Lowcountry home builders say school impact fees could adversely impact construction

Local News

BEAUFORT COUNTY, S.C. (WSAV) – The Beaufort County Council officially approved a new impact fee last week which they hope will help schools.

But home builders and buyers say it will have too much of an impact on the building boom in the Lowcountry.

“The guy or gal that held onto that permit just one week and intended to turn it in will be really upset,” says Meg James.

The fees must be paid by developers or builders or passed on to buyers before they get a building permit. It affects every new home built in the unincorporated areas south of the Broad River, like Moss Creek, Windmill Harbor and those new homes on Dafuskie Island.

But it could soon expand to Bluffton, Hardeeville and Hilton Head Island.

According to Meg James, of the Hilton Head Area Homebuilders Association, the fees will now cost someone who wants to build a home $9,535 more, $4,508 per unit in multi-family dwellings.

“They have bought a home but the permits haven’t been signed yet,” explains James. “They now have to come up with a new $10,000. If they have a loan from the bank there could be some complications there.”

James says banks are still working on these new fees, and if they can or will allow extra money to be added to previously approved construction loans to include the new cost.

The permitting fee was put into the Beaufort County School District’s budget to help pay for construction and renovation costs.

Experts say it could create almost $89 million for schools in the next decade.

Builders say while they all support the schools, students and teachers, fees and taxes already make up between 17 and 25% of home costs for buyers, depending on where you are in the Lowcountry.

This extra money means anyone — whether they are making a $250,000 or $2 million build — has to pay the same price.

“Bluffton, Hilton Head, Hardeeville, Hilton Head, Beaufort,” says James. “Building is insane, everyone is busy. But we still need homes for our workers here. I think $10,000 is going to price a lot of people out of building a home.”

Bluffton, Hardeeville and Hilton Head have not agreed to sign on to the fees yet through intergovernmental agreements.

The town of Bluffton is working on its own agreement, which would prorate the fees based on the cost of the home or building. James says that’s something the association is in favor of.

“They have asked them to put some sort of proportionality into it focus specifically on affordable housing,” said James. “They would only pay a certain percentage of the fee not 100% of it.”

In addition, the homebuilders association would like to see a new study was done on the school system, students and their impact on the community.

The Beaufort County School District has previously said their enrollment was down, but they still added $20 million to the 2021 budget.

“I think they should redo the study, who has moved here, who are we servicing?” said James. “Do we still have the same need the original study presented?”

“It needs to be redone to show us who has moved to the area, what are the school-age children, and what size schools are we building.”

The association has told its members to pay the fees — but do it in a separate check from any other county taxes or fees they have to pay.

In addition, it is asking its members in a memo sent out last week to include this statement:

“The Beaufort County School District Impact Fees are paid under protest, reserving all rights to seek a refund of all or part of this payment, and on the condition that if Beaufort County’s Impact Fee ordinance passed on Monday, June 28th, 2021 or other authority for any part of this Impact Fee is subsequently invalidate or amended, a proportionate refund will be issued by Beaufort County.”

James says the association is looking into all options, including legal action.

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