Monday, May 19, 2014

Seattle Times' Danny Westneat, "One Seattle tax solution: impact fees"

One Seattle tax solution: impact fees | Danny Westneat | Seattle Times Newspaper
Danny Westneat was encouraged by his readers to stop complaining, and propose a solution to the proliferation of new taxes being put upon the citizens of Seattle.
He proposes Seattle implements impact fees, and I agree. 

I had thought about the same thing over the past couple of weeks in regard to micro housing and developments that would prefer to not build parking for cars.

If a dwelling is not intended for people to own an automobile then how do the developers, and the city's Department of Planning, expect these people to get around? Walk? Bike? Ok, but supporting that infrastructure by taxing cars these people don't own isn't going to get more of it done, it would get less of it done if the urbanists car-free utopia is realized.

It may come to some surprise people that outside of downtown there are neighborhoods where there aren't sidewalks and bike lanes. Developers are expected to provide a sidewalk along their property. That for the 75-foot long strip along that particular property, but that's where the sidewalk ends.

Here are some of Westneat's broader thoughts and his context.

I admit, I'm not much of a solutions guy. Going all the way back to second grade when I quit the Cub Scouts (too authoritarian), my instinct has been more to poke holes than patch up. That's why I became a newspaper columnist!

But I'll give it a try. Here's my contribution to help solve what ails Seattle right now (namely, that we have so many infrastructure needs and not enough money to pay for it all.)

Growth and development impact fees.

It's hardly a new idea, but it reoccurred to me the other day when my bus ride to work reached comical levels of overcrowding. There were so many riders crammed in the aisles of the Metro bus No. 8 that the driver began quizzing us whether we'd showered that morning. Because she needed us to press up against one another like in a Japanese subway car.

As I was getting intimate with my co-passengers, I realized most of them were wearing blue badges. Signifying they work at Amazon.

That company has been a huge boon to Seattle, in jobs for one. But as with any growth explosion, there have been costs. Why hasn't Seattle asked the company to pay more of them?

Westneat points out that Amazon has contributed something, as many developers of large projects do.
I don't mean to single out Amazon. The company is paying for some streetcar service and bike lanes and the like around its developments. Seattle frequently negotiates improvements like this in a scattershot way, but the city has never systematically tried to make growth pay for itself.
Westneat points out that this isn't a new idea, and in Bellevue it is common practice, but they assess a one time fee.

Bellevue was the first city in the state to impose impact fees and now dozens do. In 1990, overwhelmed by new construction, Bellevue decided to make new growth help pay for traffic congestion. So today, if you build a house, you pay up to $2,600. An apartment building costs you $1,300 per unit. For office buildings it's $5 to $10 a square foot.

The city has $200 million worth of road work projects in the pipeline due to this fund.

Why can't Seattle do this? By state law impact fees can't be used directly for transit, but we could use them for roadwork, bike lanes, parks or schools. That could free up money from those areas that could be spent on transit.

I thought about this a couple weeks ago when trying to think of a solution to building large apartments, condos, and epodments, where the developer didn't want to build parking spaces. This is especially true in transit oriented development.

In those areas I think it would be a great idea to exchange an initial impact fee on the developer, and an annual impact fee on the owner of an apartment complex or on a home owners association for a condo development. The annual fee like an annual car tab fee, except it would be intended to help buy and maintain things like sidewalks, and bike lockers.

A one time fee might help buy mobility infrastructure for those folks, but as our current state reflects, current funding from one time taxes from real estate sales do not do a very good job of helping to maintain that infrastructure.

Further, the city and county leaders should work with our local state legislators to update state law to allow municipalities to use the impact fees collected to directly pay for transit, sidewalks and bike lanes to that transit. This is especially needed in transit oriented development. 
That's sort of the point, isn't it?

For the much smaller developments further away from transit centers the annual fee could still be applied through the home owner's association. It wouldn't collect too much money but it could help pay for road and sharrow painting. These people are already more likely to include more drivers that do pay car tab fees. So, it isn't as if there isn't already an annual fee system in place.

Read Danny Westneat's entire article, One Seattle Tax Solution: impact fees, in the Seattle Times