Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Woodinville traffic impact fee hike sparks council debate

by August 15th, 2012

Woodinville’s City Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to revamping its traffic impact fees – opting for a system that would charge developers of newly-built homes a one-time per house fee more than double the current level but still in the middle range of such fees levied in nearby Eastide suburbs. The council backed by a 4-2 vote a formula that would eventually charge $440 for every new “average daily trip” per new dwelling in the town of 11,000. The city currently pegs almost ten new average daily trips to each new home, so after a planned five-year phase-in of the raised fee, a new Woodinville single-famly house would be charged $4,210 for traffic impacts. The fees are typically passed on from developers to home buyers. The city’s fee hike will not be approved unless it passes a second council vote on Sept.11.

For a rough comparison, Issaquah’s formula would charge the same new house $2,444. The same single-family house would be $3,432 in Kirkland, $5,481 in Bothell and $6,916 in Redmond. Woodinville’s current traffic impact fee assessment system charges $208 per average daily trip, less than half that in the new formula once fully phased in.

The old and proposed traffic fee assessement systems also have formulas for constructing and expanding business buildings.

The proposed Woodinville traffic impact fees has been debated for the past few months – especially over whether such fees would hurt small businesses setting up in the town.

Some council opposition
Speaking at city council meeting Tuesday night, council members Les Rubstello and Scott Hageman, as well as Dave Witt, director of the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce, opposed the fee structure supported by the council’s majority. Their arguments were that the expected-to-be-adopted fees would discourage businesses and homes from being built in Woodinville. “At the full $440, restaurants will face triple the amount of impact fees and small retail business will go up four times. It seems this is the way to kill the engine before it gets started,” Rubstello said.

Hageman said: “I think the increase here sends the wrong message to businesses and developers.” Actually, Hageman wanted a formula based on $310 per average daily trip, while Rubstello did not want to raise the existing fees.

But council majority supports the rate hike
Four council members – Mayor Bernie Talmas, Art Pregler, Paulette Bauman, and Susan Boundy-Sauders – supported the expected-to-be-adopted fee structure. Deputy Mayor Liz Aspen was absent Tuesday. Boundy-Sanders noted that Sammamish has drastically high traffic impact fees, equalling roughly $16,000 for a single-family house, and it is nonetheless blossoming with new developments. “Redmond is kicking our butts in the numbers of businesses coming in and sales tax increases. There is no indication in the data that any city is having development stifled by traffic impact fees,” she said.

“Redmond is kicking our butts in the numbers of businesses coming in and sales tax increases. There is no indication in the data that any city is having development stifled by traffic impact fees.” – Woodinville City Council Member Susan Boundy-Sanders

Talmas argued that the new fee structure would encourage small businesses to set up in Woodinville because such ventures would likely move into existing buildings without having to pay traffic impact fees unless they expanded the structures.

City Public Works Director Tom Hansen said his department has not studied whether increased traffic impact fees would discourage development. “It’s a hard thing to equate,” he said.

Woodinville has not seen much development in recent years and does not expect to see much until possibly 2015 or 2016, said Witt, Hansen and City Finance Director Jim Katica. Woodinville is small geographically, covering 5.6 square miles that are already filled with buildings. Because of the recession, the only two significant developments on the drawing board, a 15-acre mixed-used project at Woodinville Wine Village and a 20-acre mixed-used project at Canterbury. They are not expected to begin until 2015 or 2016, city officials said. Meanwhile, only a handful of houses have been built in recent years, and only a handful more are expected in the near future, they said.

Five-year phase-in planned
The proposed traffic impact fee would be gradually phased in over five years. The one-time fee would be $290 per average daily trip added if a structure is built or expanded in the first year after adoption; $320 per average daily trip if built in the second year after the rate hike; $355 per daily daily trip if built in the third year; $395 if in the fourth; and the full $440 would be assessed starting in the fifth year. Average daily trips for houses and businesses would be calculated under several complicated formulas.

Low-income housing exemption would be removed
The new set of traffic impacts fees removes an exemption for low-income housing projects. Talmas said new low-income housing also brings extra vehicles to Woodinville to increase wear and tear on roads. The council wanted to include low-income housing in the fee system so all income groups would pay equal shares in dealing with extra impacts on roads.

The expected-to-be adopted fee system is predicted to raise $2.71 million over the next five years. Woodinville faces 17 planned street and interchange improvement projects and four traffic signal improvements by 2030 – totaling $78.12 million in estimated costs. Most of that money will come from sources other than traffic impact fees, Hansen said.

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