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Northern California man wins development impact fees case against U.S. Supreme Court

El Dorado County man wins development impact fees case against Supreme Court
El Dorado County man wins development impact fees case against Supreme Court 03:02

EL DORADO COUNTY - A Northern California man took his case over development impact fees up to the U.S. Supreme Court and won in a unanimous vote after a 7.5-year battle.

"I'm the little guy, and to get that far is amazing and it shows you that every once in a while, the small guy can win one," George Sheetz said.

Sheetz wanted to retire back in 2016 and made plans to build a 1,800-square-foot manufactured home on his property.

"When they told me the cost when I went down to get the permit, I was in shock and I said, 'I did not budget for this,' " Sheetz said.

Sheetz was told he would need to pay a traffic impact fee of $23,420 on top of the other permit fees he would have to pay. He said it totaled to more than $28,000.

"What they're saying is me putting this house here is impacting the roads and therefore, they need to charge this money," Sheetz said.

The traffic fees are "used to fund transportation improvements needed to accommodate growth anticipated by the county's general plan," according to El Dorado County's website.

The home he was building was off Highway 50 in a rural part of the county on Fort Jim Road.

"I don't see where I'm impacting anyone. This a rural area, and we're the last ones to get any service when you're in a rural or outer area, so I just found it ridiculous," Sheetz said.

Sheetz tried to fight the fees. He and his attorneys said it was unconstitutional and too high in comparison to the price of the project.

"So I said I will go ahead with this and I will write a check for the total fees, but I am going to do it under protest," Sheetz said.

He lost in Trial Court and the California Court of Appeal. It was also denied by the California Supreme Court before the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to head it.

"It was a bit of a shock for me to go back there and be in front of the 9 justices, and I was amazed this morning when I heard it was 9-0," Sheetz said.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett delivered the opinion to the court and she said, in part, "When the government wants to take private property to build roads, courthouses, or other public projects, it must compensate the owner at fair market value."

Sheetz said this was a sigh of relief, but they're not done yet.

"This is not the end of the fight. It's going to get back into the lower courts unless the county decides to settle," Sheetz said.

El Dorado County released a statement to us that said, "The County is pleased with the Supreme Court's decision, which answers only a narrow question on which the parties already agreed.  It explicitly leaves open the County's other strong defenses and casts no doubt on whether local governments can continue to impose reasonable permitting conditions (including impact fees) on new development under their traditional land-use authority, as the County has done here."

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