Park impact fee taking shapeThe park district hopes to tap new construction for land acquisition.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:42 PM
"Saying that new parkland is needed to accommodate new residents, the Bainbridge Island Park District wants to impose an impact fee on new construction.The plan is to levy a fee of roughly $1,200 to $1,500 on a typical new home. Larger homes would pay more than the norm, and smaller homes and apartments would pay less.The idea is that growth pays for growth, said district director Dave Lewis. We want to keep what we have, and as our population grows, that means adding more park space.The district's basic assumption is that each new island resident requires the same amount of park space as each current resident - about 2,000 square feet per person - and that the impact fee should go towards the cost of buying that amount of land.And because larger homes mean more new residents than small homes, the proposal is for a per-bedroom fee.Critics, though, question the underlying assumption.The level of service that the park district has adopted is incredible, said homebuilder Andy Mueller, referring to the target of one acre of new parkland for every 21 new residents. It doesn't count significant open-space areas like the Bloedel Reserve, which provides opportunities for public use and enjoyment.Lewis says there are no national standards for parkland per person, and that each community is free to set its own.And while he says that there is no way to measure capacity of parks like the Grand Forest, the active recreation areas - soccer and baseball fields and the pool - are used at capacity.Park Board Commissioner Dave Shorett says there is no such thing as too much open space.Every survey that has been done shows that people value preserving the rural character of the island - open space, farmland and parks. We have lost so many opportunities in recent years that we need to use every means possible now, or we will lose the character of the island, he said.Lewis said the goal is an impact fee of $1,200 to $1,500 for a typical home - more for bigger homes and less for smaller homes and apartments. A school impact fee of $4,390, to support the construction of new classroom space, is currently imposed on new single-family homes, and $1,170 on apartment units.In processWhile a preliminary impact-fee ordinance has been drafted, it has not yet been introduced to the city council. And even the drafters - the district and city finance director Ralph Eells - agree that the ordinance needs considerable fine-tuning to assure that it yields the desired amount of money.The park district will also have to conduct public hearings, perhaps in conjunction with the city council.Quite frankly, we want to let the park district take a little of the heat since they're the ones who want it, said council member Norm Wooldridge, an impact-fee supporter.The council is not unanimous on the impact-fee proposal.I am not satisfied that the district has demonstrated a need, said Councilman Jim Llewellyn, a staunch opponent of impact fees. Every time there has been a bond issue put to the voters to acquire new parkland, it has passed. I'm afraid they want a source of revenue that they don't have to put to the voters.Llewellyn also questions the underlying concept.Impact fees add to the price of the house without adding to the value, he said. But the fee becomes part of the price, which will be reflected in your assessment. So you pay property taxes on that fee forever.And Llewellyn said it's not just the new property that pays property tax on the impact fee. Because valuation is driven by the sales price of neighboring properties, the value of existing homes is driven up by impact fees assessed on new homes.The theory is that only the new people pay the impact fee, but it's not true, he said. The fees make everybody's taxes go up.At bedrock, the issue may be another manifestation of the debate over growth on Bainbridge.The notion that development pays for itself is just not true, Shorett said. Land that is left vacant costs the taxpayers less than land that is developed.Mueller frames the issue differently, as one of fairness.Impact fees are taxes being imposed on people who aren't here to voice their opinions, including our own children, he said. "