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County close to decision on development in 179th Street area

Most recent funding options would not increase property taxes

By , Columbian staff reporter
Published: July 10, 2019, 9:59pm

Clark County is zeroing in on a $66.5 million plan so developers can build more than 1,500 single-family houses, townhomes and apartments near the Northeast 179th Street corridor without the county raising property taxes.

County officials have developed a string of options and corresponding costs for lifting “urban holding,” a planning designation that has blocked development across more than 2,200 acres near the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds until money has been allocated for road improvements.

During a work session Wednesday, the Clark County Council heard about two new options that would fund the road improvements.

Councilor Gary Medvigy, who objected to raising taxes during a June 12 work session, supported an option that would require development to foot more of the road bill.

“I was pretty impressed with the level of detail,” Medvigy said about the county’s latest work. “I am satisfied there really aren’t other options or less cost options.”

The council agreed to hold a public hearing Tuesday before selecting a funding option. That meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the sixth-floor hearing room of the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

One aspect that did not generate much discussion Wednesday is increasing traffic impact fees in the Mount Vista area by an eye-popping 73.5 percent in 2020. That would add nearly $4,000 in costs per single-family home, an increase that likely would be passed on to buyers.

Traffic impact fees are collected on development to help pay for needed transportation improvements. The proposed increase would make the rate in the Mount Vista area one of the highest in Western Washington.

The nonprofit Municipal and Research Services Center has an online listing of traffic impact fee rates, compiled by a city of Bellingham planner in October 2017. Only the cities of North Bend and Kenmore would have higher rates than what the county proposes to charge in the Mount Vista area, one of four traffic impact fee districts in unincorporated Clark County.

That list should not be considered definitive because it covers only four of Washington’s 39 counties, but county officials and development attorneys acknowledge the proposed rate would be one of the highest in the state.

Developers also would need to agree to pay traffic impact fees in advance, instead of when building permits are issued, and pay development surcharges that would add another $3,500 in costs to a single-family home.

Councilors Julie Olson and John Blom have supported cobbling together a plan using public and private dollars so residential development can proceed. Both councilors say building the road improvements also will open the door for commercial and industrial job creation.

Council Chair Eileen Quiring, who did not attend Wednesday’s work session, has opposed tax increases during her tenure on the five-person council.

Councilor Temple Lentz sounded the most skeptical of moving ahead during Wednesday’s discussion. Lentz questioned whether the county was creating a “chicken and egg situation,” where the county needs to collect traffic impact fees to pay for road projects, which need to be funded before the development projects that would generate them can be built.

“If the (traffic impact fees) don’t come in, what’s our backstop?” she asked. “Is it general fund? Is it road fund? Is it (real estate excise taxes)?”

Public Works Director Ahmad Qayoumi replied the backstop would be the county road fund and grants.

The county’s approach assumes grants will provide 16.5 percent of the needed $66.5 million. The county’s ability to secure some grants is blocked by a ruling that the county is out of compliance with Washington’s Growth Management Act, a decision the county is appealing.

Aside from Lentz’s questions, the council did not discuss Wednesday what would happen if the economy soured and the county’s hot housing market cooled.

The $66.5 million plan would provide missing money to help pay for five road improvements:

• Improving Northeast 179th Street from Northeast Delfel Road to Northeast 15th Avenue.

• Extending Northeast 15th Avenue to the northwest and connecting it to Northeast 10th Avenue, which would dead-end south of the connection.

• Improving the intersection of Northeast 179th Street and Northeast 29th Avenue.

• Improving the intersection of Northeast 179th Street and Northeast 50th Avenue.

• Improving Northeast 10th Avenue between Northeast 149th and Northeast 154th streets.

The county has scheduled an open house on these projects for 4:30 to 7 p.m. Sept. 10 at Alki Middle School, 1800 N.W. Bliss Road, Vancouver.

The county also has identified four long-range projects that total an estimated $97 million:

• Improving Northwest/Northeast 179th Street, from Northwest 11th Avenue to Northeast Delfel Road.

• Improving Northeast 179th Street, from Northeast 15th to Northeast 50th avenues.

• Improving Northeast 10th Avenue, from Northeast 164th to Northeast 173rd streets.

• Improving Northwest 11th Avenue, from Northeast 139th to Northeast 149th streets.

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