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City council removes fee for Marketplace Commons

A controversial fee for residents of one city of Cumming neighborhood just off Buford Dam Road will stop being collected at the end of the year. 

On Tuesday, the Cumming City Council voted 5-0 to end an $85 monthly fee paid by residents of Marketplace Commons. The fee is tied to multiple-use MU zoned properties, but Marketplace Commons is the only such zoning in the city and the only to pay the fee.

“Based on the comments of last month’s meeting, the public participation session and then, as a member of the committee, the mayor and I met with some of the homeowners this past Thursday here at City Hall, and we left the meeting and had some suggestions and recommendations I’d like to make to the council,” said Councilman Chuck Welch. 

“One was: as of the end of this year, the $85 per month fee is ceased forever. The money taken into the account at that time will be capped with no future fees to be charged,” Welch said.

After the meeting, neighbors were excited to see the fee lifted but some voiced concerns about having to pay the fee at all and with the amount collected. 

Mayor H. Ford Gravitt said the capped money had to be used in the neighborhood and would likely go toward street work, such as street signage, resurfacing and restriping. 

The mayor said at first, the fee and zoning were a “pilot program.”

“We had nothing else like this in the city of Cumming when it was adopted, so I think it is fair for everybody,” Gravitt said. “Every development will be looked at on its own individual basis.”

The fee is added to the residents’ water bill and was first collected in April 2015. The first residents moved into the neighborhood in February 2015.

City officials said $109,171 had been paid by the residents as of Aug. 31 and none of the money has been used yet for improvements. 

There are 133 homes currently in the neighborhood.

Welch said as part of his recommendation the council would look at the MU zoning at a future meeting. 

The residential portions of mixed-use zoning district MU are required to pay the fee under city rules, and Marketplace Commons is the first and only neighborhood zoned MU. 

Residents spoke against the fee, which some called a tax, at the council’s September meeting. About 50 residents, most wearing red to protest the zoning, came to Tuesday’s meeting. 

Adding to the frustrations is the fact that the commercial portion of the development, planned to go at the southwest intersection of Buford Dam and Sanders roads, has not been built.

Cumming does not collect property taxes, though homes in the county do pay county property taxes.

Gravitt said at the previous meeting the area had originally been considered for commercial development and the fee was meant to make up revenue the city would have earned from commercial properties. At the previous meeting, he said the fee was “self-imposed” by the developer.