09/15/2008: "Letters On FH UGA Expansion"
The Grey and Osborne Infrastructure Study gave us 52 Million good reasons to look at alternatives to Annexation of additional residential land into the Town Of Friday Harbor.
The Town of Friday Harbor currently has enough residential zoned land to both satisfy the County’s long term affordable housing needs and provide entry level homes for working Islanders. With minimal creativity we can meet the projected housing demands of the Growth Management Act without expanding the Town’s boundaries one inch.
This can be done at a fraction of the $52 Million of infrastructure costs cited in the “San Juan County GMA Infrastructure Feasibility Study”, a study which the County paid $132,000 for.
Under current zoning regulations maximum number of homes which can be built in Friday Harbor is 2,219. In our Town’s first 100 years of history we have produced a total of just under 1,000 residences. This means that only 45% of our existing residential development rights have been used in 100 years.
It is important to remember that these 1,219 un-built development rights do not go away when new residential land is annexed into town. If the Town annexed all the residential land in the expanded UGA area it would add another 1,384 potential housing units to our little Town.
At our 100 year average of 10 units of housing built per year, this would produce enough home sites for a 260 year supply of housing.
Our Town water and sewer systems have a limited capacity. Adding even the 330 new development rights proposed in Phase I of the UGA expansion creates the very real possibility that in the Town will run out water or sewer hookups and existing Town property owners will be unable to build on properties in the future.
Is it right to dump the financial burden of the entire county’s housing needs on a town of 2,000 people?
The San Juan Community Home Trust will tell you that they will pay for the infrastructure on their proposed 15.5 acre building site at the end of Grover Street. This may be true, but what they don’t pay for are the off-site infrastructure costs which arise as a result of their proposed development. They also don’t pay for the Town’s soft costs such as increased costs of Sheriff’s department services, street cleaning, weed abatement, domestic violence prevention etc.
Additionally, once the project is completed the on-site infrastructure which they pay for
becomes the Town’s responsibility to maintain. Is it really wise to take responsibility for more infrastructure maintenance when we can’t afford to maintain what we already have?
Is it right for special interest groups to gain access to town utilities when the current Town water service can’t provide sufficient water pressure to residential lots on University Road?
The current Town water system still lacks sufficient pressure to serve approximately 16 acres of residential land with about 200 un-built multifamily development rights. There is not money in the Town budget for a $1.2M +/- infrastructure project. Repairing existing infrastructure has taken a higher priority. If there is no money to provide proper water service to properties already inside the Town Limits how can there be money available to expand the Town?
Affordable housing is the carrot being dangled before Town Council members to justify the push for unneeded annexation, but the economics make absolutely no sense. Clearly we do not need more land for market rate housing, so the Buck annexation is being done for the sole purpose of creating affordable housing. This is an admirable goal, but the cost is too high.
The proposed annexation of the Buck property accounts for only 23.8% of the land included in the Grey and Osbourne study. Even so, taken as a straight percentage 23.8% of $52M is still $14,560,000 or a whopping $121,333 of infrastructure cost per affordable home being proposed.
Even if you could successfully argue that only one/tenth of the $52 Million of projected infrastructure costs ($5.2 Million) would be caused by the annexation of the Buck property it would still cost the Town $43,333 for each potential affordable home building site being proposed.
For $30,000 per home site the Home Trust could purchase more land than they need. There would then be no need to raise water and sewer hook up fees to pay for costly annexation infrastructure thus keeping it less expensive to build affordable homes in Town.
Several weeks ago I met with Home Trust Director Nancy DeVaux to discuss my concerns about annexation. I suggested that I may be able to come up with a better offer than what they are looking at with the Buck property.
She asked me how they could do better than free land? At that time I told her I was not convinced that their “free” land wouldn’t end up costing more than if they just went out and bought existing property in Town. It appears that this will be the case.
$3 Million could buy improved, ready to build land in Town for 100 affordable homes. Using existing land in Town would minimize a non-profit’s development costs and eliminate the burden on Town residents since existing Town infrastructure could be used. This would also greatly diminish the cost of new affordable housing and could save Town rate payers millions and millions of dollars.
The Home Trust has repeatedly promised that their project would be done at no cost to the public. I am interested to see how they plan to keep this promise.
