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Friday Harbor annexation: Let's determine the costs before we commit | Guest Column
By David Jones
Town 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 forego 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 million 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 the 15-acre parcel designated for affordable housing? This would lessen the burden on town residents while providing additional housing units.
7. Friday Harbor, which already has approximately 20 percent 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 us determine the costs before we commit to annexation.