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Sequim lowers traffic impact fees
Building a new home or commercial building in Sequim just got a little less costly.
During its Sept. 23 meeting, the Sequim City Council adopted a new ordinance reducing the sometimes-controversial Traffic Impact Fee on new construction and on new uses of existing buildings.
Under the new rule, a home builder will pay $2,491 for the traffic impact fee. Prior to the passage of the ordinance the fee was $2,893.
City Engineer Dave Garlington told the council the traffic impact fees can be lowered because the projected rate of growth in the city has declined.
He added that the cost of the projects that will be paid for by the fees also has dropped. Perhaps most importantly, the big-ticket Simdars exchange renovation has been removed from the city’s list. Councilor Ted Miller said the Simdars project was removed because the state will be required to pay a portion of the project.
Total traffic infrastructure development costs for the city were formerly listed as $17.2 million; that figure is now $13.8 million, Garlington said.
The new change is largely reflected in a new fee schedule for new construction and for putting an existing building to a new use. For example, the traffic impact fee for a hardware store was formerly $2.77 per square foot. It’s now $2.43.
During the public hearing on the rule, Larry Coppola, the new executive officer of the North Peninsula Builders Association, spoke in favor of its passage, but added, “We don’t believe it goes nearly far enough to helping Sequim’s long-term financial problems, or Clallam County’s biggest immediate problem: unemployment.”
He said the state now has a 7 percent unemployment rate, but Clallam continues at 10 percent.
“There’s a need for economic development to create jobs,” he said. “One very simple way to accomplish that in Sequim is to make it a lot less onerous to get a building permit.”
He told the councilors that many members of his organization are no longer interested in building in Sequim. “No construction means no construction sales taxes and no long-term property taxes,” he said.
Coppola said further reducing the fees would be a win-win by discouraging sprawl, encouraging building activity and by creating new City revenues.
Builder Greg McCarry also asked the council to further lower fees, saying there is a 30 percent difference between the cost of a new home and an existing one. “Until that spread narrows, the builders won’t be active. That’s a big impact on city revenues.”
Mayor Ken Hays responded, saying, “It’s a little unfair” to attribute the downturn in new construction to city fees. “It’s just bloody expensive to build these days,” he said.
He added that research he’s done shows the amount of building in the city has remained consistent when compared to the county.
“We need to find ways to put our tradespeople back to work,” he said. “But I don’t the solution is in the (City’s) costs.”
“In fact I think Sequim is a very good deal.”
The plan also provides new opportunities for those moving into the downtown core, where they will pay lower traffic impact fees. City Public Works Director Paul Haines explained that the downtown area will be viewed as a shopping center. In a shopping center, he said, most customers will walk from store to store rather than returning to their vehicle. That lessens the traffic impact.
The ordinance was thought to exempt from the traffic impact fee those who moved into an existing downtown building, as long as they didn’t change the footprint of the building. Miller criticized the idea, saying that a developer could get a permit for a building saying it would be utilized for a low-traffic use, then change it to another higher traffic use. “That’s a loophole you could drive a truck through.”
City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the answer lies in the ordinance’s definitions, which say that any new development that increases traffic will be subject to paying the appropriate traffic impact fees.
Reach Mark Couhig at firstname.lastname@example.org.