Study puts spotlight on urban growth

SEATTLE—With unprecedented urban sprawl and growth fueling

a fast-paced economy, experts are warning that the bottom will fall out of

the economical and ecological framework if current growth patterns remain

virtually unrestrained.

Citing insufficient infrastructure and irreversible demands on

natural resources, the Columbia Public Interest Policy Institute (CPIPI)

released their findings at a recent conference scheduled to coincide with the

10th anniversary of the state's Growth Management Act (GMA). The

study was partially funded by a King County Special Programs grant.

"We have been advocating for the short-term economic advantage,"

said Bill Elder, conference participant and Alternatives to Growth executive

director. "There is a strong psychological component at work. Stabilizing

or declining populations sadden us, and there is a perception that we're

either growing or dying. It's part of the American experience — we're

always moving west."

The study used actual cost data from capital projects that have

been completed in Washington within the past two years. Findings showed

that impact fees charged to developers did not meet the capital costs

associated with providing adequate roads, water and sewer facilities, schools,

public safety and other basic public services to new urban development over time.

"It is becoming increasingly evident that the high capital cost

associated with providing the public infrastructure required by new

development is likely to be the most significant financial factor to a local

government considering urban growth issues and alternatives," said Eben

Fodor, CPIPI senior research fellow and author of the report, at the Oct. 14

conference. "The old is subsidizing the new."

The findings contradict conventional wisdom that the broader

tax base created by new residential and commercial development result in

financial gain to city coffers. The study found that the cost to provide

infrastructure is an average of about $83,000 per new single-family

home, Fodor said, with most of the costs attributed to transportation. Using

an average of $2,500 per single-family house in developer-paid impact

fees, the total cost to the public is about $80,500 per new house.

Fodor said a survey showed that some cities charge no impact fees

at all, and of those that do assess fees, the amount typically falls far below

actual costs. A survey of Valley cities showed that the Snoqualmie

Valley School District charges developers an impact fee of $748 for each

multi-family unit and $2,988 for each single-family home. Neither Carnation

nor Snoqualmie charges any direct impact fees, but the city of North

Bend charges a park fee.

Because residential development results in a greater fiscal drain on

local governments, infrastructure costs are less when high-density,

mixed-use projects like Snoqualmie Ridge are developed, but a net loss and

higher taxes are still the end result, Fodor explained.

"The negative fiscal impacts of growth reported in the literature are

a result of the system of taxes and policies which act to subsidize growth

at the expense of all taxpayers," Fodor said. "Policy-makers, if they

wished, could act to remove these subsidies so that growth paid its own way and

was not a financial burden on the residents of a community."

CPIPI and other policy organizations are urging municipal and

county governments to charge developer impact fees that would fully cover

infrastructure costs as a means of slowing growth to sustainable levels.

In several breakout sessions, elected officials and focus panels

discussed the costs of growth in terms of water quality, stormwater runoff

from impervious surfaces and salmon habitat.

"I've heard some people say fish are becoming more important

than people," said Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives. "That is simply

not true. The salmon are an indicator species — we can gauge the quality

of our environment by their ability to survive. We must be able to sustain

the resources."

In a recent report, 1,000 Friends of Washington, a

public-interest watchdog group that monitors compliance with the GMA, listed the

Cascade foothills as one of the 10 most endangered places in the state due

to population growth and rapid development.

CPIPI officials said the group will hold yearly conferences to assess

the annual impact of growth in the region.

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