Mount Pleasant rejects dentist’s impact fee appeal

An egret catches a fish in Shem Creek. The creek is among Mount Pleasant waterways impacted by failing septic tanks. (file/Grace Beahm/Staff

MOUNT PLEASANT — When the town sharply increased impact fees for development starting July 1, dentist Laura Shapiro was getting ready to open a practice in an existing building on Coleman Boulevard, and didn’t expect a $13,527 bill.

"I’m a taxpaying private citizen in Mount Pleasant, starting a small business," Shapiro said Tuesday night, as she became the first to appeal an impact fee decision to the Town Council.

Shapiro wasn’t developing a new building, but turning an office building suite into a dental office. The town, calculating that a dental office creates more traffic and other impacts than an office, charged the sharply increased impact fee that Town Council mandated in April.

The council, responding to concerns that developers weren’t contributing enough financially, had approved a three-step increase in impact fees that will quadruple them, in some cases, with increases July 1 this year and Jan. 1 and July 1 in 2018.

For example, the town’s impact fees for building a single-family home would rise from the previous $1,860 to $6,161 by next July. For a 7,500-square-foot restaurant, impact fees would go from the previous $57,716 to at least $204,432 by mid-2018. Councilmen Will Haynie and Joe Bustos called for larger increases at the April meeting, but were outvoted.

Shapiro said she had no idea the fee would be coming, and had just three days to pay it, in full, after her permit was approved.

"My main question would just be, how would I know? How would I know this fee would be applied to my building permit?," she said.

Town Administrator Eric DeMoura had already denied an appeal from Shapiro, and Town Council did the same Tuesday with a 7-2 vote, with Paul Gawrych and Mark Smith opposed.

“These impact fees are going to cripple the businesses in this town, in the future," Gawrych said.

It was the last Town Council meeting for Gawrych, Smith, and Councilman Elton Carrier. All three declined to seek re-election in the Nov. 7 election. Councilman Gary Santos will be on the ballot, seeking another term.

In other business Tuesday, the council considered Mount Pleasant Waterworks’ request to subsidize the $4,990 impact fee the utility would charge East Cooper residents with septic systems, if they connect to the public sewer system. The utility gives the town one percent of the impact fee money it collects — the town will get an estimated $412,000 this year — and Mount Pleasant Waterworks essentially asked for some of that money back.

Septic systems have been blamed for pollution in Shem Creek and other waterways. Over time, septic tanks can fail or be poorly maintained, allowing raw sewage to escape untreated. The town has an ordinance that requires residents to connect to the sewer system, but has not enforced it.

After a lengthy discussion, Town Council agreed to reimburse Mount Pleasant Waterworks $2,500, up to $50,000 yearly, for every town resident that switches from septic to sewer and needs financial assistance.

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