Bellingham to lower developers’ transportation impact fee for 2015

The City Council appeared ready on Monday afternoon, Dec. 8, to reduce the transportation impact fee developers pay to help accommodate the additional traffic their projects bring to the city.

The base fee will go from $1,907 this year to $1,869 in 2015. The amount is set by a formula that weighs how much city money has gone toward road improvements excluding maintenance over the past six years, and how much is expected to be spent in the next six years.

Developers are charged the base fee for every new evening rush-hour vehicle trip their project adds. Residential developments, for example, pay for 1.01 trips per new house, so in 2015 the transportation impact fee would add $1,888 to the cost of a new home.

Builders of single-family homes can pay $25,000 or more for all of the fees required of a new house prior to construction, according to Linda Twitchell, government affairs director for the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County.

Bellingham’s high developer fees create a barrier to affordable housing, said Brian Evans, the association’s executive officer.

“We always have to take note of when fees go down. That’s a good thing,” Evans added, referring to the pending change in the transportation impact fee.

The 2 percent reduction in the fee for 2015 could have a measurable effect on a project such as the proposed 160,000-square-foot Costco on Bakerview Road. Costco would have paid $7.97 per square foot this year, or $1,275,000. The reduction should put Costco’s transportation impact fee, if it comes due next year, at $1,250,000.

Council member Jack Weiss said at Monday’s committee meeting that the transportation impact fee for residential developments wasn’t high enough.

“The impacts themselves are still not being adequately addressed for the community,” which results in the city subsidizing growth to benefit new residents “at a tremendous cost” for current residents, Weiss said.

In a phone interview after the meeting, Weiss said he was referring specifically to new subdivisions on undeveloped land that place a greater burden on the city’s roads than so-called “infill” development in already established neighborhoods.

“Those types of impacts are actually quite minimal compared to building brand new suburbs within the city limits,” Weiss said.

Council on Monday wasn’t in a position to easily change how it sets impact fees, even if it wanted to. However, all developer fees, including for parks, schools, and even building-permit costs, are coming up for review next year, city officials said.

Weiss said he has been calling for this type of review for years.

“We want to look at all the different types of incentives we can give to developers, to build in the places we want them to build and the type of buildings we want them to build,” Weiss said.

The decrease to the transportation impact fee for 2015 was to go to a vote of the full council on Monday night.