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Seattle City Council to consider developer impact fees

‘The need is clear’

Lassi Kurkijärvi/Flickr

The Seattle City Council will take the first step toward considering impact fees on developers, city councilors Lisa Herbold, Sally Bagshaw, and Mike O’Brien announced in a Seattle Times opinion piece earlier this week.

The lawmakers announced that early next week, they’ll “consider a resolution” to add a collection of amendments to the city’s Comprehensive Plan—”the document that guides how we grow,” they wrote.

The goal is to eventually establish impact fees on developers that help fund transportation, parks, and schools—programs that are currently funded in a large part through property tax levies on Seattle residents.

Instead of establishing impact fees outright, the amendments would tell city departments to write their own amendments to establish developer impact fees in a way that would work for them.

Those amendments would “undergo rigorous analysis” before the council would consider approving them.

Impact fees, authorized by Washington State’s Growth Management Act 25 years ago, are designed to reduce an economic burden caused by a development. They’re strictly regulated to make sure that they address that specific issue: They must be used within 10 years of collection and can’t be used to relieve existing pressures.

In their op-ed, councilors Herbold, Bagshaw, and O’Brien make the case that because of Seattle’s staggering rate of growth, city services need to scale up to serve an increased population:

The need is clear. All aspects of our transportation system require additional funding to meet growing demand. Schools in most neighborhoods are already packed, and residents of Seattle’s downtown — the fastest growing neighborhood in our city — are calling loudly for a public elementary and high school. Seattle Public Schools estimates it needs 28 new classrooms just to keep up with projected growth citywide, and 37 more to meet new class-size reduction laws. And it’s essential we continually improve and enhance our parks and community centers to address increased demand.

They point out that Bellevue, Kirkland, Bothell, Issaquah and Renton have already imposed impact fees on developers.

As the conversation around impact fees heats up, some have raised concerns about the effect impact fees would have on housing costs. Unsurprisingly, one of them is Sightline Institute’s Dan Bertolet: “Even with perfect rules, high land values and the raw cost of construction put new homes out of reach to people on the lower end of the income ladder,” he wrote. “But here’s the crux: the more costs can be cut, the further down on that ladder housing will reach.”

An amendment could come to council as soon as early 2018.