Developer required to pay mitigation fees to fire district

Published on Thu, Dec 23, 2010 by By Tara Nelson

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A local developer will have to pay fire mitigation fees if he wants to continue developing his 48-unit project near Bell Road, Blaine City Council recently decided.

The project, a mixed-use development proposed by Blaine realtor Ron Freeman, includes 48 multi-family units and 41,000 square feet of commercial space in four buildings on approximately 10 acres of land near Steamer’s Espresso on Bell Road.

 City planning staff determined the development would not directly impact the ability of the fire district to respond to emergency calls, but fire officials disagreed.

The fire district appealed the decision by the city’s planning staff, which was made as part of a state-mandated environmental review process (SEPA) in October. The approval, called a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (MDNS), is typically granted when a project is determined to have no substantial economic, environmental or social impacts.

Fire officials said they appealed the MDNS approval because they were limited in resources and wouldn’t be able to provide an appropriate level of service to the new development or existing residents. Planning commissioners, however, rejected the appeal 6-0 during a special hearing on October 14.

According to pre-trial memorandum, planning commissioners said they did not believe the development would outstrip the district’s ability to serve its constituents and were more concerned about the cost it could impose on the developer, especially with regards to the city’s current political climate – Blaine City Council voted earlier this year to eliminate impact fees as well as new connection fees for water and sewer to make Blaine appear more appealing to developers.

 The report also pointed out that because fire district officials gave no details on how the project would impact the level of service, there was no evidence it will put an undue burden on existing residents.

In their regular meeting Monday, December 13, Blaine City Council voted 3-3 to uphold the NWFR's appeal, thereby allowing the district to impose fire mitigation fees outlined in their capital facilities plan. A tie vote is an automatic defeat, allowing the fire district's appeal to move forward.

 Although the NWFR has not made a final decision, fire district chief Tom Fields said NWFR officials are "reviewing their position and what alternatives they have."

"We haven't had a chance to meet with Mr. Freeman yet and discuss the options" Fields said. "How this is going to unfold, it's too early to tell."

 The district's capital facility plan has set mitigation fee rates for multi-family developments at about $1,500 per unit or about $350 per unit if the development has a sprinkler system.

Council members Bonnie Onyon, John Liebert and Scott Dodd voted against the fire district's appeal. Council members Harry Robinson, Charlie Hawkins and Paul Greenough voted in favor of the district's appeal.

 The project was also approved by city council 6-0.