Fortunately there is another way. If the Town, the County, non-profit housing groups and private sector would work together we can come up with alternative solutions to costly annexation schemes.
There is a more economical and less wasteful approach which we can take. By utilizing existing land and buildings already within the Town’s borders we can meet our housing needs for the next 100 years without further burdening the people who can least afford increased utility costs.
The opportunity to annex land into the Town will continue to be there if we wait until a more appropriate time when additional land is actually needed. There is far too much money to be made by annexing County land into the Town for this opportunity to go away. If you give people an opportunity to increase the value of their land ten fold, they will jump at the chance. Most people would settle for a much lower rate of return.
Rushing into the biggest land use decision in 100 years because a non-profit’s grant may or may not expire is horrible public policy. I urge you to contact your Town Council members and tell them it is time slow down and to look at “Plan B”… or anything other than what the Town is being force fed.
The time for annexation will come, but it is not now. We don’t need it and we can’t afford it.
Annexation is a horrible deal for the people of Friday Harbor.
Let’s come up with a better solution.
The response by Nancy Devaux to Mayor Jones's editorial about the town annexation of land for affordable housing contains an inaccurate statement. The Home Trust is not the only viable option on the table for affordable housing on our island.
Homes for Islanders has helped 16 local families build affordable homes on San Juan, all of which are currently occupied. We are currently helping 9 more families build affordable homes across from the library in Friday Harbor, and another 8 families are nearing the start of construction on Orcas. We plan to continue our mission of providing affordable housing here on the island, including future projects in the town of Friday Harbor.
Homes for Islanders
(The above letter is response to Devaux's letter printed below -Ed)
To the Editor:
Most everyone agrees that we desperately need more affordable housing, and that the Home Trust proposal is excellent. Most everyone also agrees that annexing more land for affordable housing shouldn’t be a burden to existing Town residents, many of whom would qualify for affordable housing. This would put these people into a less affordable situation.
What are the cost impacts of annexation? Once property is annexed, the Town is responsible to provide sewer, water, roads and other services. Within the property the cost of the sewer lines, water lines, street, curb and sidewalks are the responsibility of the development. So only the cost of connecting to the development is a Town cost. Do we have this number for the Home Trust property? The new residents will become ratepayers. How much will that contribute?
Stormwater is another potential cost. Again, the developer will bear the cost of stormwater mitigation and retention on the property. The Town could be responsible for receiving what exceeds that capacity. Do we have that cost? The new residents will be subject to the Town’s stormwater fee. How much will that offset?
The Town could allow low impact development standards in the new areas to additionally reduce stormwater impact. Examples include swales instead of curbs and gutters, which greatly reduces runoff.
Infill is not a cost free solution, and comes with additional crowding. As Town population grows there are thresholds that trigger when utility improvements will be necessary. These are usually expensive. Raising the reservoir dam, for instance, was estimated at $5 million 3 years ago. However, population growth, whether from infill or annexation, will have the same impact, putting us closer to those thresholds. Is there any benefit to having more ratepayers contributing to the utilities? Are we better off with more or less? What is the ideal level?
Replacing the water transmission line along San Juan Valley Road is a project that needs to be done. If annexation means a larger diameter pipe needs to be used, then a larger pipe is needed anyway. Whether growth occurs inside or outside Town, the project needs to anticipate future growth over the next 50 years.
Affordable housing in the Town benefits the County. There are County grants, like the $100,000 grants the County has made twice to the Guard Street project. The County also uses a different approach to infrastructure and utility issues by addressing them through the SEPA and subdivision process. The Town and the County worked well together to get the Phase I UGA established. I hope there is the possibility for additional collaboration to get this annexation accomplished in time to meet the needs of the Home Trust.
Howard Howie Rosenfeld
County Council Chair and former Town Councilmember
Honorable Members of the Council,
I have read with interest Mayor Jones comments on the proposed 50 acre affordable housing annexation and Nancy Devaux's response.
For some years I was a contractor to the Town working on GMA issues, the Comprehensive Plan, and the various capitol facilities plans. What I'm about to say to you comes from my experience doing that work for the Town.
