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Pro-growth or anti-growth? Where our city councilors stand
Sequim Gazette staff
Sequim is engaged in a great debate: Is the current city council, including Mayor Ken Hays, pro-growth, anti-growth or something in between? We decided to go to the source and posed eight questions to the councilors. We received responses from five of the seven members; councilors Susan Lorenzen and Erik Erichsen did not respond. In order to provide their responses in full, we have published them on our website at www.sequimgazette.com/answers. In this edition we are providing five of the questions, along with selected, and sometimes abridged, responses.
For questions or comments, please write to mcouhig@sequim gazette.com.
1) Sequim grew by more than 50 percent in the past 10 years. What do you believe is a healthy rate of growth?
Councilor Laura Dubois: The city’s infrastructure and capital improvements for streets, water and sewer did not keep up with the explosive growth. A manageable annual rate of growth would be in the low single digits.
Mayor Ken Hays: Over the past 20 years when Sequim’s rate of growth has been under 5 percent the local economy was fairly resistant to the deep national/global recessions; anyone who has been around here long enough can verify this. It hasn’t been until this recent deep recession which occurred when our short-term average rate of growth was over 5 percent (well over in the very short term during the mid-2000s), that Sequim’s “boom” became a dramatic “bust.”
So, based on the math, on the history and on my own business experience, I believe that the healthiest average rate of peak growth is below 5 percent. And I believe for a less “convulsive” reaction to a “peak” growth in a boom (for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction), a maximum rate of growth of around 3.6 percent (the upper end of any 20-year average) is probably the healthiest and the most sustainable. That all said, we don’t really have much control over how rapid our growth is — supply and demand is an insatiable beast. All we can do is make our best guess and prepare for what we think is coming.
2) What is the purpose of the fees? How do you determine the appropriate level of fees?
Councilor Ted Miller: Contrary to builder and real estate developer propaganda, the purpose of fees is not to penalize growth. The purpose is to reimburse the city/taxpayers for some of the infrastructure impact costs that development creates and to ensure building conforms with building codes, ordinances and state law. Areas that lack these often have distressed home buyers with shoddily built homes and inadequate roads, etc., to serve the residents.
Hays: The fees are made up of general facility fees (water & sewer), impact fees for transportation and parks, and the cost of a building permit. The purpose of the facility fees is to buy into the existing infrastructure capacity to support future maintenance, expansion, etc., and to pay down the current debt service on the recent expansion, which was built to support growth.
The purpose of the impact fees is to make more consistent and more fair the distribution of the costs that had previously been levied on developers via SEPA (State Environmental Protection Act) fees, which were discretionary; this actually makes more predictable the costs to the developer and in many cases makes the costs less to developers. It does spread the costs to everyone, however, including the individual who owns a lot in an existing neighborhood who wants to build on an in-fill lot.
Right now our impact fees are based on a per-unit (of residential increment) cost. I have been thinking lately that maybe we need to revisit the fees, possibly considering a per-trip basis. This would make the in-fill condition a minor incremental case and considerably less but would probably result in higher costs for new subdivisions. We could also consider going back to the per-trip method within a SEPA process, but that would require expensive traffic studies for the developer. These studies seem to cost $20,000 whether you are creating 200 lots or 20 lots. I think the Realtors, staff and council need to discuss these options for supporting growth together to find the best balance.
3) Do you believe Sequim should be working to attract retirees? If you do, how can you as a councilman and as a council help make the city more competitive?
Councilor Don Hall: Personally I think the beauty of the Sequim area speaks for itself. The people will come and our graduates will stay if we have good jobs for them. Visitors will retire here if they like what we have.
Hays: Developers have been attempting to make Sequim “attractive” to retirees for decades — trying to make Sequim a destination retirement community like the desert or other similar places, without great success. Sequim is a great place to live and it has pretty good weather, but the simple truth is it is not for everyone; you have to want to live here, presumably for what the area offers: beautiful scenery, a relaxed lifestyle, the small, friendly rural atmosphere, etc.
Based on that reality I believe we should be working to maintain and develop our community’s attractiveness to everyone, including those who live here now. A community that is fully embraced by the current population creates the most attractive, alluring atmosphere for retirees who are looking for the relaxed, friendly small-city environment with pretty good weather that we enjoy here. Make it nice for ourselves, then the others will come, and more importantly, stay. This is my learned opinion, both as a councilor and as an architect.
4) Do you want to see additional low-income housing in Sequim?
Dubois: We have a reasonable supply of low income homes and apartments. I would prefer more good-paying jobs to reduce the need for low-income housing.
Hays: Of course, how can you not? However, low-income housing is a complex and difficult issue. In a boom economy there are no affordable housing opportunities — in a deeply recessed economy everything is affordable. Further, I don’t think true affordable housing, which is supportive housing, is possible without public funding. I think workforce housing is market-driven no matter what we do. I do believe the city can consider some additional incentives to encourage supportive and workforce housing in locations where it makes sense — within the core area near services and transportation.
5) Would you support the construction of new apartment complexes?
Councilor Bill Huizinga: Yes, we need more apartment complexes. Retirees require conveniences.
Conveniences require service industries; service industries employ lower-wage employees. When Home Depot built here, they ran into a problem. They had intended to move some of their experienced people from Silverdale and other Washington locations here in order to have an experienced staff to start with. They had a problem; housing was too expensive and/or nonexistent.
We need more low-income housing in Sequim. We need more family rentals and more homes available for median-income families. Yes, we need more apartments instead of old single-wide mobile homes and doubling up of families. Look around, you will see what I mean. We can encourage those by creating ample zoning in strategic places, easing fees, relaxing parking requirements.
Hays: I don’t think this is something you “support” or “don’t support.” If a developer wants to build apartments on land zoned for this use and density, then it is allowed, subject to our other codes and standards; it is entirely a private sector, market/capitalization-driven decision. However, as a community we should decide together where high-density, large-scale apartments make sense. In my opinion this is within or very near the core area — within walking distance to services and transportation. I also believe the city should consider strong incentives that would encourage this type of development in our core area.