February 11, 1996 in City

Our Officials Must Take Enlightened Control Of Growth

Tom Hargreaves Special To Roundtable
 

Listen! Do you hear that insistent ringing? Wake up, Spokane, that’s an alarm bell!

Developers are building, people are moving, but our local nongovernments (as in “not quite good enough to be called governments”) are not producing a plan to manage growth. We are about to be overwhelmed, and it is going to cost us taxpayers plenty.

Up where I live, near Wandermere, 1,000 new homes are going in with about 4,000 new people. The houses are all on septic systems. The state has said that the main route between there and Spokane, Highway 395, is inadequate. The water district is barely keeping up with new construction. And the school system is gasping for breath.

South of me, on Nevada, developers plan to build about 3,000 apartments. I figure about 7,000 people will be living there. The builders intend to improve roads immediately around the new construction, but they plan nothing farther away. In the area, residents of Cozza and Standard already complain bitterly about traffic. Nevada is crowded at rush hour. Market Street traffic is building up and the intersection at Francis and Division is a real thrill. Plans for other vital services - water, power, garbage, police, fire protection, parks and schools, not to mention shopping - are all pretty fuzzy.

Looking west all the way to Airway Heights, developers are putting up more houses and apartments. The South Side has its share of development as well.

We all tend to think of houses and apartments simply as buildings, but they are not. They represent thousands of people who need to go to work, drink, eat and feel comfortable and safe.

Who is going to pay for the streets and roads, water, sewer, police, fire, parks and schools they will need? More important, where is the plan for making it all happen?

The money comes from you and me; our taxes will pay for the new services. The developers will pay for some of the improvements in the developed areas (and will pass these costs on to the future property owners, of course). The rest of us will pay for the remainder.

If we are really lucky and our local nongovernments know what they are doing, the number of people paying taxes will increase and your taxes and mine won’t go up. But if you believe that our local nongovernments know what they are doing, I know a bridge that might be for sale in Brooklyn.

There are better ways.

The people who will live in the new dwellings can and should pay more for new support structure. They would pay through impact fees imposed on developers who would pass them on to buyers. But government agencies can’t suddenly decide to charge impact fees, for that isn’t fair to the developers.

Contrary to popular belief, these folks don’t just say, “Gosh, I think I’ll go out and build 1,000 apartments tomorrow.” They determine costs and profit based on what they can sell the finished dwellings for. They risk a lot of money. If fees suddenly increase, they can lose big. They will never like impact fees, but with appropriate government plans and policies, they can allow for them.

We all win then. New people have places to live. Developers make reasonable profits. Infrastructure gets built and our taxes don’t go up as much.

But we don’t have those plans and policies now, so developers go on developing and the city council and county commissioners go on not governing. Wearing their asbestos underwear, they agonize over $1 fee increases, remove and reinstall parking meters, and watch basketball games. But they don’t pass laws to regulate growth.

There is no money to pay for enough cops to slow crime but we continue to pay for new infrastructure that fees could help fund.

We need plans and regulations to control development and distribute costs fairly. We don’t yet have the growth plan that Spokane County Commissioner Steve Hasson promised several years back, but we sure have some swell park benches at the bus terminal.

I can see that you are sitting on the edge of your chair, saying, “What can I do? I am just a taxpayer.”

I have a couple of suggestions. How about writing to the city council or county commissioners, to tell them how you feel? A single sentence on a postcard works great. How about calling them up?

We need controlled development, with fair and protective laws and regulations. We need impact fees so developers can do what they do best - in a planned way.

We need these not pretty soon, but now, before we look like a smaller version of the Seattle area. Let us get our local, nonfunctional nongovernments to work.

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