Builders, not residents, should pay for Seattle’s explosive growth

Impact fees are a populist anthem that is being ignored by the city of Seattle. Why?

Ask a few friends and neighbors who should pay for the consequences of growth in boom time Seattle? I bet most will answer as mine do: Charge developers impact fees. Make growth pay for growth.

Unlike other big cities in the region, Seattle has ignored this populist anthem for a generation as it grew denser, more congested and less green.

Former Councilmember Nick Licata, before he retired, told me that city staff pushed back when he talked about impact fees after he first joined the council in the late 1990s. Yet when the City Council massively upzoned the University District in February, the populist anthem was still being sung by community groups. Why not charge developers impact fees to ease burdens on roads, parks and schools?

Now, the city’s own land-use consultants joined the chorus, acknowledging that impact fees could be a strategy. The preliminary review of Mayor Ed Murray’s growth-on-steroids plan — the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) — notes that mitigation for citywide upzones, especially for transportation and parks, “would be a citywide development impact fee program.”

Funny thing is, a review in 2015 by the city said the same thing: Impact fees could help pay for crosswalks, light signals and new parkland. Back then, the City Council and city staff were talking about a deadline of 2016 for a fee schedule.

Nope.

In February, the City Council requested an analysis of an impact fee for schools, although not for transportation or parks. The timeline for that request, according to the city website, is now 2018.

What’s going on? Why are impact fees anathema?

Maybe because city voters keep passing the endless buffet of special levies — for parks, roads, fire stations, school construction — which fund the very services that impact fees pay for in 60 other municipalities in Washington,…

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