The concept of adding millage to property-tax bills to fund amenities for a proposed housing development was discussed at Delaware City Council's Oct. 8 meeting.

Westerville-based developer Romanelli & Hughes has proposed a New Community Authority for the planned Terra Alta development, east of Pollock Road and north of Braumiller Road, which initially was approved in 2008.

Unlike most NCAs -- which assess costs on property for infrastructure improvements, such as roads -- this request would raise money to maintain amenities at what was described as a "best-of-class" development that would contain hundreds of homes.

The millage assessment would be limited to homes within the development.

Council earlier was told the amenities would include walking trails, fire pits, gazebos and pavilions.

Council's Oct. 8 agenda packet lists a total cost of $4.6 million for the amenities. The most expensive item, listed as "community pools," would cost $1.6 million.

The discussion came during a public hearing on the planned NCA. Topics included whether money needed for amenities could be paid for by homeowners association fees, and whether those paying NCA millage would oppose city tax levies.

A fact sheet from City Manager Tom Homan, attached to the meeting's agenda packet, addressed those issues.

The sheet's "recommendation" section says, "Staff is concerned that by adding a significant cost to the property-tax bill of 2,250 new residents of the city, it will make it more difficult for city and school levies to pass."

It adds, "Staff believes approving this NCA will set a precedent for future NCA requests. To the extent these expenses are related to amenities, they could be financed by a homeowners association (HOA) charge, which would make it clear what the charge is paying for and eliminate any confusion over perceived increased taxes."

Two attorneys representing the developer -- David Fisher of Kephart Fisher Attorneys, Columbus, and Gregory Stype of Columbus -- challenged those ideas during the hearing.

Stype said HOA fees "cannot possibly bear those capital costs and stay competitive."

Particularly in their early years, Fisher said, HOAs are a losing proposition, and the best hope is they can collect enough money to maintain the properties.

Stype said the concern about NCAs and city tax levies would be valid if the Terra Alta NCA involved roads.

"People who are going to move into this development," he said, "are going to understand exactly what this community authority charges for -- and it's not for general-purpose roads or other things you might, as an alternative, consider tax legislation for."

If council approves the NCA, Fisher said, the city will get the quality, amenities and projected home prices of up to $375,000 that the developer proposes.

Several times during the hearing, the discussion turned to Terra Alta as an example of higher-cost "move-up" housing that some said the city lacks.

City Planning Director Dave Efland said the housing market is active and Terra Alta stands a good chance of selling homes at those prices "the way things are now."

The developer originally proposed a 7.5-mill assessment. The agenda fact sheet said the developer has agreed to reduce the assessment to 5.5 mills.

Responding to a question from Councilwoman Lisa Keller, Stype said the NCA would continue until the amenities are paid for, and the community authority governance would be turned over to residents.

During the hearing's public-comment section, Powell real-estate agent Jennifer Popham, formerly of Delaware, defended the proposed NCA.

Without it, she said, a home otherwise priced at $400,000 might end up costing $550,000. She said she has sold houses in areas with NCAs in Hilliard, Grove City, New Albany and Golf Village in Powell.

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