Tacomania

May. 29, 2008 at 10:19am

City Planning?

Growth Mismanagement

I found this article in yesterday's paper to be interesting. I really love the last sentence. What do you all think?
 
Tacoma wrestles with tax-subsidized development around mall
Jason Hagey; jason.hagey@thenewstribune.com
Published: May 28th, 2008 02:57 PM | Updated: May 28th, 2008 10:19 PM
A new three-story townhouse towers over a once-tranquil backyard in South Tacoma. A stand of trees that kept the yard and its 1950s-era rambler cool were removed to make way for the development, and glare reflecting off the side wall of the new building is already heating up the little house – weeks before the hot summer arrives.

“I’ve lived her nine years and never had to pull a shade,” said Jill Reintjes. “All of those white houses emanate light and heat.”

It’s not good for the environment, she said, and it’s not good neighborhood planning.

Tacoma city officials are beginning to agree.

Some Tacoma City Council members are beginning to voice concern over the spate of townhouses built or under construction near the Tacoma Mall – construction that’s benefiting from the city’s controversial multi-family tax exemption.

They talked last week about a variety of options for addressing their concerns, including suspending acceptance of new applications for the property tax exemption in that part of the city until they find a long-term solution.

Townhouses still could be built near the mall, council members noted. But the developers would not be eligible for the tax credit.

The council’s concerns focus on the high number of small townhouses being built, and the apparent lack of neighborhood planning.

Councilman Jake Fey said the development occurring along South Pine Street wasn’t what officials envisioned when they established the exemption. As he drives by and looks at the development, Fey said he wonders “where in the heck the kids are going to play except in the road or alley.”

“It’s bad enough that they’re not providing open space,” Fey said, adding that the city doesn’t have to offer an incentive for the developers to build such developments.

Mayor Bill Baarsma offered the Sali-shan development on the city’s East Side as an example of good urban design, adding that the development that’s occurring around the mall is not as good.

The tax exemption program, begun in 1996, is credited with helping fuel the condominium boom that has revitalized downtown Tacoma. But it’s available to developers in 17 “mixed-use centers” throughout the city, including the Tacoma Mall Mixed-Use Center.

To qualify, a development must create at least four new housing units. Originally, the new construction was exempt from property taxes for 10 years, although taxes were still paid on the value of the underlying property.

Now, after a change in the state law, the standard exemption is eight years. If at least 20 percent of the new units in a development are considered affordable, the exemption can last 12 years.

The program was intended to encourage dense, urban-style development in part to comply with the state’s Growth Management Act, which aims to stop suburban sprawl and concentrate people in cities.

The City Council shot down a staff proposal last year that would have placed limits on the kinds of projects eligible for the tax exemption.

The council has yet to take action, and it appears council members differ on how to solve the problem.

Council members Mike Lonergan and Rick Talbert said that townhouses are some of the only affordable houses being built in Tacoma, and Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg said she was concerned that Tacoma is losing families.

Council members agreed last week they need to approve three pending applications, including one that was continued from the April 29 agenda. Developers who have followed the rules shouldn’t be penalized while the city figures out how to change the rules, council members said.

There are 34 multifamily projects in the mall area under construction or waiting to begin, representing a total of 722 units, according to a memo from Ryan Petty, director of the city’s community and economic development department.

In the last 12 months, the city has received 13 applications for the property tax exemption. Of those, 11 were in the Tacoma Mall area and nine of those were for townhouse projects, the memo states.

Loretta St. Andre, who recently moved from the South 96 Street and South Hosmer area to the new Pine Villa Townhomes, doesn’t see why the City Council thinks there is a problem that needs fixing. She likes the quiet and the spaciousness of her townhouse.

But she agrees that it’s not a good area for young children.

Reintjes, who lives in the shadow of St. Andre’s new residence, understands the desire of city officials to encourage more dense urban development. She grew up in South Tacoma, but spent much of her adult life raising a family in Brooklyn.

But Tacoma officials failed to plan for the development that’s booming in her neighborhood, she said.

“Why didn’t somebody think ahead?” she asked. “This is not the first geographic area where poor planning has resulted in God-awful mishmush.”

http://www.thenewstribune.com/front/topstories/story/374859.html

comments [12]  |  posted under City Planning, Growth Management Act, Tacoma

Comments

by Erik on 5/29/2008 @ 11:04am
The Tacoma Mall area could certainly be improved.

However, the real problem is that Tacoma has been building little more than strip malls, suburban housing developments and disconnected office parks for the last 40 years. Not to mention blank cement walls on what should have been main streets.

If the city is going to built anything better than the car centric and pedestrian less 38th Avenue, the should follow the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects and adopt a urban building code.

ebjornson2.googlepages.com/AIASWW-Design...

There's a methodology as to how to make an attractive city.

by fredo on 5/29/2008 @ 12:24pm
Warning: Sort of an analogy just ahead. The city's tool to redevelop downtown "the property tax abatement" can now be seen for what it really is: a loose cannon on the deck of the USS Tacoma indiscriminately blasting holes in the urban fabric.

by Twisty on 5/29/2008 @ 1:39pm
I'm still scratching my head about this whole tax break thing. How can the city justify using tax breaks to modify behavior when the most basic and essential city services are grossly underfunded?

Just in the last few days, we have heard that traffic signals, street maintenance and police staffing are at crisis levels. The city cries 'poor mouth' at every opportunity...

And yet, we have these giveaways -- essentially bribes -- designed to benefit builders and developers. This is real money -- public funds that belong to all of us; money that we NEED -- being pissed away in the form of somebody's urban planning experiment.

