Cover Story: Liberty Lake, Part II
By Craig Howard
There were no bells and whistles to celebrate the debut of Harvest Parkway this fall.
Unlike the well-publicized Harvard Road roundabout to the east, the recently completed road off Mission Avenue was not the project of honor at a ribbon-cutting ceremony nor at the center of a clamor for funds regarding complimentary public art.
Instead, road crews quietly went about the task of polishing up the first lanes of access into an area that will become the commercial heart of Liberty Lake's emerging north side. Situated on prime retail real estate fronting Interstate 90, Telido Station is slated to become "a major retail center," according to Jim Frank, CEO of Greenstone Homes, the company developing the land owned by Centennial Properties. The project is a subsection of the River District, a 650-acre mixed use development spearheaded by Greenstone.
"It would help establish Liberty Lake as what I call Ďa surburban town center' so it brings an urbanness here," said Frank. "We have a lot of jobs being created here; we have a lot of houses. The next key is to be able to get those services here to support all that employment and houses. We want to reduce the need for people to be traveling in cars for those services."
Back in August 2009, Drew Benado of Greenstone led a group of representatives from the Liberty Lake City Council and municipal staff on a motorized tour of the River District. The excursion featured residential elements of the project, including the Bitterroot Lodge apartment complex as well as a description of plans for Telido Station. In October of that year, council approved the River District specific area plan, a road map for the community over the next 20 to 25 years.
Amanda Tainio, Liberty Lake Planning and Building Services manager, said the SAP has been established as "a mini-development code for the River District." Along with plans for parks, trails and open space, the agenda calls for 2,700 dwelling units.
"The key is to make sure the community stays connected," Tainio said.
True to its history of championing greenspace, Greenstone included provisions for the River District that emphasize increased space in front of commercial areas, a buffer between the community and the freeway and treating landscape as anything but an afterthought. Section 3 of the SAP describes how the development "is designed as a compact, complete community" with a priority on mixed use, pedestrian access and "greenway corridors" that connect to parks, open spaces and the Spokane River.
Liberty Lake City Administrator Katy Allen said the addition of infrastructure such as water and sewer lines as well as streets represents the ground floor for the River District.
"I think we've all driven by that field for decades where Harvest Parkway is now," Allen said. "The land can't develop until there's infrastructure like utilities and streets. This is the first step of that land development. Now you can market it. We hope that it's going to grow and be successful and be a contributing part of our community. It's very, very positive to see the infrastructure going in after so many years of no activity."
Frank says the River District's commercial land could be broken down into a hodgepodge of uses, starting with "a strong retail element."
"The piece we've developed (Harvest Parkway) wouldn't be the heart of the shopping area, it would be more of the peripheral area that could go to offices, light manufacturing and warehousing activity," Frank said. "Harvest Parkway is the first phase. It's going to be a little of what you see out there with the car dealerships and RV dealerships. It's the first step in that retail center. The market is not ready right now for a major retail center. We just have to wait for the right time for that to happen."
Upgrades along Indiana
While the emergence of Telido Station might be a few years down the line, the River District is far from a ghost town. The Courtyard development -featuring 15 townhomes and 32 apartment complexes - cropped up earlier this year next to Bitterroot.
Part of the Courtyard project involved extending Indiana Avenue in front of a row of stately townhomes. Frank pointed to the further expansion of Indiana, both east and west of Harvard Road, as well as an upgrade of Mission Avenue as the two main road projects remaining in the River District.
"Indiana at Harvard Road will eventually become a signalized intersection and become the major access point into the River District," Frank said. "The other piece of it is improving Mission. Mission has been improved to a little bit past Bitterroot Road. We're looking at making those same improvements from Bitterroot all the way down to basically Harvest Parkway, so you've got the major road infrastructure that's necessary to service not only the residential side, but the commercial side."
Allen said the River District adds a welcome dimension to Liberty Lake, one that features riverside development, housing diversity and another layer of greenspace.
"The River District is unique in many ways," said Allen. "You look at its proximity to the river obviously, and when you start putting people over there whether they're working, living, walking on trails, enjoying a park - it's part of our community."
Funding the infrastructure
According to Kevin Schneidmiller of Greenstone, completion of Harvest Parkway will mean "more aggressive marketing" of the area to potential business tenants.
"We've had some interest, but nothing concrete," said Schneidmiller. "We're trying to generate more serious interest."
Infrastructure such as roads and utilities in the River District and throughout Liberty Lake benefit from a pair of funding mechanisms known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and Local Infrastructure Financing Tool or LIFT (see sidebar). Funds from TIF finance public infrastructure based on increases in property tax valuation and revenue, while LIFT provides reimbursements for the city and developers like Greenstone for water and sewer facilities and roads like Harvest Parkway. Mayor Steve Peterson has described LIFT - which includes a generous state match of up to $1 million a year - as "the city's capital account."
"It's a tool to create retail development," Peterson said. "If Greenstone puts in infrastructure like Harvest Parkway, then you can develop buildings and lots along that road that create jobs, increase property tax valuation and generate retail development and sales tax."
Earlier this year, representatives from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee visited Liberty Lake and the other two communities - Bellingham and Vancouver - that instigated the first LIFT programs in Washington.
"The feedback we got was that our program was the most successful, the furthest along," Allen said. "I think it has to do with some of these jurisdictions tying their development into public projects, and the projects have not moved forward. Ours is all tied to public infrastructure and private development."
