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Cheney moves on traffic fees

City Council OKs first reading of impact fees targeted at development across railroad tracks


Last updated 5/2/2019 at 5:25pm

Cheney’s City Council voted unanimously at its April 23 meeting to follow recommendations by the Planning Commission and move forward to approve the establishment of traffic impact fees in the city municipal code.

The fees are aimed mainly at residential developments in the southeast portion of the city across the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroad tracks on land referred to as Terra Vista. The property is owned by Cheney developer Steve Emtman’s Defender Development.

The council approved the first of three readings of four ordinances related to the impact fees, three of which deal with legal language surrounding their implementation and the fourth centered on the fees themselves. The fees were the subject of three Planning Commission meetings this year, with the commission recommending council approval at its April 8 meeting.

The council previously enacted a six-month moratorium in December 2018 on construction at Terra Vista, and held a public hearing on the moratorium and potential impact fees at a meeting in January. The moratorium was precipitated by a zoning land swap requested by Emtman last August in order to build a 224-unit apartment complex on 12.1 acres of land along Alki Street.

In a Sept. 10 Planning Commission public hearing on the request, Defender Development’s engineer Todd Whipple noted that given the amount of multifamily zoned land remaining on that side of the railroad tracks, the area could see up to 3,000 more people in the future if built out.

Fire and law enforcement officials have already expressed concern about access to the area given the high volume of railroad traffic currently being seen, traffic that not only creates delays for emergency services vehicles but also forces traffic backups onto 1st Street at Cheney-Spangle and Cheney-Plaza roads. With the potential for more people and consequently more traffic, city officials and the council acted on those concerns and implemented the six-month moratorium to study the issue.

Emtman has complained on several occasions to the Planning Commission that he has met with city officials every step of the way with his developments at Terra Vista, keeping them abreast of the plans and following the prescribed process. He has acknowledged the safety concerns raised by fire and law enforcement and expressed willingness to assist in alleviating the issues raised.

But he has also complained that the proposed traffic impact fees are aimed at him specifically, and not at other multifamily developments such as the Parkside Commons apartments under construction on North 8th Street across from the city’s pool and Hagelin Park.

“This is a targeted deal,” Emtman told the commission at their September. “Why me? Why not (Parkside developer) Greenstone?”

In a memo to the city’s Public Works and Planning departments, senior planner Bill White of the engineering firm Morrison Majerle wrote that a traffic impact fee analysis developed for the city indicated that 9,218 weekday trips “will be generated by land use developments within southeast Cheney.” To alleviate the congestion created by these trips, just over $4.2 million in street capacity and safety improvements would be needed.

White broke that amount into four projects that could take place depending upon the pace and type of development, but not necessarily chronologically.

Approximately $189,000 would be needed to reduce parking to provide a northbound right turn lane and second eastbound lane at 1st Street and Cheney-Spangle Road, with $712,000 estimated for widening/extending Alki Street to include a sidewalk and bike lanes between Cheney-Plaza and Cheney-Spangle roads.

A signal with enhanced pedestrian crossing and a northbound right-turn lane off of State Route 904 at Cheney-Plaza Road is estimated at $900,000. The largest project could be a widening of Cheney-Plaza Road between 1st and Alki streets with sidewalks and pedestrian gates at the railroad crossings, coming in at just over $2.4 million.

To help pay for these projects, the city is proposing to impost traffic impact fees of $1,735 per single-family residence and $1,346 per multifamily unit on developments southeast of the railroad tracks. The city would take on 60 percent of the cost burden for these projects, mostly through grants and loans, while the developer would assume 40 percent through the impact fees.

Benefits associated with these types of fees for cities and for developers, such as securing funds up front to help with a city’s projects while promoting cost sharing of capacity improvements with future development, creating less risk for developers. Issues for developers include mitigation contingent on land use actions while cities have 10 years to utilize the development moneys or risk returning them — with interest — to the developer.

The council will hold the second and third readings of the four ordinances at upcoming meetings in May.

John McCallum can be reached at


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