After months of debate, Blaine City Council voted 4-3 to remove developer impact fees city-wide.
Blaine council members Charlie Hawkins, Paul Greenough and Harry Robinson voted against the proposal, which was requested by developer Ken Imus after the council eliminated all water and sewer connection fees within city limits in order to spur economic development.
Several audience members spoke for and against the proposal. Pastime Bar owner Mary Lee Hill said her family has owned a business in Blaine since 1966 and together they have seen the good times and the bad.
“Right now, I’m the only business on my block and it’s pretty sad,” she said. “If we want to see downtown live, we’re going to have to drop the impact fees and let these people come in and help us.”
Art Lawrenson, who founded Motel International and the former Cafe International on Peace Portal Drive, agreed.
“Blaine has been on a downhill slope for quite a while now and it’s the worst business-wise in my 60 years of business,” he said, adding “we have to do something.”
Blaine realtor Ron Freeman, who lives on Sweet Road outside city limits, called the impact fees “penalty fees,” and a deterrent to development in the downtown area, and without their removal, Blaine is in danger of becoming a ghost town.
Not everyone in attendance agreed, however. Blaine resident Mary Johnston received loud applause and laughter when she compared Blaine to a single person who couldn’t wait to be married.
“They try to make themselves look as attractive as possible so that someone will like them,” she said. “But that single person is only going to get someone when they they improve themselves and not ask someone to do it for them. Like my mother always said, you don’t give it away until you’ve got the ring on your finger. Rather than giving it away, let’s work on ourselves to make Blaine better first.”
Blaine resident Penny Senov agreed.
“It seems a little odd we’re giving away development and charging the taxpayer more,” she said. We don’t know if this is going to be successful. Anyone who has been here awhile has seen all these developments come in and flop. There must be another solution.”
Kathleen Hill, lead architect on Imus’s bank building project in downtown Blaine, said they were “thrilled and delighted” by the council’s decision.
“We’re very excited about this town and its people, and feel this gives a good signal to other developers,” she said. While a detailed analysis of the financial impact has not been completed, city documents estimate the city would lose approximately $1.5 million in foregone revenue from the elimination of park impact fees over the next 20 years, or about $75,000 annually.
Bonnie Onyon said she estimated the city would forgo approximately $19,000 in park impact fees and suggested that a portion of those could be covered by the general fund.
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 impact fees 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.
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.
Imus’s Jacaranda Corporation will not benefit directly from the council’s action as they are essentially remodeling and adding an upper story to an existing structure, a 9,500-square foot part of what was once the Red Apple Market and later the Worldly Treasures building at 639 Peace Portal Drive. It originally was built as a bank and still houses a vault, hence the title of Imus’s project.