Mayor Jones is right on the mark in his exhortation to go slow and understand the impacts to the citizens you represent. The reasons I say this follow;
1. The town's economy is uniquely tied to the tourism industry. This industry is highly seasonal. It is unthinkable that in the peak of the tourist season toilets would over flow and water would not run out of the tap. These unthinkables don't happen because the Town has capital facilities just large enough to handle these peak demands. Those facilities are very expensive and when you spread those expenses across the app. 2000 utility rate paying accounts in town you get the near crippling utility bills that the citizens of the town currently enjoy.
2. For many years the Town has contracted with a financial solution consulting group to figure out what the utility rate structure needs to be to pay for the planned capital facilities. To the best of my recollection when faced with the real cost of those capital facilities the Town Council has NEVER had the guts to vote the rate increases required. Hence the level of debt that you now enjoy. The proposed annexation busts all of the capital facilities plans. It is hard to understand how the Council could responsibly represent the citizens that elected you and adopt an annexation for which you do not yet know the financial implications and when they are likely to happen.
3. Proponents of the project constantly say that the cost of infrastructure is borne by the developer and that the proponents have agreed to that cost. I find that hard to accept when the cost is not yet known. In the years I contracted to the town I never saw an "affordable housing" project where the proponents were not lobbying vigorously for rate reductions for both installation costs and ongoing rates. I see no reason to believe that the same phenomena will not occur in this situation. A prudent approach would be to finish the studies (using the Towns regular engineering contractors) that will tell you the costs and then establish a contractural agreement with the proponents that covers these costs. To slow down and do this "due diligence" would be a benefit to both the proponents and the citizens of the town.
An affordable house is pretty useless if you can't afford to turn on the lights, water, sewer and trash services. The town is already the residential center for low income folks on the island. It seems highly unfair to increase the burden on existing residents until you have a plan for how that burden will be handled. In the early days of Comprehensive Planning under the GMA the Town looked at putting all of the Turn Point / Pear Point area in the UGA. I know because I was on the Planning Commission at the time. It was me that went to the Council for the extra funding needed for a basic capital facilities cost analysis. The Council funded the analysis and when the dust settled it became very clear that the Town could not serve a greater geographic area without implementing utility rates that the citizens just could not afford.
So Please Please take your time, do your homework and then when you have a workable plan, with funding in place, you will know how to handle the annexation. Frankly, in the longer term, the annexation will happen. It is up to you to protect the interests of those who elected you and make the annexation happen in an manner that does not increase the financial burden on the low income residents and small businesses in town.
Thanks for listening,
(30 year island resident of which 15 years were as a town resident)
By Nancy DeVaux, Executive Director,
and the Board of the San Juan Community Home Trust
What kind of community do we want our island to be in the future? One with a thriving, vibrant, self-sufficient economy, where children are still a part of our community, or one that is just a large rest home for the wealthy?
Do we want local businesses to be able to employ local residents? Do we want our fire, police, health care providers and schools to be able to attract the best employees without paying a wage premium, which increases costs for all of us?
As we celebrate our Town's centennial, reflecting on our past 100 years, there is no better time to consider what the next 100 years will bring.
Our island is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. Unless we deal head-on with this crisis, there is no way our diverse community can survive. The Home Trust has come up with a workable solution, with no other viable options on the table from any source.
This solution requires annexation of 50 acres of land on the outskirts of Friday Harbor. Annexations like this one are very common, and in fact have occurred 15 times in the Town's history.
The Mayor of Friday Harbor, David Jones, recently wrote a column about the pending annexation and the problems he sees with it. A number of his statements either misstate the reality of the situation, or obscure the facts.
1. Mayor Jones is a year too late with his "urban sprawl" argument: a decision was made in the spring of 2007 by the Town Planning Commission and Town Council to expand the Town's UGA and include the Buck parcel, among others. The Washington State Growth Management Act requires counties and cities to create urban growth areas. When this process was discussed here on the island, the vast majority of citizens spoke in opposition to "infill development" where all the future growth would be forced within existing boundaries. Islanders love the existing character of Friday Harbor with its historic houses, gardens and open spaces; and do not relish the idea of greatly increased density.
2. The study cited by Jones to draw his conclusion that residential development costs the taxpayers is simply not relevant to the issue of development in the town of Friday Harbor. The study done by the American Farmland Trust for Friends of the San Juans in 2004 involved rural lands throughout the entire County. The Home Trust and the Buck/Boreens are committed to paying the cost of infrastructure needs on the property being proposed for development. The Home Trust has already raised over $1 million just for infrastructure costs. In addition, the burden of the $1 million debt mentioned by Jones (which exists regardless of any annexation) would actually be spread among more taxpayers if additional residents are added to the Town rolls.
