City moves closer to updates on Harvard Road Mitigation Plan
By Craig Howard
While the pace of development in Liberty Lake continues to alter the local terrain, an impending transition of a different sort will soon wield major consequences on the infrastructure that accompanies that growth.
The Harvard Road Mitigation Plan – launched in 1996 as a way for developers to offset, or mitigate, the impact of new construction in areas like traffic and utilities – is in the midst of a makeover by the city of Liberty Lake. City Administrator Katy Allen has told City Council that the plan, implemented five years before the city incorporated, does not recognize established municipal boundaries or current pricing on traffic calming mechanisms like signals and roundabouts.
Allen provided an update on the process of amending the plan at Tuesday's City Council meeting, referring to an open house held for developers and builders at City Hall on Feb. 13. The city will host a follow-up gathering this Thursday (Feb. 20) at 10:30 a.m.
"We received some very good feedback," Allen said of last week's meeting.
Much of the discussion revolves around the city's proposed change to something called the mitigation plan's "trip fee" that has not been altered since 2001. Under the amended plan, the base fee would go from $473.51 to $714.01. The fee for a single family residential dwelling would also increase dramatically, jumping over $200 to a new rate of $628.33.
The fee is calculated by the number of trips generated by a new structure. The city has conducted detailed research on the corresponding need for traffic infrastructure as development occurs. Led by City Engineer Andrew Staples, the study estimates a cost of $8.4 million for a list of future projects that includes signals or roundabouts at various intersections as well as a new I-90 interchange.
While the cost is no small matter – projections include $456,146 for a signal at Appleway and Henry and $539,707 for a roundabout at Country Vista and Mission – Allen emphasized that "the time span for these projects is driven by development."
Allen advised council that the funding for such infrastructure will rely on the impact fees paid by developers, adding that similar fees in the city of Spokane "run north of $1,000." Meanwhile, mitigation dollars collected from the emerging River District are eligible for matching funds through a pair of funding mechanisms – Tax Increment Financing and Local Infrastructure Financing Tool.
The neighboring community of Otis Orchards was represented at the public hearing regarding the proposed amendments to the mitigation plan on Tuesday night. Otis resident Marian Lonam requested clarification on whether or not "developers are going to be making a lot of decisions on the I-90 interchange." Both Lonam and Cynthia Bly, also from Otis, expressed concern about additions known as "slip lanes" that help direct converging and diverging traffic on and off the freeway.
Bly said there had been rumblings about the lanes being built "to funnel traffic through the Liberty Lake business district."
"That's one of the reasons we've been concerned," Bly said. "I appreciate not having to go through a business district to get on or off the freeway."
Allen and Mayor Steve Peterson assured the Otis contingent that the slip lanes – nor any part of a new interchange – would corral motorists into a retail area.
"This is about reducing the impact on Barker and Harvard Roads and providing another access or crossing point," Peterson said.
Bly responded by saying the issues she brought to the meeting "had been cleared up."
The city's estimate of $4 million for the new interchange included the expectation of matching funds and would likely represent only around a quarter of the overall cost, Allen said.
The agenda for Tuesday included a first read on the ordinance calling for amendments to the mitigation plan. Allen said a second read could take place at the March 4 council meeting, "depending on how the details are worked out."
City officials continue to emphasize that the fee is voluntary. Builders who opt not to pay must conduct their own traffic study and address any resulting costs associated with the impact of construction.
Feedback on marijuana moratorium generally positive
The second public hearing on Tuesday – regarding the city's six-month moratorium on the processing, sale and use of marijuana – failed to produce a single comment at City Hall, although more than 120 comments have been received on the city's website. Peterson said the majority of the feedback supported the City Council's decision on the heels of the State Attorney General Bob Ferguson's statements that Initiative 502, passed in 2012, did not take precedence over zoning laws already established in cities and towns across Washington.
A survey conducted by the city found that 58.8 percent of respondents agreed with the moratorium while 30.2 percent opposed it and 9 percent remained neutral. Of those who gave their opinion, 83 percent claimed residency in the city of Liberty Lake.
Joy Peck, executive director of the Landlord Association of the Inland Northwest, did address council at the beginning of the Feb. 18 meeting, noting that 90 percent of the group's members oppose the use, growth or possession of any form of marijuana on their properties. Peck added that state law, under Section 59 of the Revised Code of Washington, "permits landlords to construct the terms and conditions of rental agreements as long as those terms do not discriminate against the protected classes or violate Fair Housing Laws."
Peck said the association currently includes around 20 landlords from Liberty Lake. Peterson said comments regarding the municipal moratorium on marijuana are still being accepted at the city's website.
In other city news:
• Andy Hail of the Spokane Valley Fire Department issued a reminder about the PulsePoint app, launched countywide on Feb. 14. Free to download, PulsePoint alerts residents trained in CPR to nearby incidents of cardiac arrest. The app also points out the proximity of automated external defibrillator (AED) devices. Hail said SVFD is still tracking down the location of all AEDs in the area to include in the app. Liberty Lake Police Chief Brian Asmus said his department would be offering free CPR training on April 2, while Hail added that the fire department is "making a big push on CPR training." More information is available at www.pulsepoint.org. The app can be downloaded on iTunes or Google Play.
• Allen said the city will schedule a series of workshops in the coming months, beginning with a discussion of the parks, trails and open space plan in March. A workshop on capital improvements to the Trailhead at Liberty Lake facility will follow in April while a conversation on I-90 upgrades will take place in May. Allen added that the Washington Department of Transportation plans to repave a stretch of I-90 from the Barker Road to the Idaho border later this year.
• Cheryl Kilday, executive director of Visit Spokane, provided an overview of the group's efforts in 2013, noting that the Visit Spokane website had generated just over $478,000 in estimated tourist dollars in Liberty Lake over the past year. Kilday said this year's version of the regional visitor's guide would include a departure from previous issues, leaving out the traditional menu of listings while concentrating on "a content-rich" slate of feature stories.
• Allen gave an update on the city's snow plowing efforts, reporting that $17,567 has been spent for de-icing and clearing to this point. At the same juncture last year, the city had expended $47,537.
• The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 4 at City Hall.