Council moved forward on two major fronts this week. On Monday, council returned for the third conversation about Transportation System Development Charges (TSDC). These are charges attached to new development in order to fund the road, sidewalk and bike lane improvements that are needed to accommodate the increased traffic precipitated by additional residents or commercial businesses. The Transportation System Plan approved by council last year included new priorities, including a goal to increase walking, biking and transit by 30% over the plan’s 20 year term. The TSDC fee adjustments call for increased fees, but include a package of discounts for developments that help us meet our broader goals related to climate change and encouraging people to use active or public transit. The final votes, approved in four motions, called for a two year phase-in of the increased fees to lessen the impact on builders and a 100% discount of fees for new accessory dwelling units; as well as 5% and 10% discounts for new residential construction along major corridors where the city’s plan prioritizes the construction of multi-unit housing. To temper the loss of revenue to the city from these discounts, council approved annual caps of $40,000, and $130,000 respectively on the maximum amount of discounts available.
In another major step, on Wednesday council approved a Multiple Unit Property Tax Exemption (MUPTE) for the Gordon Lofts apartments that are part of the expansion of the 5th St. Market area. MUPTEs are controversial and this proposal was no exception-- three councilors opposed the approval. My view is that MUPTE is one tool among many that the city makes available to encourage dense development in our downtown core. In the MUPTE revisions approved by council in 2015, these developments are reviewed both by a 10-member panel of citizens with expertise in development and neighborhood representatives, and a third party contractor who reviews the financial viability of the project with and without the MUPTE. For the 5th St. project, all 10 panelists agreed a MUPTE was needed; with two members urging for a shorter time-frame -- three years vs. ten. The third party review considered the project as feasible only with the MUPTE, and even then, suggested the financials are challenging.
Finally, council agreed with a staff proposal to establish an emergency winter shelter with some day facilities on the former city hall block. The manager will bring more information to council this Monday that will identify how the site will be managed, how many people it can shelter and what feature it will contain. The county as also agreed to this temporary use and expects to use part of the block as a parking once the city/county land swap is finalized.