3. Since when is Mayor Jones' "intuition" the basis for long-range planning? If the town is already considering replacing the existing water supply pipeline, it seems entirely reasonable that they reevaluate the size of the pipe to plan for future growth, regardless of any proposed annexations.
4. Towns that have tried to meet the need for affordable housing within existing town borders have been singularly unsuccessful because of the cost of market rate properties. The Home Trust has a proven method of creating permanently affordable housing, it has secured land and the necessary funding, and it has a detailed and realistic plan to accomplish the goal.
5. The most recent data available from the Washington Bureau of Labor Statistics (2006) indicates that our average wage was $27,541, the fifth lowest in the state. This level of income alone would enable an individual to be eligible for affordable housing.
6. The agreement with the Buck/Boreens is a win-win situation for everyone. Yes, the family will benefit from the annexation. But so will the island. Neither of the other properties that are being considered for annexation, nor any of the subdivisions created in recent years, provide any such extraordinary benefit to the community at large. Members of the Buck/Boreen family -"which has island roots going back to the Pig War -"are committed to the future of this island, and want to work with the Home Trust to create the affordable housing that is so critically needed here. The current plan is to build just 14 homes in the near future, with additional units built as the need demands.
7. Mayor Jones's conclusions regarding costs have not been proven. But it is clear we won't create prosperity and opportunity for Friday Harbor residents by pretending there is no affordable housing problem and rejecting a well-planned, well-funded and low impact solution to that problem.
By David Jones, Mayor of Friday Harbor
In the next few weeks the Friday Harbor Town Council will vote on one of the most significant actions in the Town's 100 year history. Up for consideration is the annexation of approximately 50 acres that includes 12-15 acres allocated for affordable housing.
The proponents of this project are so focused on the acquisition of land for affordable housing that the due diligence regarding the total 50 acres is being rushed. This includes the estimation of the direct and indirect costs of annexation, a land use plan for the balance of the property, and negotiations with the developers regarding what they might offer the Town to mitigate the effects of annexation.
The Town Council is under great pressure to move quickly and forgo the complicated and somewhat lengthy process which is included in the laws of Washington State.
Here are some of my thoughts on the annexation issue:
1. An effect of the Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA) on other communities both large and small has been to force development into the urban core through densification. It has been shown over many years that residential development does not always pay for itself. The property taxes collected simply do not pay for the infrastructure services required. Increasing density within the present urban boundary is what the majority of communities in Washington have done to meet their GMA goals. GMA is specifically designed to avoid "suburban sprawl".
2. The costs of expansion may be substantial. At a recent Council meeting I noted that within a few years with projects already planned, interest charges on the Town's debt will be nearly $1,000,000 per year. I am reluctant to add to this burden without a firm funding plan.
3. The Town is considering replacement of the water supply pipeline from Trout Lake to the Town. This line is over 50 years old and needs to be replaced. Annexation will force the Town to reevaluate the size of the pipe to meet the population needs of the entire 50 acre parcel. The same argument applies to the construction and height of a new dam and the capacity of the water and wastewater treatment plants. What future water and sewer utility rates will be, no one knows, but intuition tells me that utility rates will increase significantly as the Urban Growth Area is expanded.
4. Could the need for affordable housing be met by increasing densities within the current boundary of the Town? This approach could save infrastructure costs and prevent suburban sprawl.
5. I have not seen a study or report which documents the number of people who will qualify for the proposed affordable housing units. This is something any builder would want to see before development is begun.
6. If one motive behind annexation is philanthropic, why can't the expansion be limited to the15 acre parcel designated for affordable housing? This would lessen the burden on the Town residents while providing additional housing units.
7. Friday Harbor, which already has approximately 20% of its housing stock in rent controlled projects, is being asked to provide even more area for affordable housing units. Combined with the fact that the Town's median income is well below that of the County, those with the least ability to pay will bear the burden of the costs of annexation. Ironically, this might make the cost of living within the Town even more expensive.
I urge patience so that the Town Council is allowed ample time to make an informed decision. Let is determine the costs before we commit to annexation.