STAMFORD - City legislators’ debate over building-permit fees this week got heated.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. The fire beneath the issue has been turned up for two years.

In 2017 a number of newcomers won seats on Stamford’s lawmaking body, the Board of Representatives, by promising to address residents’ concerns about overbuilt neighborhoods, crowded schools, and traffic and parking congestion they say is the result of decades of poorly managed development.

So heat was likely to rise again during the board’s January meeting, when representatives were scheduled to vote on a proposal to raise building-permit fees.

Mayor David Martin, citing a need to raise revenue, has sent the board multiple requests for fee hikes. Among them was one that would raise an estimated additional $1.2 million a year for the city by increasing fees for residential and commercial building permits. The city charges a certain amount for each $1,000 of the estimated cost of a building project.

Representatives accepted half of the mayor’s idea.

City Rep. Nina Sherwood, D-8, a member of the board’s Operations Committee, which researched the matter, explained during the meeting:

“The committee decided we didn’t want to raise any building-permit fees on residents,” said Sherwood, one of the members who ran in 2017 on concerns about overdevelopment. “So we decided to just raise fees on commercial projects over $1 million.”

For residents seeking to add a bedroom or build a garage, it meant leaving the fee at $13 for each $1,000 of the estimated cost. For commercial developers, the committee’s latest proposal was to leave the fee at $16.50 for the first $1 million, and bump it to $19 for each $1,000 of whatever a project costs after that.

But during the meeting Sherwood made a motion to increase it significantly higher.

“I propose raising it to $25,” she said. “The reason for that is we are going to be raising all kinds of fees on residents, and this is an opportunity to (charge) developers, who do a good job at raising money for themselves.”

The $25 per $1,000 of the cost of a project after the first million “does not hurt the little guy or the small-business owner,” Sherwood said. “I think we owe it to our constituents, who in a lot of ways are upset with the kind of development that’s been going on in the city.”

Sherwood the newcomer got support from some of the board’s most senior members. City Rep. Annie Summerville, D-6, has been a representative for more than four decades.

“Developers are not my enemies,” Summerville said. “I’m just asking for them to pay their fair share.”

Another long-timer, city Rep. John Zelinsky, D-11, agreed.

“We’re elected by constituents, not by developers,” Zelinsky said. “This is better than raising more taxes on constituents.”

The call to control development has not been limited to Democrats. It was a Republican representative who in 2017 proposed a temporary ban on all new multifamily housing projects. Carl Franzetti, who did not run for re-election, was reacting to a plan by the city’s biggest developer, Building and Land Technology, to construct 804 housing units on Long Ridge Road. City attorneys said a building ban is not legal.

But, during this week’s debate on building permits, city Rep. Charles Pia Jr., a Republican from District 18, said attacking development is a double-edged sword.

“We’re going from $16.50 to $25 - a 150 percent increase,” Pia said. “Developers like BLT are not going to just bear these costs themselves. You know who’s going to pay them? The renters of the City of Stamford. I think this is a cost our residents will end up bearing, not just the big developers who don’t live here.”

A fellow Republican, city Rep. Bradley Michelson of District 1, made another point. Projects that cost $1 million to $5 million are more likely to be the work of middle-class people, said Michelson, who founded a development company.

“These are people getting money from friends and family … to start their dream of their first restaurant, or dry cleaners, or a first investment in … a couple of townhouses,” Michelson said. “One million dollars might sound like a lot of money to put into real estate … but it’s really not that much. This is not the person we want to be punished.”

He offered a solution.

“Perhaps we raise (the fee) to $25 for projects $10 million and over, and leave it at $19 for projects that are $1 million to $5 million,” Michelson said.

But the board approved the $25 fee by a vote of 22-16, with two members absent, for projects over $1 million.

It isn’t over, however.

Members also voted to return the matter to the Operations Committee for a public hearing. Depending on the comments garnered during the hearing, which has not yet been scheduled, representatives could change the building-permit fees again.

“It needs mathematical analysis,” said city Rep. Eric Morson, D-13. “A lot more work needs to be done on this.”; 203-964-2296.