Fire district threatens legal action to collect fees

Published on Thu, Mar 31, 2011 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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Construction is underway on four storage buildings on Birch Bay-Lynden Road, but the North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Service (NWFRS) could prevent occupation of the buildings if the owner does not pay the necessary fire mitigation fees.

Chief Tom Fields said the owner of the properties, Michael Bleakney, received a building permit from Whatcom County without first paying the mitigation fees, though the county agreed not to issue one until the fees were paid. The fees, paid by all new developers in the area, cover NWFRS’s costs for increased emergency response services, Fields explained.

The mitigation charges for the four 4,000-square foot buildings total $6,880 at 43 cents per square foot, Fields said.

Each of the four properties is valued at $203,000, according to county planning and development services. Fields said the district is prepared to take legal action to collect the fees, though he said he wants to spend as little on litigation costs as possible.

The storage buildings are about one month away from being finished, Bleakney said. He plans to operate the buildings under the name Bella Storage and will offer commercial warehouse space in addition to RV and boat storage.

Bleakney said he will pay the mitigation fees without necessitating legal action on NWFRS’s part, but only because he must if he wants the final occupancy permit for the buildings.

Though NWFRS says the fee amounts are based on growth, Bleakney said he does not understand why the fees are so high because the area has not seemed to grow in the last two years.

The fees were lowered late last year in response to complaints from developers, Fields said.

Mitigation fees for specific buildings can be reduced with the inclusion of fire sprinklers, he explained.

The mitigation fees were developed as part of the department’s capital financial plan, Fields said.

NWFRS worked with the county over the last four years to develop the plan, which was approved in November 2009.