I understand the need to shape and mold the city's future. But if the city wants to shortchange the citizens in order to make it happen, I don't think it is unreasonable to demand good results.

by Erik on 5/29/2008 @ 2:16pm
I'm still scratching my head about this whole tax break thing. How can the city justify using tax breaks to modify behavior when the most basic and essential city services are grossly underfunded?

The consensus is that it is is far more cost effective for the city to infill urban areas with higher populations than extend roads and utilities to remote developments.

A suburban housing development on the edge of town takes a huge amount of taxpayer resources to extend utilities for and to pride emergency services for. A high density housing structure owned or rented is far more cost effective because it is close to existing connections.

Also, infilling urban areas saves farmland, reduces traffic congestion and pollution. Tacoma is currently failing the current pollution requirement

In Washington state, Tacoma is the only city where air quality might not measure up to the new standard, according to the EPA..

dwb.thenewstribune.com/news/local/story/...

Thus, the importance of building in a more dense form which does not require a car use for every single activity is more important than ever.

Plus, the tax exemption only applies to improvements, not to existing building or to the land, and thus, actually bring in more money for the city than if nothing had been built.

The fact is that sprawlish growth patterns cost taxpayers:

Sprawl Costs Us All


Many people think that sprawl (or scattered growth) is an inevitable result of an economic system that demands lower costs and efficiency. But this is a myth: sprawl development costs more than careful planning and development.

Sprawl is cheaper for developers than careful planning because they can pass much of the cost on to taxpayers. The real cost of sprawl is dispersed through a range of other costs that we, as citizens and consumers, have to pay. Read about the economic, environmental, and social costs of sprawl:


www.smartergrowth.net/issues/landuse/spr...

also see:

A 1998 study for the Natural Resources Defense Council adds to the growing body of literature demonstrating that low density sprawl development is costly, inefficient, and inequitable. In analyzing wastewater collection systems in the Chicago and Cleveland areas, this study found that operation and maintenance costs increase significantly as the density of development decreases. Thus, utility services to sprawling areas can be more expensive to operate and maintain than in compact, higher density areas.

www.nrdc.org/cities/smartGrowth/cost/exe...

by amyk on 5/29/2008 @ 2:23pm
Maybe Tacoma should invite Casey to come and design a few neighborhoods in Tacoma. I'm thinking Tacoma is the ideal metropolitan area he's after....
www.thenewstribune.com/business/columnis...

by Twisty on 5/29/2008 @ 2:31pm
I agree with the goals, Erik, but not the methods used to reach them.

I pay taxes expecting that the city will fulfill certain basic obligations in return. The city is failing to hold up its end of the deal. In light of that, news of taxpayer-funded subsidies for developers getting mediocre results isn't going to go over too well.

by izenmania on 5/29/2008 @ 2:50pm
The consensus is that it is is far more cost effective for the city to infill urban areas with higher populations than extend roads and utilities to remote developments.

Remote developments? Seems to me Twisty's comments apply pretty well to the hideous state of road disrepeair and horribly ineffective traffic signaling nightmare that both make navigating the heart of downtown fairly hellish for most folk.

by NineInchNachos on 5/29/2008 @ 3:18pm
throw the bums out! keep the term limits in place at the Tacoma City Council.

maybe America will run out of gas and the problem of roads will fix themselves.

now enjoy this inspirational Disney cartoon:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ69X1qt4sQ

also: I too am a fan of God-awful mishmush

by morgan on 5/29/2008 @ 4:05pm
Tacoma Mall Mixed-Use Center. What's wrong with that phrase?

by Heather on 5/29/2008 @ 4:09pm
Remote developments? Seems to me Twisty's comments apply pretty well to the hideous state of road disrepeair and horribly ineffective traffic signaling nightmare that both make navigating the heart of downtown fairly hellish for most folk.

Amen, brother.

maybe America will run out of gas and the problem of roads will fix themselves.

I just can't wait to walk and ride my bike when ALL of our streets and sidewalks are buckling and cracking.

by izenmania on 5/29/2008 @ 4:09pm
Hm... loft housing built atop Macy's? I'm for it! They could just build a giant staircase (and/or slide!) to the parking lot!

Or better yet, get Macy's to pump some money into it in exchange for forcing residents to enter and exit through the Macy's escalator system (residents only allowed out during regular business hours, of course).

by Erik on 5/29/2008 @ 4:34pm
Tacoma Mall Mixed-Use Center. What's wrong with that phrase?

There was actually a plan to try to "save" the Tacoma Mall area in AHBL's initial report to the Planning Commission.

It was a great document. It would have re-imposed normal blocks back into many of the "superblocked" areas in the mall areas which are now vast UFO landing strips. Brownfield reclamation basically.

I do not see any references though to it now.

I do see that the planning commissioner impressively does have the AIA material on their web site.

Development Regulations for Livable Communities (Provided by the American Institute of Architects Southwest Washington Chapter [AIASWW], April 10, 2008, this document includes two parts: [1] recommendations by AIASWW on changes to development standards for mixed-use centers and for establishing a design review program in Tacoma, and [2] a report produced in 2005 by the national AIA, "Livability 101 - What Makes a Community Livable?")

www.cityoftacoma.org/File.ashx?cid=9159

Now if the inertia of the city can be moved to get Tacoma past the 1960 policies of mandating car use to get a quart of milk. We will see.

About

Hello! I'm Heather and I'm a bit manic about Tacoma.

I'll probably be blogging about my experiences in Tacoma as they relate to the environment (natural and built), social (in)justice, community building, economic development, bio-diesel, public transit, biking, gardening, home improvement, food & wine, and my little family (me, my husband, one dog, one cat). This is my first attempt at writing a blog - so please bear with me.

Contact: heather.ups@gmail.com

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