What's up with that? New synagogue in right place, right time for road

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

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Parishioners at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in the Glenwood area, Northeast 119th Street and 87th Avenue, are raising their eyebrows. When the church did its big renovation several years ago, Clark County forced it to add a lane to both 119th and 87th, to the tune of nearly $1 million. Now, we can’t help but notice that no road work is being required just a quarter-mile or so west on 119th, where the new Congregation Kol Ami synagogue is going in adjacent to the Glenwood Community Church. That church also did not have to do anything to either 119th or 72nd Avenue when it was built. It frankly feels to folks like the county treated the St. John Catholic Church unfairly, compared to the other two houses of worship nearby.

— Concerned Parishioner

Actually, CP, the same roadway-improvement rules do apply to everyone, according to county transportation manager Steve Schulte. But not everyone is in the same spot nor facing the same conjunction of private and public interests, which is why the results seem so different.

Clark County code says any developer who’s going to build a building or otherwise add to traffic must upgrade the roadways commensurately (the only exceptions being new elementary and middle schools). Plus, the developer also must kick in standard traffic impact fees that are applied area-wide, as needed.

In this case, Schulte said, Congregation Kol Ami would have been required to pay those impact fees plus make “half-width” frontage improvements to its side, the north side, of Northeast 119th Street.

But there’s a wrinkle having do with time and transportation planning. The county is now within three years of a major capital improvement project along 119th, Schulte said, expanding the narrow country road to a five-lane arterial (two travel lanes in each direction plus a center turn lane) complete with bike lanes and sidewalks.

According to code, if such an improvement is already planned for construction within three years, the developer can pay the county to adopt its little slice of the larger project. It’s more efficient that way, Schulte said, and the developer is compensated for footing part of the cost of a public improvement with traffic impact-fee credits.

What’s even more efficient is when, rather than exchange payments and credits, the county and the developer settle upon a “zero-dollar” frontage improvement agreement. The matter is legally declared even-Steven. That’s what Clark County and Kol Ami did.

“No money changed hands,” Schulte said. “Instead of them paying us dollars and us giving them credits, they don’t make the payment and they don’t get the credit. It’s a fairly conventional situation.”

The county will still widen the road within the next few years. And Kol Ami will still have to pay standard area-wide traffic impact fees — totalling $92,000, Schulte said.

Such an arrangement is only possible when the road project is scheduled for no more than three years out, he said, so there’s a high degree of certainty what it will look like and how much it will cost. According to the county’s current transportation improvement program schedule, the rebuild of 119th here will start in 2013.

St. John’s was out of luck, Schulte said, because when it did its remodel, no road projects were planned for its intersection within three years. “At the time they came in, there was nothing planned,” he said. That left the church building its own frontage roadway improvements, adding turn lanes because of traffic impacts (as identified by the church’s own engineer, Schulte said) — and paying the area-wide impact fees too.

If a county road improvement had been planned within three years, it might have been possible to pay the county to handle the job and get some fee credits in return, Schulte said.

“Clearly, if you are a builder and you happen to be building on a collector or arterial where there’s a future county project, you benefit,” said Schulte. “If you are not building on a street where the county has future projects planned — you have to pay.”

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