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Developer asks nicely; Paso waives fees 

A Fresno-based developer got a special present from the Paso Robles City Council on Dec. 18, with the six-month extension of a fee-waiver program that will cut construction costs on 25 permitted projects—as long as they’re completed quickly.

While the permits are technically up for grabs and open to anyone, a representative of Wathen Castanos Hybrid Homes, who asked for the extension, said they have 18 or 19 units ready to go, leaving just six or seven before the waiver maxes out.

“Building costs continue to rise, while home prices stay static,” company vice president Joshua Peterson said. “Any help we can get will help us continue our growth and expand in cities like Paso Robles.”

Because Wathen Castanos is brokering the sale of a lot Councilman Ed Steinbeck owns, he had to recuse himself from the discussion. The remaining council members peppered Peterson with questions about how many local subcontractors he uses and whether or not he would have built without the fee waiver. Peterson said he uses local crews for rough construction and Fresno craftsmen for finish work. He didn’t say whether or not the company would have built without the waiver.

City Engineer John Falkenstein couldn’t quantify the incentive either: “How much building activity would we have with the waiver or without it? That’s a difficult question,” he said.

At first, the council considered extending the program for a full year limited to 50 permits, but the financial concerns of vocal citizen Kathy Barnett and councilmen Steven Martin and John Hamon prompted Councilman Fred Strong and Mayor Duane Picanco to offer a compromise: Extend the waiver until July 1, at which time city staff should be ready to propose a complete overhaul of the fee schedule.

“The current fee structure is not valid,” Strong said.

As the council prepared to vote on the six-month extension for 50 permits, Hamon realized 50 permits would cost the city the same amount regardless of how quickly they were pulled. He suggested they limit the waiver to 25, and Strong incorporated that amendment into his motion, which passed 3-1 with Martin dissenting.

In the two years since the city initiated the waivers, Wathen Castanos was the primary beneficiary, securing 17 of the 100 permits under the program, according to Peterson. In 2011, Wathen Castanos bought 60 lots in the Montebello Oaks project area, pulled 30 permits in Paso Robles, and sold 30 homes.

Should Wathen Castanos act quickly, as it seems prepared to do, the company could secure the lion’s share of the benefits from this extension. ∆

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