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Real problem? Stifling land-use rules, not a lease at First & Spring | Guest Column
I read, with great interest, Ms. Pratt's letter concerning the U.S. Customs lease of Gordy Petersen’s commercial space in downtown Friday Harbor, "A way out; 'win-win' for US Customs, Friday Harbor."
I hold Ms. Pratt, as well as most of our previous county council, responsible for creating policies that have depressed the economic vitality of these islands. It is my belief that the long time vacancy of Mr. Petersen’s building is symptomatic of the prosperity killing land-use regulations that were, and are, supported by Ms. Pratt.
In December of 2012, our lame-duck county council passed a very hotly contested critical areas ordinance. They rushed it through in the last days of their term, led by Ms. Pratt.
The newly passed CAO’s net effect on real estate sales and values are well detailed in Merri Ann Simonsons Real Estate Market Summary for 2013. (http://www.sanjuanislands.com/PDF/ThirdQuarter2013Newsletter.pdf) Please read page 3 as she discusses the effects of the CAO’s on shoreline property.
For example, she reports that in 2013 there were only 13 shoreline lot sales compared to 59 sales in 2006. It appears that the people with money to buy shoreline properties do not really want the hassle it takes to build a home. The net effect on islanders is two-fold:
1) A lowering of property values along the shorelines, which results in the raising of real property taxes on all other islanders. 2) Loss of good paying jobs to the building trades.
The real estate market creates the majority of good paying jobs on our islands, and those jobs pay enough in sales taxes to support a significant portion of the county budget.
The realtors, title officers and loan officers are not even the main recipients of the wealth created by the sale of every property. The real winners are the Land Bank (1 percent), land surveyors, architects, design consultants, local suppliers (Browne Lumber), excavation contractors and the myriad of building contractors that are working to support their families.
New property owners are the ones most likely to spend to re-carpet, re-paint, re-landscape, re-roof, remodel or tear down and build a new home. The jobs created by every real estate transaction are some of the best paying jobs that support island families.
Downtown core commercial real estate is very sensitive to the financial health of the community. The Petersen’s empty building is a direct reflection of our local economy—higher taxes and loss of good jobs leaves less money to be spent in our downtown businesses by locals.
As to Ms. Pratt's solution, when boiled down, it is just another grant writing proposal that requires the tax payers (you and I) to pay for another government agency, (a “coordinated public lands information and interpretive center”) that we don’t need and really don’t want.
Those of us who are actually interested in preserving these beautiful islands are not enthralled by a new facility that not only invites the world to our islands, but it helps them locate our preserved areas so that they can trample them.
Ms. Pratt voices her concern that GSA moved ahead without any public process and yet she is suggesting a re-lease of the building to another government entity, without any public process.
Ms. Pratt touts tourism as a major driver of the islands’ economy, but fails to mention that the median tourist industry wage will not support a family. We should be going out of our way to attract real capital to the islands. We need land-use regulations that both protect our islands and allow for a thriving island-based economy.
Such policies will result in jobs that pay a sustaining wage so that families can prosper here. We also need to encourage and allow artists, farmers, brewers, distillers, kayak builders and other self-employed individuals to use their land and outbuildings in a reasonable manner. Creative endeavors generally start small at home.
We need community leaders that understand that money only flows to the places where it is welcomed—leaders that actually know how to balance a healthy environment with a healthy economy. We don’t need another government agency on these islands.
We really need strong island entrepreneurs to take back their own lives and create prosperity for themselves and others around them.
Thanks for listening,
— Editor's note: Royce Meyerott is co-founder of TrustIslanders!, a political action committee active in the 2012 and 2013 election seasons.