Trillium weighs in against dropping impact fees

Published on Wed, Oct 7, 2009 by Tara Nelson and Pat Grubb

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Blaine’s largest developer has considered the city of Blaine's proposal to eliminate development impact fees and has decided it doesn’t like the idea.

In a letter dated September 28, vice president for development Chris Benner told the city that the Trillium Corporation is opposed to the council’s proposal to eliminate traffic and park impact fees.

Benner pointed out that impact fees “are intended to fund meaningful projects to address the impacts of growth in the community and not simply another way to tax development.” He added that reducing or waiving the impact fee would result in a reduced funds available to mitigate the impacts of growth.

“Over the years, the Semiahmoo Company, as well as its parent company, Trillium Corporation has paid impact fees as part of the cost of doing development both in the city of Blaine and elsewhere in the county, state, and nation. We accept impact fees as part of the business of development. Moreover, so long as they are fair, equitable and related to the impacts the fees are intended to mitigate, it is our policy to not object to or ask for a reduction or waiver of the fees,” he wrote.

Benner recounted the history of the impact fee in Blaine and related how then- city manager Tony Mortillaro solicited input from Trillium regarding the proposed ordinance.

“We presumed at the time and continue to assume that the dollar amount of an impact fee is based on a fiscal analysis that determines the impact of a unit of development and establishes the impact fee accordingly ... We believe that if the city’s impact fees are intended to fund meaningful projects to address the impacts of growth in the community and not simply another way to tax development, then a reduction or waiver of impact fees should only be granted if the development includes improvements to mitigate the impacts that would otherwise be mitigated by the fee.

 “We supported and continue to support the notion that impact fees may be reduced or eliminated for a development that provides mitigation that would otherwise be funded by a mitigation fee," he wrote. "We do not support the notion that an impact fee should be reduced or waived simply because of location or other consideration not directly related to a reduction in the impacts intended to address the impact fee.”

The letter concluded with the statement that the company believes “the city should continue to charge impact fees and focus on assuring that the fees are fair, equally applied and related to the impacts that the fees are intended to mitigate. As provided in the current impact fee statutes, a reduction or waiver of a fee or fees should only be allowed if it can be clearly demonstrated that the development includes improvements that mitigate impacts directly related to the fee being assessed.”

The proposal comes after council eliminated all water and sewer connection fees within city limits after Fairhaven developer Ken Imus and colleague Kathleen Hill threatened to pull out of Blaine altogether if the city did not make substantial revisions to development fees. Council members have justified the fee elimination as a way to spur development in the city.

Impact fees are typically used to fund projects that are detailed in the city’s capital facilities plan for traffic and park improvements. A developer of planned unit development, for example, would likely pay for intersection and road improvements near that project to ensure the increase in traffic would not jeopardize the safety or quality of life enjoyed by current residents. New residents would also be expected to use city parks and fees would be assessed to address that impact.

The three alternatives under consideration would remove or reduce impact fees for various areas in the city or altogether. Option one would eliminate impact fees citywide; option two would eliminate impact fees in the downtown commercial district; and option three would suspend impact fees city wide while a study is completed.
Blaine city planner Alex Wenger said reduced fundings would affect improvements to Pearl Street, Kilmore, Salishan and Montfort parks as well as an extension to the Peace Portal community trail.

While a detailed analysis of the financial impact has not been completed, city staff estimate the city would lose approximately $1.5 million in forgone revenue from the elimination of park impact fees over the next 20 years, or about $75,000 annually.

The city of Bellingham charges $4,808 in impact fees per single family residence while the city of Ferndale charges $1,872 and the city of Blaine charges $1,000. There are no impact fees in the cities of Sumas and Nooksack.
The council is scheduled to make a final decision regarding impact fees at their October 12 meeting at city hall. The proposed amendments can be viewed online at

Trillium Corporation has been doing business in Whatcom County since the 1970s. Their projects include the 1,110-acre Semiahmoo Resort and 300-slip marina, homes and condominiums and the Loomis Trail golf course.