The city council is considering imposing "Impact Fees" on developers to help pay for schools, parks, open space, fire stations, and roads—infrastructure and service needs, the logic goes, that increase when developers build more. As government bureaucrats have it: There's a clear "nexus" when you charge a developer for a building permit.
Judging from the hearing the council had on it late last week, it's a popular idea. (Who doesn't like socking it to developers?)
"It's reasonable to call for a pause in development and no further upzones in Seattle, especially in areas like Ballard and a couple dozen other neighborhoods being overrun with development, until a new, more responsible model of managing growth is put in place."—Jon Fox
Only developer lobbyist Roger Valdez, who's being paid $50 an hour by developer interests at Vulcan, the Master Builders Association, and NAIOP (The Commerical Real Estate and Development Association) spoke out against the measure. Valdez cited a long list of costs developers alreay pay when they build—sewer fees, curb, gutter, and sidewalk fees, driveway fees, and water fees, for example.
Otherwise, a parade of people, including one developer, said it was a great idea—and long overdue.
City consultant Randy Young of Henderson, Young & Company gave a 101 primer on impact fees; it's a taxing policy authorized by the state that's used predominantly by suburban and rural cities (nearly 80 cities) that don't already have major infrastructure in place. (The fees aren't allowed to pay for transit operations.)
As we noted in Fizz on Friday, the penultimate myth about impact fees [in the graphic above], according to the consultant's presentation, was that developers pay the fees. Nope, Young said: They pass the fee on to renters and homeowners, which certainly raises a question about why the council is excited about the idea. [Debate raging in Fizz.]
But here's something else Young said: It's a myth that impact fees stop development. (The last bullet point on the graphic above.) "Those who are really about slow growth and protecting the environment and think, 'Oh!, we can slow down development by taking this out of their profits.' That's not what happens. If it stopped development, why are 80 cities collecting impact fees?"
Which brings us to this:
Isn't it Weird That Seattle Displacement Coalition leader Jon Fox enthusiastically supported the measure because by his calculations the city could have raised $156 million over the past 10 years if an impact fee policy had been in place?
It's not Fox's math that makes his position weird (his math is fine), it's that Fox has spent the last 10 years fighting the very growth that he connects to those MIA dollars.
Indeed, during his testimony last week, he couldn't resist making an editorial aside as he went through his calculations: "Since 2005, there's been 52,000 residential units..." he started ... and then the acid aside: "113 percent of our 20-year growth target in just 10 years..."
Fox's commentary echoes a manifesto he published in neighborhood papers at the beginning of the year calling for moratoriums and suspensions in order to slow growth:
Here’s what should be our neighborhood mantra, demanded at all council hearings, forums, workshops and committee meetings:
•A moratorium on issuing residential construction permits in all neighborhoods where rates of growth already exceed levels needed to meet their 2024 regional growth targets.
•Suspend all plans for further upzoning of our neighborhoods, especially in these areas experiencing runaway levels of growth — Ballard, Capitol Hill, Lake City, Fremont, West Seattle Junction, the University District and much of the rest of Seattle have reached up to 300 percent of neighborhood 2024 targets. Yet, city officials insist on encouraging still more development in these areas, oblivious to what it’s doing to the livability and affordability of our city.
So which is it? Does Fox want the growth and the money or does he want "tough growth controls," as he declared earlier this year, to stop "runaway growth"?
Here's what Fox, sounding a little bit like the Republicans in the state senate who demand "reforms before revenue," says about the potential contradiction.
It seems very consistent to me. I've never been opposed to responsible and managed levels of growth and by that I mean growth that reinforces, not destroys, the existing social and physical character of our communities. What we're seeing now in Seattle, however, is the antithesis of that... We've got runaway growth - unprecedented levels of it - and it's destroying both the livability and affordability of our city. Further, current levels of growth have created an enormous and growing backlog of infrastructure needs. So far it's been low income and working people and those in our neighborhoods footing darn near the entire bill for this growth. They pay twice - once in the form of layer upon layer of regressive taxes and fees to cover these infrastructure costs demanded by development and once again when development erodes the character of their neighborhood and displaces many (tenants) from their homes due to demolition, conversion, speculative sale, and increasing rents.
When growth occurs at whatever level, ugly crap like most of what we are getting now or the latest in sustainable design, developers must share in the costs of that growth (with impact fees) and be held responsible for replacing 100 percent of the housing they destroy, and at comparable rents.
It's reasonable to call for a pause in development and no further upzones in Seattle, especially in areas like Ballard and a couple dozen other neighborhoods being overrun with development, until a new, more responsible model of managing growth is put in place.
It's perfectly consistent to say NO to one more upzone, one more development that displaces hundreds, until these things are achieved. Right now it's just open season on low income housing and our neighborhoods.
Fox pointed out that Vancouver has a program to regulate growth, with height restrictions and anti-demolotion rules to preserve some neighborhoods while also allowing density in other neighborhoods.