Manassas Journal Messenger | City proposes fee increase

Building developers may have long touted Manassas’ low utility rates, but that may change this month.

Manassas’ water and sewer availability fees for new construction projects are lower than those in 10 other Northern Virginia jurisdictions, including Manassas Park.

Citing the need for increased capacity and the low fees that haven’t kept up with costs, the city’s utility staff has proposed increasing water and sewage availability fees for new construction projects.

The increases will offset the cost to design and construct an expansion at Manassas’ water plant in Gainesville and a new storage tank. The city is also expected to pay its share of the expansion for the Upper Occoquan Sewage Authority Wastewater Treatment Plant, a regional treatment facility that may see a $22 million expansion by 2011.

The City Council is expected to vote on the availability fee increases at its Sept. 26 meeting.

If the changes are approved, builders who have applied for building permits by Oct. 1 will be charged the current rate for each residential or commercial unit. Those applying after that date would pay $4,200 — a 125 percent increase — for water availability and $12,560 — a 120 percent increase — for sewer availability.

Current homeowners would not be affected by the price increase, unless they add expansions to their homes, and those costs would be prorated.

“It’s primarily [aimed at] developers and builders that are building new homes in new subdivisions,” said James H. Johnston, water and sewer superintendent.

Residents or commercial tenants in new properties, however, will feel the impact because developers will likely recoup those costs by including them in the selling price of a home or lease cost.

And considering the average price of the few new homes in Manassas — about $717,500 — an additional $9,267 won’t make that much of a difference to homebuyers, Johnston said.

It will make a difference to developers, such as the Burke-based Van Metre Company, that have already negotiated costs with potential homeowners but still haven’t applied for building permits.

Van Metre Senior Vice President Roy Barnett, who spoke at a public hearing Monday night, said that his company began the contract negotiation process last year for its planned 140 multi-family condominiums, Van Metre at Old Town.

The project will not be in the building permit application process until December.

Barnett commended the city’s forward thinking, but said the fee increases should be phased in over a period of time. Real estate attorney Michael R. Vanderpool also supported a fee phase-in.

Johnston said the city’s changing capacity needs are significant, so a phased-in fee approach is not feasible.

Also, if the fees are not instituted soon, the city could miss its chance to collect fees during the wave of new developments planned, according to Manassas Utility Commission Chairman John Weber, who said the city’s current residents shouldn’t be burdened with the costs of increasing water and sewer capacity for the city.

Currently, that wave includes at least 998 residential units planned for the next two to five years, and about 220,000 square feet of commercial development planned for the next two to three years, according to Elizabeth S. Via, director of community development.

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