Home builder Ted Grob suspects that many of the houses he has built in West Des Moines and Urbandale were purchased by families who wanted to take advantage of Waukee schools. They built in the Waukee school district in those towns but not within Waukee city limits.


One of the reasons was that the fees builders paid in Waukee were nearly double those of nearby cities. That situation could change if the City Council continues to follow a staff recommendation that will cut the fee from more than $5,000 to about $2,800.


"They certainly are taking a step in the right direction if they want to be competitive," Grob said. He is the owner of Savannah Homes, which he founded in 1996 after selling Midland Homes, which was the largest home builder in the state at the time and one of the largest in the country.


His focus is on entry-level homes, and the high cost of doing business in Waukee made it difficult to build in that market segment.


The council will cast its second vote on the issue Sept. 16. The city will arrive at the lower figure by cutting a sewer connection fee from $2,370 to $600 and eliminating a $600 charge for connecting natural gas meters. The water connection fee is established by city ordinance, and a change requires three votes. The gas connection fee is established by resolution and requires just a single vote to change.


A recent Business Record analysis of fees charged by Greater Des Moines communities placed Waukee squarely at the top of the pack, or bottom, depending on your perspective.


Waukee's fees haven't exactly stymied growth in the city. Its population growth outpaces that of any other city in the metro area. However, the number of permits issued for residential construction dropped 15 percent from the onset of the financial crisis in 2007 to 2012.


There are a range of reasons for that decline, but many developers believe that builders ran for cover from the city's high building fees during that period.

House building is set to boom again in the city. Developers have platted or are in the process of gaining approval for more than 600 residential lots. As City Administrator Tim Moerman points out, there is still plenty of land available for residential and commercial construction.


"Waukee has a lot of land that has not had demand," said Creighton Cox, executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Greater Des Moines. "This new policy and fee structure will create quite a few lots to come available and it will be one of the stronger growth communities for the next several years."


Grob said the drop in permit fees could bring him back into the Waukee market in a "smaller way, not like I was before."


The reduction in permit fees is just one several steps Waukee is taking to prepare itself for what is expected to be another boost in residential and commercial construction with expansion of the Alice's Road corridor south to Interstate 35.


Moerman said he and the council have set 15 goals that can "change Waukee for the good." Among those goals was establishing an economic development department and hiring a director. Dan Dutcher, a longtime Waukee resident who served on the City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission, left a career as a real estate professional to serve as economic development director.


Dutcher understands construction and development, and his hiring was one of the best moves the city has made in an effort to compete with other cities in Greater Des Moines, Grob said.


Another part of the "deliberate planning" process for Alice's Road has been the hiring of the Confluence architecture firm, Moerman said. Confluence principal Brian Clark will host city officials and property owners on a trip to Kansas City, Mo., next week to take a look at how that city has built out commercial and residential corridors.


"Kansas City offers us a glimpse into the future," Clark said. Many of the corridors run off of interstate interchanges and some have been in place for 15 years or more.