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Cobb’s Fee in Lieu of Detention Program has the County Gasping for Air

Posted by on March 26, 2014
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Minor Modifications Part III

While researching Minor Modifications and their abuses in Cobb County, I stumbled upon yet another program that I believe is majorly flawed and harming the taxpayers.  That program is called “Fee in Lieu of Detention”.  This is the type of Minor Modification that Cobb used in the previous example of Z-128 from 2005.  “Fee in Lieu of Detention” is when a developer can pay a fee to the County to remove or reduce the stormwater detention required to be built on a property.  The County uses these funds for other stormwater projects throughout the County that they deem more in need of a stormwater management project.  The fee is calculated at $5,000 per acre of impervious surface, per the Cobb County Code Sec 50-128.

Through numerous open records requests, I discovered that this program began in 1997 and since then has accepted over 160 projects and collected over $1.92 Million.  Full Spreadsheet.  In my previous post about Z-128, I showed the timeline and abuse of one minor modification in Cobb.  Fee in Lieu of Detention was the type of minor modification used to remove the two stormwater detention facilities required to be built by the developer in the zoning decision.  The applicant paid the County $19,350.00 to remove the requirement to build two detention facilities from the property.  I am not sure of the cost of a typical residential detention facility, however I have been told that it is exponentially greater that the “fee” that was paid. They were allowed to pay a fee instead of paying  a much greater expense of building the stormwater facilities.  This was obviously to the applicant’s benefit and the taxpayers expense.

Fee in Lieu of Detention are started when an applicant submits a hydrology study to the County.  This is basically their “request” to give the County funds instead of building a stormwater detention facility.  You can see my open records request and the County’s response that the County went around in circles before they actually admitted this to me.

As shown in my previous post, the property downstream from Z-128 saw an increase in flooding problems which lead to the County purchasing 6 homes in Country Meadows for a cost of $1,042,880. 

I don’t know how many other examples there may be throughout the County with neighborhoods suffering from the use of “Fee in Lieu of Detention”, however based on the fact that the Cobb Grand Jury recently reported that approximately 20% of Cobb County is in a flood plain, I believe that there are others.  Is a neighborhood near you on the list for paying a “Fee in Lieu of Detention”?

I believe that, at the very least, this program should be halted until it can be fully investigated.   The County is not even following their own procedures in reviewing “Fee in Lieu of Detention” requests.  Here are some highlights from an Open Records Request:

The presence of pre-existing chronic downstream flooding problems could be a basis for rejecting a fee-in lieu of detention proposal, in spite of any technical justification. 

If the zoning decision is predicated upon providing detention or is predicated upon a specific site plan, it would need to go back to the BOC for re-consideration.  On the other hand, if the zoning decision is silent on whether or not on-site detention is used, and if on-site detention is NOT shown on the plan used as a basis for the BOC’s approval, then a formal process for re-consideration would NOT be required.  

If the zoning specifically referenced detention, then it MUST go beck through rezoning for fee in lieu to be approved.  As you can see in our example of Z-128, this did not happen.  It was approved behind closed doors, in secret by the District Commissioner.

Developers are getting real deals by paying a little money to get out of building stormwater facilities, while the taxpayers are getting a raw deal.

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