A second hearing Friday in Pembroke on Bryan County’s interim development and impact fee ordinances was expected to wrap up around lunchtime, attorneys said.
Instead, it went well into the evening, and ended around 9 p.m. with Atlantic Judicial Circuit Judge Robert Russell telling lawyers for both sides he will issue a ruling, but no date was set for when that might happen.
Russell also asked his court reporter for a transcript of the hearings.
The Home Builders Association of Greater Savannah filed suit against the county in February. An earlier hearing took place May 10, also in Pembroke. It lasted all day.
The home builders group, represented by attorneys Bill Glass and Keri Martin, is asking Russell to issue an injunction putting a temporary halt to collection of impact fees on new homes built in South Bryan, and stop Bryan County from enforcing a section of its interim development ordinance dealing with architectural guidelines until the matter goes to trial.
It’s unclear, however, whether that will happen.
Int he meantime, the SHBA maintains its members are being unfairly singled out and will suffer economic harm by the ordinances, which builders claim will add tens of thousands of dollars to the price of new homes and are efforts by the county to push moderate and lower income home buyers out of South Bryan and into North Bryan through “exclusionary zoning.”
Among the standards in the ordinance are a prohibition on the use of certain materials, such as vinyl siding, and requirements on garage size and location, roof planes and others. The home builders say those requirements have nothing to do with the health, safety or welfare of the community and by including them in the ordinance, the county is overstepping its authority.
In addition, the group claim's residential home builders are the only ones who cannot be exempted from impact fees, and at Friday’s hearing said the county used faulty data to arrive at the approximately $3,100 per home impact fee it began charging April 1.
So far, about $51,000 has been collected.
The home builders group also claims the county’s ordinances and impact fee go against its own comprehensive plan, which said the lack of affordable housing is an issue that needs in Bryan County.
And, Glass pointed out that none of the county commissioners testified Friday. He also on several occasions reminded Russell of a quote from District 1 commissioner Noah Covington in which he said, during a meeting last year, that Bryan County was like an exclusive club and sometimes clubs have initiation fees.
Covington has said his words have been taken out of context. He lives in and represents North Bryan, which has no impact fee.
Bryan County, represented by lawyers Frank Jenkins, Aaron Kappler and Patrick O’Brien, maintains the interim development ordinance is the result of input gathered from county residents at various forums and is “the legislative will,” of local elected officials. It’s also an effort to put all its development regulations into one code.
A permanent unified development code is expected to be complete at some point later in 2019 or early 2020, after several public hearings.
The county’s attorneys say the impact fee, which will go solely for transportation, is necessary to keep current residents from footing all the bill for road improvements necessary to try and keep up with population growth, which has already led to congested roads across South Bryan.
County attorneys and witnesses said the impact fee calculations are based on data from the Institute of Traffic Engineers and is valid and was approved by the state, and that updates to documents and changes in calculations during the process were due to various factors, ranging from higher bids for road projects such as roundabouts to a bad copy of a map used in earlier documents.
It also said home builders can ask for exemptions to the impact fees if it can prove its case that it meets certain criteria that will bring jobs and other benefits to county residents. The county also claims home builders can get exemptions to requirements in the interim development ordinance if they apply for them with the county’s planning staff.
And, attorneys said all projects already underway before the interim development ordinance took effect and so-called planned unit developments, aren’t affected by the new ordinance.
County attorneys want Russell to rule the Savannah-based home builders association has no legal standing through which to file its suit, which attorneys say is motivated by a desire among builders to continue to reap large profits on homes built and sold in South Bryan, one of the country’s fastest growing areas per capita in the U.S., according to county officials.
Home builders such as Fred Bricketto of Mungo Homes, John Mowry of Homes of Integrity and Lamar Smith of Lamar Smith Signature Homes, all gave varying accounts of profits and the economic impact the ordinance will have on their businessess during testimony at the May 10 hearing, but Kappler reminded Russell that Bricketto testified he sold 61 homes in Buckhead East in 2018 at an average price of slightly more than $300,000, which netted him a profit of around $3 million.
Builders and their attorneys have said they want to build homes in the $250,000 price range, because those homes sell better.
At Friday’s hearing, the court heard testimony from Audra Miller, the county’s head of community development; Michael Lauer, a consultant for Bryan County; Barry Hall, an impact fee consultant for Bryan County; and Bryan County Administrator Ben Taylor.
Smith testified again later in the day before closing arguments were held.
More on their testimony and the issues raised in Thursday’s Bryan County News.