Lil’ Sprouts and other early learning centers looking to expand or become established in Blaine will now pay fewer development fees to the city because of a state law encouraging support of childcare providers.
In a 4-0 vote, Blaine City Council approved an ordinance that exempts early learning centers from paying 80 percent of regular traffic impact fees during its May 8 meeting. Councilmembers Garth Baldwin, Eric Davidson and Mike Hill were absent from the meeting.
Traffic impact fees are one-time expenses developers pay local governments, such as the city of Blaine, to fund transportation improvements that would be needed as a result of the development. Early learning centers will still be responsible for other impact fees.
In 2021, the Washington state legislature passed a law that allows local governments to exempt early learning centers from up to 80 percent of impact fees without the government needing to account for the lost funds.
The exemption request came after the city hearing examiner approved Lil’ Sprouts’ expansion in mid-April. The childcare facility, at 1830 Peace Portal Drive, received a $300,000 state grant last spring to add a 3,000-square-foot building to its property. Lil’ Sprouts owner Jason Polverari said after the meeting that the new building will help double its enrollment to about 48 children by adding three classrooms.
“Without the fees being reduced, it would have been a barrier for this project,” Polverari said. “It was a lot.”
Reduced traffic impact fees decrease the amount Lil’ Sprouts will pay from just over $80,000 to $20,000, community development services director Stacie Pratschner told councilmembers.
“We’re making a policy decision that we’re making an exception, which means however we pay for those actual traffic impacts would be spread over the cost of everything else we do,” councilmember Richard May said during the meeting.
The traffic impact fee exemption typically won’t apply to licensed in-home daycares because they go through a business license and home occupation permit, instead of a building permit, which triggers traffic impact fees, Pratschner said.
Polverari said he hopes to start construction this summer. The project will be split in two phases, with the first phase of construction expected to finish in September 2024 and the second phase to finish the following year. The center’s primary building will stay but the outbuilding, which has one classroom, will be demolished.
Both the state grant that Lil’ Sprouts received and the impact fee exemption are aimed to improve childcare, which data shows is much needed in Whatcom County.
The number of childcare slots for preschoolers needs to triple by 2025 for childcare needs to be fully met, according to a 2021 Whatcom County Child Care Demand Study conducted at Western Washington University.
“The state does recognize, and particularly it’s recognized here in Whatcom County, that we are a childcare desert,” Pratschner said. “We see this as an opportunity to give some relief to businesses that are looking to expand or establish themselves in the area.”
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