Frank estimates that approximately one-third of the River District's infrastructure has been built to this point.
"We've built a lot already, and there will be more coming in the next couple of years," Frank said. "We're dealing with two water districts there (Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District and Consolidated Water District). We've got a major connection line we've put in, so there are two water sources there. On the sewer side, we've got one pump station done, but we've got two sewer basins there. Part of the project will go to the county system, the other part will go to the Liberty Lake system."
Frank said there are plans to construct another pump station in the eastern part of the River District "in the next year or so."
Interchange will eventually feed into River District
While utilities continue to crop up in the River District, interest continues to build for another project that will impact the community down the road.
In a Sept. 10 letter to Darryl McCallum of the Washington State Department of Transportation, Peterson described the "collective support for a new interchange east of I-90 on Barker Road." The letter referenced a meeting on June 13 attended by property owners in the area who stand behind the idea. The guest list included representatives from Centennial Properties, the Department of Natural Resources, the Liberty Lake Land Co. and the city of Liberty Lake.
"Though there are already interchanges at Harvard and Greenacres roads, we support a full interchange at Henry Road to the west of Harvard Road," Peterson wrote. "We understand that this project will take a number of years to develop, and we are willing to work with you and DOT during those years."
The letter was signed by Betsy Cowles (Centennial Properties), Rod Rennie (DNR), David Fluke (Liberty Lake Land Co.) and Peterson.
"Building the interchange keeps us ahead of the curve," Peterson said. "Missing an opportunity to build this infrastructure will cost all of us in the long run. Putting it in as soon as possible creates jobs, minimizes congestion, prepares us for retail growth and thereby helps the city financially in providing necessary services."
While Frank supports the concept of an interchange that would provide better access to the River District, he says actual construction of such a project is "probably about 10 years away."
"I think there's a good concept for the design of that interchange, but we're some time away from it still, just because of all the logistics involved," he said. "You start with just getting the design done, then the design has to be approved by the Federal Highway Administration, then it's got to get put into the funding cycles of the Washington State Department of Transportation. At the same time, the improvements that we're putting in and the work that's being done - incrementally improving the transportation system - I believe is going to be adequate to handle the growth that's going to take place in the next 10 years."
Whatever developments occur over the next decade, Allen and others seem to concur that the River District - with its well-funded foundation of infrastructure - will have a transformative effect on the Liberty Lake community.
"I think that's what we all are striving for right now," she said. "It has to do with jobs and a lot of amenities. The nice thing about the River District is that there is potential for growth and development of services over there, from retail to restaurants, and then there's the proximity to the Centennial Trail and I-90. It's got a lot of things going for it."
Infrastructure Funding 101
A TIF/LIFT tutorial
By Craig Howard
They are two of the most commonly uttered acronyms in the Liberty Lake lexicon, but to the average citizen on the street, TIF and LIFT might as well be a set of head-scratching hieroglyphics.
Despite their relative obscurity, Tax Increment Financing and Local Infrastructure Financing Tool have been catalysts in the development of Liberty Lake over the past several years, funding widespread infrastructure improvements that serve as the foundation for current and future growth.
California was the first state to implement TIF back in 1952 as a subsidy to pay for community improvement projects. Since then, every state but Wyoming and Arizona has installed some form of TIF as a mechanism for development.
The TIF functions when increases in property value and private investment generate a boost in property tax revenue. Surplus proceeds beyond the established rate are then channeled to public and private redevelopment projects intended to add another layer of value within an established TIF district.
The city of Liberty Lake joined Spokane County, the Spokane Valley Fire Department and the Spokane County Library District in creating a local TIF district in 2006.
The TIF will generate an estimated $365,000 in 2013 and be in place for 15 years or up to a total of $15 million, whichever arrives first.
LIFT was established in Washington as part of the 2006 legislative session and was put in place to support public infrastructure projects, create jobs and spur economic growth. In contrast to the state's frequently criticized business and occupation tax, the introduction of LIFT was seen as a boon to towns and cities hoping to draw private development and new business into their communities.
"It's the state of Washington creating incentives you might find in states like Idaho and Oregon," said R.J. Stevenson, finance director for the city of Liberty Lake.
Finally implemented in 2008, LIFT began with three cities - Bellingham, Vancouver and Liberty Lake - selected as trial jurisdictions. The program will run through 2034 and includes a match of up to $1 million a year by the state. Cities and private developers like Greenstone Homes are eligible to receive reimbursements through LIFT for infrastructure projects such as roads and utilities in designated locations called Revenue Development Areas.
Following the money
Spokane County remains the entity that oversees and distributes both TIF and LIFT dollars. Each fund is administered separately under the county umbrella.
For a time during the thick of the recession, TIF funds were used as the local match for LIFT due to lagging sales tax. The last two years, Liberty Lake has been able to generate enough of its own money to achieve the $1 million match. While TIF is connected strictly to property tax revenue, LIFT draws from a variety of areas, including sales tax, the city's general fund and other sources. The Liberty Lake Sewer and Water District contributed to LIFT last year from a looping fund.
"Infrastructure development drives retail development, economic growth, sales tax and jobs," said Liberty Lake Mayor Steve Peterson. "This is a financial vehicle that helps us pay for infrastructure. So far, to date, Liberty Lake has been the most successful of the LIFT demo projects. We're moving in the right direction."