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Hays and Burkett fire back at critics
When Mayor Ken Hays and City Manager Steve Burkett got the chance to fire back at critics, they took it.
The two were the guest speakers at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday, April 23.
They pointed to recent newspaper stories, saying the stories delivered a message that the city is anti-business.
That’s not true, they said. Burkett told the crowd that a healthy city administration requires a healthy business community. Harming the businesses would be “shooting ourselves in the foot,” he said.
The two took turns, with Hays taking up the issue of the potential annexation of Battelle, an idea that gained steam until 2012 when Battelle demurred. Hays said there are rumors the city isn’t interested in supporting Battelle or supporting jobs. “In fact it’s completely the opposite,” he said.
He provided a little history, saying that three years ago Battelle came to the city in a kind of “desperation,” saying they needed access to city resources by 2012.
Hays said the city spent a great deal of effort — and considerable sums of cash — trying to make the arrangement work. He said the city not only hoped to provide the utility services to Battelle, but also planned to find funding that would act as a steppingstone to better serving that portion of the city, for both residents and businesses.
In the end, Hays said, Battelle decided to call the process to a halt. “Quite honestly, I’ve been very disappointed in their response.”
He said the Battelle managers felt they were under pressure to meet a number of financial obligations, “which was not the case.”
He added that under the current financial circumstances, particularly in Washington, D.C., the issue is likely moot. But, he said, “The city remains willing and ready to provide that infrastructure support. And we continue to seek funding.”
Burkett took up the issue of Crumb Grabbers bakery, which recently made headlines when the story broke that the city had asked for $17,000 in traffic impact fees for the shop, which is at 492 W. Cedar St.
Burkett defended traffic impact fees, saying they are needed to pay for the increased traffic. “If a McDonald’s … opened on Washington there would be a lot more traffic,” he said.
He said the city would prefer to have those who create the additional traffic pay for the needed changes rather than charging “the people who live here now.”
He added that the Crumb Grabbers issue provided “evidence that the impact fees aren’t good,” and has led the city to re-examine the rules to avoid these kinds of unintended consequences.
He added, “The bottom line is that they paid zero impact fees.”
Hays said the city’s sign ordinance, which has been an issue for a dozen or more businesses in town, wasn’t just thrown together. He said the staff “tried extremely hard” to craft a workable ordinance, including several public discussions.
“We thought we’d worked out something that was pretty good given the inherent difficulties,” he said. He added that sign ordinances are “always controversial. But you have to remember, you have two choices: you can regulate signs, or not.” He said the second option isn’t a wise choice.
He added that many seem to view the city’s recent changes in the ordinance as evidence of a decision by the council to overhaul the rules. The changes were forced on the city, he said, by a court decision that essentially invalidated Sequim’s rules regarding temporary and portable signs. Virtually every city in Washington also found their rules invalidated, he said.
He added that he had heard numerous complaints about the proliferation of signs, especially the “We buy gold” signs that appeared on the streets in recent years.
Regarding the recent dust-up over the pole sign in front of the Skunkworks Auto Detailing shop, he explained, “Washington Street is not the highway anymore.”
He added that the ban on pole signs has been on the city’s books since 1997 and has been supported by succeeding administrations.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.