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Hearing set for impact fee lawsuit
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A judge could hear arguments in November on a 2019 civil suit filed by the Home Builders Association of Savannah seeking to overturn Bryan County’s transportation impact fee ordinance, court records show.

A hearing has been set for Nov. 2 in Atlantic Judicial Circuit Superior Court, according to the Clerk of Court’s website. Longtime Judge Robert Russell is presiding over a case that “hit a pandemic induced near stall in 2020,” and is now “ripe for” a ruling, according to a motion filed by the Home Builders Association.

The group said the impact fee, first approved in 2019 and then repealed and approved again in 2021, is both unconstitutional and doesn’t follow state requirements, documents filed in July claim.

The group is also suing the county over its Unified Development Ordinance, claiming the UDO is unconstitutional and goes beyond health and safety requirements.

Bryan County officials have maintained the ordinances are legal. They say the impact fee is necessary to ensure road infrastructure keeps up with the growth without putting the burden on longtime property owners.

The county is the fastest growing county in the state and sixth fastest in the U.S., according to the 2020 Census.

Since 2019, Bryan County has collected more than $3 million in impact fees for road projects in South Bryan, which average about $3,000 for new homes and more for businesses.

At an initial hearing in April, 2019, lawyers for the Homebuilders Association asked Russell to bar the county from collecting its fees or enforcing its ordinances until after the case was heard. He declined.

In May 2019, during a daylong hearing in Pembroke, attorneys and witnesses for both sides debated everything from the merits of vinyl siding – or lack thereof – to the economic harm developers said they would suffer should the ordinances stand.

In July 2019, the judge ruled the county can continue to collect impact fees and enforce its ordinance, but allowed the lawsuit to move forward. The pandemic, however, closed courtrooms in 2020, creating a backlog of cases in some instances.

Builders have also sought to restrict local governments from passing ordinances through state legislation. Those efforts so far have been unsuccessful.

Interestingly, Savannah is now considering an impact fee “as a way to defray the costs of expanding public facilities needed to serve new growth.”

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