Decision removes roadblock to vote on Comp Plan amendment that could diversify funding options for transportation safety projects
Seattle City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold (District 1 – West Seattle and South Park) and Alex Pedersen (District 4 – Northeast Seattle) praised today’s decision by the Seattle Office of Hearing Examiner that supports the City’s position that the proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment receive a declaration of non-significance. This ruling will allow the city to take a small step forward in its discussion on transportation impact fees.
“I am relieved that the ruling today means that we are going to finally going to be able to have this vote. In 2017, Council made a commitment that the City would consider including in the Comp Plan a list of priority transit, pedestrian and bike safety, and bridge projects that Seattle could consider funding with a transportation impact fee program, if legislation implementing the program was adopted later. Council restated that commitment to the public by passing additional resolutions in 2020, 2021, and 2022. What has kept Council from deliberating about this revenue tool have been successive lawsuits opposing even the recognition of these 25 priority projects as ones that would be eligible if a program were enacted in the future. The City has been trying hard to identify new revenue in anticipation of a 2024 revenue gap,” said Councilmember Herbold.
“The Hearing Examiner’s decision in favor of our City demonstrates that the distractions and disinformation by lobbyists and their lawyers failed to defeat fairness and fiscal responsibility, but their detrimental delay means we must amend the Comprehensive Plan this November to provide time for a more robust discussion on reasonable transportation impact fees in the future,” said Councilmember Pedersen. “Seattle has been an embarrassing outlier as more than 70 other cities are leveraging this reasonable revenue source – revenue that could enable our city to avoid massive increases in property taxes to pay for sidewalks, crosswalks, bridge safety, bike lanes, and other overdue transportation safety projects.”
In 2018, the Council drafted legislation that would amend the Comprehensive Plan to clear the way to develop separate legislation that, if passed, could enact a transportation impact fee program. Today’s decision upholds a key piece of that draft legislation that had been appealed – the determination of non-significance under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). For more information, refer to the Council’s Impact Fee webpage or to Councilmember Pedersen’s website.
The Hearing Examiner’s decision comes as the Council considers related legislation (CB 120635), cosponsored by Councilmembers Herbold and Pedersen. That legislation would clear an additional procedural roadblock and allow next year’s City Council to consider adopting transportation impact fees. To be clear, this legislation would not create or require an impact fee program; such a program would first need more robust discussions and ultimately a separate Council vote on future legislation.
In fact, the Hearing Examiner wrote in his decision today, “Adoption of generalized policies of a comprehensive plan do not require (or even guarantee) that implementing ordinances be adopted… There is no imperative or requirement that Comprehensive Plan policies be implemented through subsequent regulations – they may, but they are not required to be.” To emphasize this point and address related concerns, Councilmembers Herbold and Pedersen plan to bring forward an amendment to CB 120635 that would re-insert the word “consider,” so that the Transportation Element reads “Consider use of transportation impact fees” instead of the current proposal that reads “Use transportation impact fees.”
The Council will be holding a public hearing on CB 120635 during its meeting tomorrow, November 7, at 2:00 PM. The meeting will be streamed live via Seattle Channel. To comment on this legislation (which does not enact impact fees) by phone, go to: https://www.seattle.gov/council/committees/public-comment
What are transportation impact fees?
As communities grow, so does the need for crucial government services like transportation infrastructure. Transportation impact fees are one-time charges developers pay to help fund that added need. It’s the idea that growth should help pay for growth. Most cities in Washington State have transportation impact fees. Seattle does not. A statistically valid, professional survey conducted in May 2023 revealed that 75% of Seattle adults SUPPORT these one-time impact fees on new for-profit real estate developments. Affordable housing projects and nonprofit facilities would likely be exempt under a Seattle program as explicitly allowed by law.
In each 2017, 2020 2021, and 2022, the Council has docketed consideration of this Comprehensive Plan amendment for impact fees. The ruling today by the Hearing Examiner and a vote on CB 120635 later in November would finally allow the Council to move ahead to keep its promise to consider this amendment. Doing so, will allow formal discussions next year on an impact fee program that would enable Seattle to diversify its options for funding key transportation safety projects.
What people are saying
Katie Wilson, Transit Riders Union General Secretary, said: “Seattle is far off track from meeting its stated climate goals and two-third of Seattle’s carbon emissions come from transportation. It is urgent to give Seattle residents more safe and realistic options for traveling around our city without driving. If well-designed, we believe that a Transportation Impact Fee could be a piece of the solution.”
Disability rights advocate Anna Zivarts stated in her letter dated August 16, 2023, “Seattle is far behind in funding the construction of missing sidewalks…The Disability Mobility Initiative supports the City Council exploring transportation impact fees as a possible source for the necessity of increasing funding for this essential need.”