is willing to work with everyone,” Gulbronson emphasized amidst the developers’ concerns. He noted that any amount left over from the fee, once the cost of the engineering inspection and town administration costs were paid, is typically returned to the developer, lessening the end cost to them while ensuring the town has enough coming in from the developers to pay for the needed inspections.

It was worthy of a sigh of relief for most of the developers, though their concerns about a requirement for a second inspection by the town remained.

Ocean View model mulled

Mayor Don Minyon said that he’d been looking into the issue earlier in the day and had been told neighboring Ocean View charges developers an inspection fee that is the actual cost of the inspection plus 10 percent again of that number as administrative fees. Harris and other developers said they favored that method, rather than the flat percentage fee assessed up front.

However, there was some concern that by not putting a fee in escrow the town could be stuck with a bill in the future.

No consensus for any changes to the agreement was reached on Tuesday night. Gulbronson was to continue to look into the issue for a possible new draft in the coming week. Minyon and Councilwoman Kami Banks both thanked the developers for their input.

Harris closed the conversation by asking what kind of timetable the town was looking at for approval of engineering sketches under the inspection requirements. He said MBS was close enough to construction start that it could become an issue for him if the agreement were to hold up the start of roads and other infrastructure.

Gulbronson said there was typically a 30-day or less turn-around on road review, and that he expected to have a new draft of the agreement ready sometime next week for developers to review.