Council starts new year with development fee overhaul

Published on Thu, Jan 17, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Council starts new year with development fee overhaul

By Meg Olson

Blaine city council tackled a packed agenda at their first meeting of 2002, starting with a little musical chairs. New council member Bruce Wolf was sworn in along with re-elected members Mike Myers, Bonnie Onyon and Marsha Hawkins. Every member of council except mayor Dieter Schugt landed in a new spot on the dais.

The new city council unanimously endorsed Schugt to continue as the city’s mayor and chose John Liebert as mayor pro-tem, a position he has been holding since Frank Bresnan Jr. announced his intention to quit council.

Following a public hearing, council rejected Robert Martin’s request to allow hunting on his family property near H Street and Harvey Road. Two of Martin’s neighbors told council they were concerned about hunters so near a residential area already under pressure from potentially armed illegal border traffic. “If we add hunters to the mix we have several armed groups in a thickly wooded area, far too many for law enforcement to monitor,” said Rein Neem, a Harvey Road resident. “The Martin’s have always been careful and courteous when they’re hunting but it is alarming,” said Marsha Wahl, who said she represented the neighborhood BlockWatch group, which opposed allowing hunting.

Martin said his family had hunted on their 100 plus acre property for over 20 years without incident until the East Blaine annexation brought the property within city limits, where hunting is not allowed. He added they had adjusted their hunting practices as the area became more developed. “We hunt from stands, we don’t just see an animal and shoot it,” he said. He had proposed to follow the county hunting regulations in effect across the street from his land.

While some city council members expressed sympathy for the Martins’ loss of a traditional use of their land, the vote was unanimous not to grant an exception to city rules. “As things grow and we spread, we need to hold with one rule and stay with it,” said Marsha Hawkins.

In new business, council launched a series of sweeping changes intended to make Blaine more user-friendly for development. “Our intent here is to get competitive,” said planning and community development director Terry Galvin. “We’re trying to reduce cost where we can and improve service and efficiency a lot – condense, simplify and reduce the fee structure.”

Following an analysis of all the fees faced by a land developer coming to Blaine, Galvin said Blaine fees were higher than many cities in the county, but “not out of the ballpark.” Blaine’s utility fees, some of the highest in the county, pushed Blaine into the second highest total fees spot in an analysis of single-family, fourplex, and warehouse development. However, higher permit and impact fees pushed Lynden or Ferndale ahead of Blaine in other types of developments.

Specific recommendations for fee reductions will be coming before council over the next three months, followed by proposals to rework the impact fee structure. Utility fees will be the last to be revised, since they are linked to self-supporting utilities. “It’s got to balance out,” said assistant public works director Steve Banham. “If we reduce in one area we have to raise somewhere else.”

Galvin said over the course of the year, staff will also prepare recommendations to cut bureaucratic red tape. “For some developers it’s not the money, it’s the time,” he said. Council set a public hearing for January 28 to look into replacing the board of adjustment with a hearing examiner to hear appeals of city administrative decisions.

City manager Gary Tomsic pointed out that city government could take some steps to spur flagging development, but other factors, such as high land prices and a sluggish economy, were part of the equation. “We shouldn’t think if we implement these steps we solve the problem,” he said. “There are other issues.”

One other issue city council will take a swing at with help from the public is how to maintain Blaine’s new streets faced with dwindling resources in the post I-695 climate. “Our obligation is not only to build and rebuild our roads but to maintain them,” Tomsic said. “We do not have a way to do that without voted levies.” Council directed Tomsic to put together a citizens advisory committee to find new ways to fund street maintenance or cut down on it. “If we’re not willing to fund street maintenance we have to accept a lower level of service,” Tomsic said.

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