This guest article is written by City of North Bend Councilmember, David Cook, who says there is a lot of information being shared on social media and the internet concerning local issues these days. Mr. Cook recognizes some of that information is accurate – and some of it is not. Read on…
These are the Top Four issues challenging the City of North Bend right now:
A portion of our growth is state-mandated, but the rest is entirely optional. We as a city are required to grow another 649 homes within the Urban Growth Boundary as mandated by the 1990 Washington State Growth Management Act as assigned under the King County Countywide Planning Policies. Before my time on the council, I believe the state originally wanted North Bend to absorb more than 5,000 new homes! The city negotiated that down to 1,590 and has always lobbied for less growth. We as a city cannot ignore or defy the state mandates without getting sued and cut off from state support and funding.
The city council has supported municipal legislation to control, manage and lessen growth since I started on the council. This has included regularly amending our comprehensive plan and zoning; downsizing our residential areas from 6-8 homes per acre to 4 homes per acre; and increasing a wide variety of impact fees. The city council tightened the city’s design standards last year by approving expanded bulk and dimensional requirements that resulted in again lowering our lot per acre ratio.
The challenge moving forward is making sure that our current zoning accommodates only our minimum required growth targets. The city council has asked the city administration to perform a housing audit of our current and proposed 2015 zoning map.
We are not going to lose our small town feel and rural character will always be around us. How we treat each other as neighbors is where our love of a small town comes from. We live in an incredibly beautiful valley and we are all very lucky to be here and share it together.
Easing Traffic Congestion
The first symptom of new growth is traffic congestion and that is what we are experiencing now. Our population today is 6,480 and growing. Our roads and intersections do not change their size or capacity as quickly as growth occurs and we need to implement traffic easing projects as soon as capital funds are available.
The city council maintains the position that “growth needs to pay for the impacts of growth.” We do this through transportation impact fees (TIF). These are one-time charges paid by developers to reimburse the city for the capital cost of public facilities that are needed to serve new neighborhoods. Prior to 2009, the city lacked a TIF altogether, but we were experiencing a building moratorium due to a lack of water rights and no development was permitted. Between 2009 and 2012, the city charged $700 for each new single family residence as little development occurred during the recession. Recognizing this amount was inadequate, the city council raised the TIF in 2013 to $4,489.16.
These funds were used to fund, in part, a number of transportation improvement projects including the Cedar Falls roundabout, Downing Street extension, reconstruction of portions to Pickett, Boalch, NE 6th and Ballarat, pedestrian improvements along North Bend Way, new traffic signal at Park & Bendigo and many other small improvement projects. Many of these projects were funded with grants from King County, state and federal governments and our TIF money provided the matching funds. The city has done a good job of securing millions of dollars in grant funds to stretch our local dollars. In 2011, the city council went further and formed the citizen-approved Transportation Benefit District to accelerate funding to improve roads and sidewalks.
Currently, the city administration has recommended raising the TIF to approximately $10,200. Our 6-Year Transportation Improvement Program identifies a growing list of growth-easing projects. If approved, these fees along with grant funds will provide all the money we need to fund the major road improvements people recognize as most important including Exit 34, SE 140th, Tanner Road, Thrasher, North Bend Way at QFC, Ballarat and the downtown plaza project. As these projects are completed, traffic congestion will be dramatically eased and you will be able to move through the city more freely.
The challenge moving forward will be to ensure that these limited funds are used efficiently to improve the identified areas impacted by development. The city cannot afford to improve the infrastructure of these areas before the development occurs. We receive TIF funds after the new home is constructed and occupancy has been granted. It is critical that our projects are planned in advance and that we are prepared to implement construction when funds are available. This will ensure that the improvements are made quickly and traffic congestion will be eased as soon as possible.
I believe that a historic downtown is the heart of our small town character. It also impacts the city financially. If the city makes it a priority to invest in a strong and vibrant downtown, this will help spread prosperity to the businesses throughout the rest of the city. This in turn increases the tax revenue to our general fund and helps the city provide essential services to our citizens. As businesses account for approximately 69% of our general fund revenue, investing in our downtown helps keep the city portion of our property taxes lower.
The city has implemented many efforts to bring vitality to the area including new business incentives, façade assistance grants, new benches, wayward finding signs, flowers, banners and holiday decorations, facilitation of 4Culture grants, construction of the Visitor Information Center, enforcement of the minimum maintenance ordinance and encouraging private investment.
The city has also promoted new activities and events to encourage people to visit downtown. These include the block party, Jazz Walk, Blues Walk, Adventure Sport Festival, Holiday Tree Lighting Festival and many others. These have been fun and successful events all with the goal of helping our businesses and to bring the community together.
In 2014, the city negotiated and funded the destruction of three abandoned houses along Main Street and made that area available for parking and future retail development. Due to our efforts, the producers of Twin Peaks were able to set-up their entire base camp at this location and keep dozens of studio trucks off the city streets. They brought with them excitement, energy and future tourist dollars making our city the focal point of their new television show.
Over the past several years, the city has been planning, with significant public input, the downtown plaza project. This project would enhance the street façade, improve traffic flow and parking, create pedestrian-friendly plazas and provide a gathering place for community events. This project is now shovel-ready and the city is applying for grant funding to make this project possible. We are on the cusp of the biggest revitalization effort in the city’s 106-year history and it is a huge opportunity for North Bend’s future.
Roads and Infrastructure
Before I was elected, it had been 20 years or more since the last pavement overlay had been applied. Since then, the city council has funded a minimum investment of $100,000 within the budget each year towards pavement overlay totaling now to more than $1.4 million into your roadways. $100,000 each year adds up and it has had a positive affect to help keep some of our major roads from degrading
As our city is more than one hundred years old, much of our infrastructure is aging and requires upgrading. The city council has funded such investments as the failing one-mile waterline replacement project on 415th Street; replacement of our 55-year old well pumps; culvert replacements and storm drain improvements at Ballarat and Nintendo; installation of a park & ride facility; upgrades to our waste water treatment plant and numerous other projects totaling millions of dollars. Again, much of this has been done with significant grant funding.
The city is working hard every day to meet these challenges and make North Bend the place you want to stay and call home.