Sent: Tue 8/11/09 10:35 AM
Good Morning Al:
Having been on vacation for the past three weeks, and I am somewhat behind in responding to the 200+ e-mails and voice mails. Please accept my apology for not responding sooner to your questions listed in the Birch Bay Blog regarding the fire district and the Capital Facilities Plan (CFP). I will try and answer herein and if you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.
1) Is it true that some developers, including those who eventually sued you, offered to pay you mitigation fees that you refused? If so, how much did they offer? How does that amount compare with the mitigation fees in your draft capital facilities plan, dated June 20 ($2,078.45 per single family residence and $2,983.70 for multi-family housing)? The plan states that amounts as much as 50% lower might be sufficient due to a variety of factors. That could mean as little as $1,039.23 for a single-family home. Is that more or less than the developers offered?
It has been over three years since the issue of growth, concurrency, and mitigation surfaced. The first development that initiated the mitigation fee concept was the Horizons at Semiahmoo project. The fire district filed an appeal to that project’s MDNS at the public hearing. During that hearing the statement was made that the developer would be willing to pay the mitigation fee, at that time estimated to be $2500. I believe this is on the record. However, at a meeting of the Planning Committee of the Whatcom County Council, the attorney for the developer identified to the committee that there was a slight grammatical error in the documentation and that the term “mitigation fee” should be replaced with the term “impact fee”. The Planning Committee agreed to the change. The fire district was never advised of this meeting and was not aware of this change. Unfortunately, as you know, fire districts do not have “impact fee” authority; resulting in the developer acquiring approval for their project without any fees being paid. This occurrence is what started this entire issue.
To the best of my knowledge, that is the only official offer the fire district has ever received with regard to paying any mitigation fee. In our various discussions, there may have been informal comments by developers stating that they would be willing to pay a lesser fee, but a check of our files does not indicate that the fire district has ever received a written official offer from any developer to pay a lesser fee.
2) Is it true that you want to charge mitigation fees only to developers and not single home builders –- thus if an individual family buys a lot in the middle of a developer’s project and builds it’s own house there, you would not charge the individual home but would charge the developer of adjacent houses?
This is somewhat of a convoluted question in that my response is dependent on the area where the home is to be constructed. Does the home reside in an Urban Growth Area (UGA) and is it part of a development? Or, is this home outside a UGA in a rural area, or inside the UGA but not part of a development?
The mitigation fee would be imposed on the properties within an approved development within a UGA regardless of who applies for the building permit. It would be a condition of development approval through the SEPA process. If the developer constructs “spec homes” for resale within that development, that developer would be required to pay the fee. If a single home builder were to build within that development, he/she would be required to pay the fee. The Board of Fire Commissioners has agreed that the fee would be paid at time of building permit application, and therefore a permit could not be issued until the fee is paid. It would be the responsibility of the person applying for the building permit to pay the fee. The mitigation fee is a condition of the development approval, and as such, is identified on the title as an encumbrance to that title.
A single home built on an already approved lot within the UGA but not part of an approved development would not be required to pay the fee as there is no means in which to assess the fee. Single family residences on existing approved lots do not go through the SEPA process, thus eliminating the ability for the fire district to assess the fee. Single family homes built outside the UGA would not be assessed a fee for the same reason. Also homes being constructed in a rural area receive a rural level of service which is different than the level of service provided to UGA’s. The district currently is not being impacted on its ability to provide a “rural” level of service, as indicated by data within the CFP. However, the question I ask is: Will there be an accumulative effect over a long period of time as rural service areas receive more and more single family residences? I think the answer is “yes”. Currently we do not have the means to “fix” this problem.
Should the legislature for the State of Washington approve “impact fee” authority for fire districts, all new construction within the fire district could be assessed an impact fee.
3) Is it true that, because Blaine contracts for fire district services, you are dependent on the Blaine city council to impose mitigation fees, and so far they have not?
