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COG: Open space fee saves home buyers money

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POSTED October 20, 2017 1:22 a.m.

Housing prices aren’t the only thing that has risen sharply in the last five years.
The amount of money that developers need to invest in offsetting wildlife habitat lost to the development process has gone up significantly as well.
Since 2014, developers in San Joaquin County have seen the amount of money required per acre to comply with the San Joaquin County Multi-Species Habitat Restoration Open Space Plan – which aims to mitigate impacts to covered species resulting from open space land conversion – increase by more than 30 percent.
The Lathrop City Council voted unanimously on Monday to approve a new annual increase to the county-wide plan administered by the San Joaquin Council of Governments that meets the strict environmental regulations outlined by both the state and federal government as they pertain to protected species.
And according to Steve Mayo of the SJCOG, it’s the cost of the land itself that has driven up the price for developers.
When pressed about whether the program itself is to blame for the sharp increase in land prices – every acre that is developed within an area that is not “urbanized” needs to be offset by a land purchase elsewhere in the county – Mayo said that the agency has determined through working with a panel of local experts that things like the pursuit of riparian water rights and speculating on exploding markets have driven the price of rural land up significantly over the last few years.
And while the $9,701-an-acre for multi-purpose designated land and $19,400-an-acre for agricultural land is nothing to sneeze at, Mayo said that while those costs are undoubtedly passed back on to the property owners in the purchase price, they would actually be much higher without the program because of the cost involved with getting clearances from multiple state and federal agencies would be much higher.
Using the agricultural land as an example, Mayo said that of the $19,400-an-acre that developers are charged, approximately $15,000 of that goes towards the actual purchase of land somewhere else while the rest of the money goes into an endowment that services other aspects of the program.
If the land were to be designated a vernal pool area – which Lathrop does not have within its city limits – the cost would be $72,523-an-acre for grasslands and $116,871-an-acre for wetlands to offset.
Areas that are already designated as “urbanized” are not charged a fee for development.
Any development that includes species that would be classified as protected by state or federal authorities, Mayo said, requires the forced migration off of that land using approved methods. Part of the fee pays for that service to allow for development to continue without adversely affecting the animals – like riparian brush rabbits or Swainson’s Hawk in the case of River Islands.
“Before it would have been individual developers working with multiple state and federal agencies and now it has been streamlined to take care of all requirements with a single fee,” Mayo said. “It saves the homeowner money, and it lets the local agencies control this process.”

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email jcampbell@mantecabulletin.com or call 209.249.3544.

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