Cutting deals with developers to benefit public? Council learns more Tuesday
Should the City of Edmonds consider negotiating with developers to provide public amenities in exchange for being able to build a taller residential building or add more density to a commercial project? That concept generated many questions at Tuesday’s Edmonds City Council meeting, as councilmembers listened to a presentation on the subject of incentive zoning and development agreements and how those could apply to future Edmonds projects.
City Attorney Jeff Taraday explained that with incentive zoning, the idea is “to find right balance” between obtaining a benefit the public wants — perhaps amenities that are difficult to provide given the city’s budget challenges –and an incentive that will be both attractive to the developer and acceptable to citizens.
If the council decided to pursue such an idea, Taraday recommended that they identify three areas of benefits or amenities they would like to see, and what kind of incentives they’d be willing to offer a developer. Ultimately, developers want to make money and the idea is to provide something that appeals to their bottom line, he added. He recommend that any ideas should be tested before adoption by reaching out the development community to ensure that such incentives are appealing.
Then Taraday explained the concept of development agreements, essentially a state-authorized contract between the city and a developer “that sets forth just about all of the regulations that are going to apply to a particular development on a property.” Such agreements are often used for very large developments — he cited as examples Redmond Ridge and Snoqualmie Ridge — where cities and developers want to be very clear about what type of development is allowed and what regulations will apply, particularly when project is being built over a long period of time.
Among the questions asked by councilmembers, a common theme was how to ensure that the developer held up its end of the bargain once such agreements were made. Taraday stressed the need for “tightly crafted” language and also due diligence in monitoring the projects to ensure they met agreed-upon specifications.
After nearly 90 minutes of council discussion on the matter, Mayor Dave Earling recommended that the issue be referred to both the Edmonds Planning Board and Economic Development Commission to obtain citizen input.
Next up was the City’s possible participation in the creation of a Regional Fire Authority, Finance Director Shawn Hunstock gave an overview of the current status of the RFA planning committee, which was formed in 2011 and has been meeting regularly to sort out whether there is support for such a regional fire service.
The cities of Brier, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace and Mukilteo; the town of Woodway and Snohomish County Fire Districts 1 and 7 initially expressed interest in the concept. Mill Creek recently dropped out and Lynnwood may leave as well, Hunstock said. As a result, the total cost to the remaining municipalities will be higher, which may make the idea less attractive, he said. Once final numbers are received, Hunstock hopes to be able to have a recommendation at the Feb. 5 council meeting on whether to continue the city’s participation.
The Washington State Legislature in 2005 enacted a law — RCW 52.26 – that permits municipalities to combine resources and personnel to provide fire and emergency medical services on a regional basis. A regional fire authority must be composed of at least two or more adjacent fire districts or municipalities and must be approved by a majority vote of residents living in those districts.
For cash-strapped municipalities, the regional fire concept — which by law must be approved by voters – is attractive because it take the cost of fire protection out of the municipalities’ budget and funds fire services through a separate tax levy just for the fire service. Municipalities can also impose an additional fee, known as a benefit charge, for the regional service. Such a fee is a variable rate based on the square footage and the amount of fire service provided to a home or business. (Businesses with a greater fire risk, such as manufacturing or companies handling hazardous materials, would pay more.)
The assumption is that cities involved in a regional fire district would continue the normal property tax, although some cities have reduced the amount collected for regular property taxes to offset the fire service charge. You can learn more via the Regional Fire Authority planning website – www.rfa-planning.org.