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LMD proposal: Saving face by causing more woe

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POSTED August 11, 2012 12:40 a.m.

It’s time for the Manteca City Council to take charge of the train wreck that the landscape maintenance district (LMD) concept has become of late.

But first, there needs to be some basic agreement of what’s transpired in the past few years.

• The residents who bought in Union Ranch were victimized by the city’s failure to hold a developer - Woodside Homes - to the development agreement the builder acquired with the land they purchased. It’s a repeat performance of what happened at Tesoro but worse.

• The LMD concept has allowed the city to make it possible for new neighborhoods to have access to parks within a quarter of a mile of homes to enhance the quality of life. It is an amenity that attracted buyers and in normal markets has a significant positive impact on property values.

• The past four years underscore the fact the city without the benefit of LMDs could ill afford to pay for the upkeep and maintenance of parks that are at a number roughly twice that in other comparably sized valley cities.

The municipal staff generated proposal to address the shortcomings of the city’s failure to enforce its own rules offers draconian rules that could easily hurt the economy while at the same time fails to address one of the biggest complaints of the folks at Union Ranch which is enhanced transparency.

Requiring developers to put in a neighborhood park before the first home is built adds $1 million give or take to the upfront cost to break ground on a new neighborhood. That - in the new reality of financing - can be a deal killer.

If the city wants to improve things, they could start by simply enforcing rules they’ve already established on all developers.

If the city wants to enhance things and make it absolutely clear what home buyers are getting into, they should dictate the exact disclosure form.

And as far as forming a LMD, they should require that a vote be taken after the developer has been granted subdivided lots and before the builder turns ground on the project. That way the LMD is in place when a home is being marketed. And to make that work, the LMD fees should be held in abeyance until after the park is completed with the developer on the hook for all maintenance costs until then.

The city might want to put a poison pill in its LMD policy that requires a park to be completed at a certain point such as halfway through the sale of homes. If not, the right to develop the remaining lots is suspended until such time the park is in place.

That way the city isn’t on the hook for a park and residents aren’t paying to maintain a park they don’t have.

As for the disclosure form, it should require the segment addressing the estimated fee cost to be in 36 point type or more than three times the rest of the print on the disclosure form. That way no one can say they missed it.

And as for the LMD driving up the cost of a home, that’s true. But buyers who say they can’t afford it due to being on a fixed income need to check with their lender. Unless they paid cash, mortgage lenders take in the monthly cost of owning a home - insurance, mortgage, taxes and fees such as Mello-Roos and LMDs into determining whether the buyer can afford it and therefore qualify for the loan.

The rule changes the city is now considering with the LMDs is akin to rolling out a B52 bomber to kill a fly.

The city shouldn’t be concerned about saving face by leaving the appearance that all developers are renegades that ignore legally binding contracts.

What is needed is enforcement and enhanced transparency, not overkill.

 

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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