Firedistrict seeks $2,500 per unit, files law suit

Published on Thu, Oct 26, 2006 by ack Kintner

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Fire district seeks $2,500 per unit, files law suit

By Jack Kintner

Whatcom County Fire District 13 has sued Whatcom County over its approval of a major project between Birch Bay and Semiahmoo despite the county being told that the fire district could not afford to adequately serve the new subdivision.

The lawsuit seeks to settle the issue of whether or not Whatcom County must deny permits when the appropriate fire district determines that it cannot provide adequate fire protection and emergency medical services.

The fire district contends that there is already an ordinance on the books that requires developers to have a guarantee of service from the fire district before obtaining approval. The fire district has estimated that they could not do this without charging the developer $2,500 per living unit, roughly one-tenth to one-half percent of the final selling price.

Developers responded by claiming that since there is no capital facilities plan in place to show how that amount was determined, the fee is arbitrary and without legal foundation. So far, both Whatcom County Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink and the Whatcom County Council have agreed with the developer, Birch Point LLC.
Under state law fire departments within incorporated areas are allowed to charge such fees, but not fire districts in unincorporated areas such as Birch Bay.

The specific project at issue is the 200-unit Horizons Village at Semiahmoo that will also provide 135,000 square feet of retail space near the corner of Shintaffer and Lincoln Roads.

It abuts another project by the same developer called Horizons at Semiahmoo that will provide sites for over 400 homes.

The on-going legal dispute that was initially addressed last summer before Bobbink when county planning staff determined that the lack of available service could be remedied by fees charged to the developer. Birch Point appealed that decision.

After hearing the issue Bobbink eliminated the fees as a condition for approval. Fire District 13 then appealed to the county council, who agreed with Bobbink.

The fire district has now taken the issue to the next level of appeal, Whatcom County Superior Court.

In the meantime, the district will ask voters in November to increase property taxes from present $1.49444 per thousand to $1.50. See story, page 8.