Healdsburg City Council on Monday postponed a plan to update a policy requiring land be dedicated for parks or making a payment toward public open spaces when a developer builds new housing, while also largely sidestepping discussion about whether the fees are presently being collected.
At issue is how much money the city potentially failed to collect from developers in at least the past six years.
For the time being, council members ignored city staff’s recommendation to adopt the modern guidelines, questioning what impact approval of the state-prescribed rules may have on its desire to see more housing constructed to meet the community’s need.
A majority of the council asked the city attorney and city manager to conduct additional study about maintaining more fluid policy language with an eye on whether the rules will apply to all new subdivisions, particularly as the city pursues an action plan to encourage more urban development.
“It’s important to get it right, not necessarily fast,” Mayor David Hagele said. “I tend to lean more toward the flexibility. I think we can improve upon this ordinance and use it as a cap.”
Updates to the rules would help ensure Healdsburg maintains its high-water mark ratio of 5 acres of park space for every 1,000 residents allowed under the state’s Quimby Act of 1975. A city-commissioned study that used figures from the 2010 Census identified Healdsburg’s population of 12,000 as having sufficient park acreage.
However, a 2017 review showed the city has been light in enforcing the rules, perhaps losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars, or more, in fees from developers. City officials have acknowledged at least two housing projects in the past six years dodged the levy, while others that provided private parks or smaller public spaces also may not have met the threshold permitted by the law.
Rohnert Park by comparison, with its population of 42,000, also maintains a 5 acres of park space per 1,000 resident ratio. The county’s third-largest city considers in-lieu Quimby fees in exceptional cases only, and otherwise requires the builder to dedicate the appropriate amount of land for parks according to the state’s recommendation.
With more than 170,000 residents, Santa Rosa maintains the law’s lower compliance mark of 3 acres of public outdoor space per 1,000 people. The city still collected roughly $550,000 in in-lieu Quimby fees in 2018-19, in addition to required land dedications, and more than $2 million in 2017-18.
Mark Themig, the city’s community services director, who is tasked with overseeing parks and recreation, said the Quimby Act’s requirement of land dedication, or in-lieu fees in its place, is “one tool in the toolbox to establish a park system.” However, he stressed the importance of taking advantage of the state law for the purpose of providing a robust public outdoor network.
City manager David Mickaelian backed the plan to revise Healdsburg’s Quimby policy for the first time since 2009, pointing to the extra leverage it creates for the city with developers. He said that stepped-up rules bring higher costs to projects, but stated the City Council still would have the ability to use the separate development agreement process when it wishes to authorize lower fees on a priority project.
“We’ve had park in-lieu fees in place for some time,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, we potentially get better projects. It will make a little bit more heartburn for the developer, but that’s all right.”
This story originally appeared on PressDemocrat.com, also part of the Sonoma Media Investments news network.