First of all I need to correct you question. The City of Blainedoes not contract to the fire district for fire protection services. In 2004 the City of Blaine actually annexed into the fire district and therefore is a part of the fire district. The city is provided the same service as all residents and businesses within the fire district jurisdiction. The City of Blaine residents and businesses pay the same levy rate as any taxpayer within the fire district. The City of Blaine does have some unique fire protection requirements similar to Birch Bay with regard to large commercial development, but for the most part they receive an “urban level of service” very similar to level of service provided to the Birch Bay UGA.
Because the city is part of the fire district, we are not dependent on the city council to impose a mitigation fee. Such fees if imposed will be the decision of the Board of Fire Commissioners. Of course, out of respect to the Blaine elected officials and city staff, the Board chooses to work with the city and strives to keep them informed of our progress on this issue. It is unfortunate that within a “non-municipal UGA” such as the Birch Bay UGA, there is no elected governing body to which the Board can communicate.
Much like proposed development within the Birch Bay UGA, the imposition of mitigation fees within the city are still being discussed and mitigation fee agreements are still being developed. It is our hope that once the CFP is completed and adopted by the Board of Fire Commissioners and WhatcomCounty, The City of Blaine would incorporate the fire district CFP into the City of Blaine Comprehensive Plan. If and when the mitigation fee issue is resolved, whatever applies to development within the UGA’s will also apply within the City of Blaine. There has been one development in the city much like the previous development project mentioned in Question #1, that received approval without mitigation fees being applied.
4) Is it true that Jon Sitkin, the fire district legal counsel, is also city attorney for Blaine? Does Mr. Sitkin have a conflict of interest?
It is true that Mr. Sitkin is legal counsel for the fire district and is the city attorney for the City of Blaine. However, to date there has not been any adversarial issues between the City of Blaine and the fire district where legal counsel for either side has been required. There are areas within land use planning and the provision of fire protection services that will require legal counsel. The fire district has retained Mr. Phil Talmadge as legal counsel for any legal proceedings between the city and the fire district. I am not aware of who will represent the City of Blaine should an issue with the fire district arise requiring them to have legal counsel.
The fire district and the City of Blaine have on file, letters of agreement with regard to Mr. Sitkin’s legal involvement with either agency that describe his limitations appropriate to representing either the fire district or the city. This letter removes any question of conflict of interest.
A Question you raised while I was on vacation:
Your plan states that the district needs two stations. Are these replacements or additions? For example, the Lynden station is within the city limits and you do not cover the city; I have been told the Semiahmoo station is inefficient and should be replaced by a station near Birch Bay Village. Are any of the rural stations redundant?
As you heard yesterday, the plan, using the highest population forecast, “Alternate Y”, requires the addition of two additional full paid stations. In other words, we will need additional “staffed” stations. This could be the construction of a new station at a location specific to growth, a remodel of an existing station to accommodate additional full paid staffing, and/or the replacement of a station at a location commensurate with growth. As of this letter the fire district does not have a specific sight for a new station and/or a specific plan to replace or relocate any station. Such planning will occur as growth occurs.
The fire district does have a station (Station 71) located within the City of Lynden. This station does not serve the city, but does serve the entire area surrounding the city. Station 71’s response area ranges from the Canadian border to the north, to almost the city limits of Bellingham to the south. Their response area also ranges from our east most boundaries (approximately Noon Rd.) to a west imaginary line drawn down
Delta Line Rd.
Although that station does not serve the City of Lynden its location is excellent as a “center point” for response to this large rural area.
The GIS specialist contracted to the fire district has mapped response times for each station using staffing components of volunteer and/or full paid personnel. That mapping has revealed that the current ten station locations are excellent in providing appropriate response levels to the fire district. However most of those stations (seven to be exact) lack the amenities to accommodate full paid staffing or even part paid/volunteer staffing on a twenty-four hour basis.
The Semiahmoo fire station does have some operational limitations and will require renovation. As to the adequacy of the Semiahmoo station location, we have not made any decisions regarding relocating that facility. Again, much will depend on the growth and development within that area.
As I am sure you are aware, this planning effort is very complex. We continue to work and develop our plans to ensure we can provide the appropriate levels of service. I hope I have answered most of you questions. If you have additional questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact me.
T. M. Fields
North Whatcom Fire and Rescue