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City will not double traffic impact fees

  • Written by Don Mann
It was a case of the democratic process in action.

The Woodinville City Council held a public hearing on Ordinance No. 527 to amend traffic impact fee (TIF) regulations — that is to say doubling the fees to enable the city to afford its long list of traffic improvement projects.

Eight members of the business community spoke in lockstep opposition and, after some council debate, the motion to pass first reading of the ordinance failed 5-2, with Mayor Bernie Talmas and Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders in support of it.The consensus of the naysayers was that it was too steep a jump in fees, particularly for small businesses seeking to develop.

TIFs, authorized under state law and established locally by Woodinville Municipal Code (WMC) 3.39, are assessed to new construction projects that generate new vehicle trips and are used to fund transportation system capital improvements.

The ordinance as proposed by city staff sought to make the following changes to existing regulations:

• Assess TIFs based upon average daily trips versus peak hour trips; approximately double the fee;

• Eliminate TIFS for existing buildings if no new square footage is added or additional parking spaces are required;

• Eliminate the current four transportation service areas in favor of one citywide area.(Currently TIFs collected in an area are required to be used in that area.)

Woodinville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dave Witt, speaking during public testimony, said doubling or in some cases tripling TIFs in a struggling economy seemed “counter-intuitive and potentially unproductive” and would discourage new development, which generates income to the city.

Former Woodinville mayor Lucy DeYoung said it was already expensive to develop in town and raising fees would lead to stagnation. She added: “Our neighbors have development in their towns and Woodinville just has talk.”

Councilmember Scott Hageman, noting what he called a “severe” jump in fees, asked City Manager Richard Leahy if staff had considered something “more intermediate.”

Said Leahy: “You can do whatever you want. Our projections are based upon a medium growth scenario downtown. The real issue is if development doesn’t pay for it, who does? If you don’t want to come up with the balance then you have to be able to accept certain traffic volumes and levels … If the development doesn’t pay for it then the taxpayers have to pay for it and that’s the policy call you guys have to make.”

Boundy-Sanders argued that taxpayers have already paid for 85 percent of every traffic project and “have more than stepped up to the plate.”

Talmas reminded his colleagues and the citizenry that the city already spends $1 million of its $8.5 million annual budget on road resurfacing. After the vote, it was agreed by a show-of-hands consensus that staff return with a fee modification which included deferring fee collection until a certificate of occupancy is issued, as opposed to businesses having to pay up front.

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