BI to increase development fees

They haven’t been raised in 15 years

The Bainbridge Island City Council this week looked at two of its development programs that need updating.

Since it was a study session no action was taken, other than giving city staff direction to make changes to bring back to the council in the future.

First up was building and development fees, which haven’t been updated since 2006. The city has been losing money on them for 15 years.

The council recently decided it wanted to increase the fees so it would recover 100% of its cost. Fifteen years ago that council decided to recover two-thirds of its costs. Since then, the city’s general fund has provided up to $1.4 million per year to pay the difference.

The council is looking at not raising the fees all at once, but instead phasing in the hikes to 33% increases each of the next three years.

However, the council decided not to increase all fees. It decided to keep the fee structure down for projects it wants to promote: Appeals, tree removal, reasonable use exception, affordable housing and green infrastructure.

The fees that would increase could bring in up to $2.4 million more each year.

Goals of the council included: Keep fees affordable for the typical homeowner, maintain or improve accessibility for affordable housing, keep appeals costs low, and encourage green building and the use of renewable energy. They also want to look at the fees more often than every 15 years.

The city provides plan review, inspection and environmental review on permits for construction and land development. The process ensures that development aligns with local, regional and state plans, rules and regulations. The city provides the services with staff from the Planning and Community Development and Public Works departments. The services are supported by fees paid by permit applicants and augmented from the general fund, at least until a change is made.

City manager Blair King said whatever is done the program needs to be looked at every three years “to avoid the problem that we’re having now.”

“I’m glad we’re finally doing this now,” Councilmember Joe Deets said, adding he favors a phased-in approach to raising fees because the huge increases are “quite a shock.”

Of the new fee structure, Councilmember Leslie Schneider questioned why the city would continue subsidizing costs for someone who cuts down a tree without a permit. That would be rewarding someone for doing something wrong. She favors charging the true cost of that fee, which she was told is $1,600.

She also questioned another fee regarding green building. King explained that would happen if a developer planned something like a rain garden then ended up not doing it. A non-green building fee then would be charged. “It’s an incentive to keep developers from switching,” King said.

Even though Kirsten Hytopolous has been on the council for years, she said she did not realize the city was subsidizing development. “My jaw dropped to the floor when I saw how much we subsidize,” she said, adding the mistake needs to be fixed immediately.

New Councilmember Jon Quitslund asked why the fees are generic because some applications take much longer than others. King said these are average costs and defensible fees.

Deets asked if fees could be phased in for homeowners, but not developers. King said that would make administration difficult, and, “There’s a certain amount of unfairness.”

Schneider questioned raising the sign permit fee from $50 to $750. King said that’s the city’s cost. He added there could be unintended consequences to raising the fees, such as now the public may want the city to enforce the sign ordinance. He said there could be a lot of business before new fees come into effect. “They’ll get the apps like the Oklahoma land rush,” he said.

Deputy mayor Michael Pollock said with the higher costs the public is going to expect better service and a quicker turnaround in getting permits.

Housing design

The council also looked at its Housing Design Demonstration program in Winslow. The program started in 2009 to provide more types of housing in that area, where growth is planned in accordance with the state’s Growth Management Act. The program has been extended several times. The program promotes green building, sustainable site development and affordable housing (50% of project).

The city’s Affordable Housing Task Force issued a final report in 2018 with many recommendations on how to increase housing affordability and diversity on Bainbridge Island, which include similar goals as the HDD.

The city’s Comprehensive Plan supports similar goals when it comes to housing choices. Winslow is the urban core of Bainbridge Island and reduces sprawl to other areas of the island, according to the GMA. City leaders want to enable service sector workers to be able to afford to live on the island. To develop that, the Comp Plan encourages partnerships with nonprofits, churches and others to develop affordable housing.

The plan encourages development of small-to-midsize single-family housing, such as tiny houses, micro-units and cottage housing. It also encourages rental-for-purchase housing. The low-impact housing would diversify the economy and encourage walkability, which in turn would decrease green gas emissions.

The city’s Planning Commission suggested some changes to the HDD so it helps even more lower-income people.

Schneider said she supports those changes, but questioned the need for another public hearing. King said because of the substantial changes public participation was needed for fairness.

Quitslund then chastized city government for taking so long in forming a Housing Action Plan. He said the HDD was supposed to be a stopgap measure. “I hope we make it clear this is a patch, interim measure. It’s never really reached a final form,” he said. Quitslund added the council needs to get it together. “We have been very poor in meeting the challenge of housing policy.”

Interim planning director Michael Hoffman told Quitslund a housing needs assessment is planned so that the “large-scale policy look is coming.”

Pollock agreed with others that a two-year extension would be too long. If it was a shorter amount of time, it would “put pressure on us to do something.” He then addressed Quitslund, a former planning commissioner, who has complained that council never listened to them. “We support them,” and their suggested changes, he said.

The council ended up voting to extend the HDD a year and set a public hearing for Feb. 8.

Also at the meeting, Quitslund was sworn in, as was city judge Sara McCulloch.