Building Permit Application APPROVED … (but)

HOORAY HOORAY AND HOORAY AGAIN! We received word from our Hero, Duncan, that our Building Permit was approved. We were in the car on the way to Home Depot to buy more hardware when Stina’s cell phone rang. (It must have looked strange to anyone looking on to see two women teary and giddy as they pawed through the bins looking for lipstick red caribiner rings.)

We were almost a week late, but at least the permit had been approved as designed (Yes, the number of parking spaces was fine!) and we would finally be able to get crews going on the buildout of the rain garden and exterior fencing, and on the laundry room.

It wasn’t until later that we realized we hadn’t actually been given the news by a City employee. That call would come much later in the day.

When it did finally come, we jumped into my car to dash up to City Hall and pick up our building permit. That’s when we got the bad news.

Yes, we could pick up our Building Permit, if we paid for the various fees attached to it. We were ready for that. We knew there would be fees. We were expecting a bill of about $1,000. We were not expecting a bill for over $7,500. That includes a Traffic Impact Assessment of over $6,500.

There it is. The next hoop for us to jump through. Only this one’s in flames!

Apparently the City of Kirkland thinks we are going to attract so much new traffic to the Totem Lake neighborhood that it will cost $6,500 in new pavement, stripe painting, bulbs for stop lights … Apparently this is the way the City pays for public works.

The figure is based on an intricate system of base fees and multipliers. The Traffic Engineer was so proud to advise that $6,500 was in fact very low. His original figure was about $60,000, but he was able to bring it down to $30,000 and then again to $6,500.

What we perceived was a series of arbitrary decisions. If the figure could be brought from $60,000 to $6,500, why not to $1,000? Why not zero, for that matter? Well, we do not expect to reach zero. We do understand the concept of traffic impacts and the associated costs, and recognize we should bear our fair share. Stina was given a cursory tour of the math, and was able to identify one particular area where the Traffic Engineer had gone wrong. He estimated that only 25% our customer base would be derived from passers-by, and that the remaining 75% would be making a special trip to come to our shop. But despite civil debate, the Traffic Engineer would stand firm. And we were not convinced of any fairness.

We know that 25% is an incorrect factor. We are on the feeder route between I-405 and the Microsoft campus and all the tech companies on Willows, and that those who commute to those jobs from Bothell, Kenmore, Mill Creek, Lynnwood and Everett drive past our front door. We also recognized that the residents to the south and east of our location use this road to travel to their jobs at Evergreen Hospital, and in Bothell, Kenmore, Mill Creek, Lynnwood and Everett.
We’ve already had several visitors because we erected our sign.
We chose this location for the passby traffic. 42,000 cars pass by our storefront every day.

We know that at least 40% of our market will come to us because they see us on their way to work in the mornings, now especially, since we’ve installed our new monument sign at the streetside.

We called on our Hero, again.

The next morning, Duncan was able to meet with the Traffic Engineer and learned the formula for the calculations. Once we had that detail, we were able to understand just how large a magnitude the tweaking of that passby factor could have on the bottom line.

Armed with our information, we suggested to the Traffic Engineer that this factor of 25% should be changed to about 40%, which reduced the assessment to less than $1,000, but he would not accept our word. He said, “Bring me data.”
So off we went in search of data. We contacted the owners of 4 doggy day cares located on major roads in Seattle and asked them what their numbers were. In all cases, their estimates were over 50%, and described as “conservative estimates”.  

Dana M., the owner of Fuzzy Buddy’s on Aurora had tracked her sources using Quick Books and was able to run a report for us, very generously interceding on our behalf with an extremely well crafted communique to our friend, the Traffic Engineer. He’s not sure when he will have time to study her data. He was not willing to accept the anecdotal data from the other owners, despite the fact that one of those was Rick Beaubelle, the owner of Seattle Canine Club and president of the Seattle Dog Daycare Association.

As incensed as we were to have to leave City Hall without our permit, yet again, we started making calls. First was to our Hero. Then, at his recommendation, we began extending our appeal to senior individuals in the Public Works department, and we hope they will soon arrive at a correct and fair assessment, which we will be willing to pay.
For any new business just preparing to open its doors, an extra expenditure – whether $1,500 or $6,500 – is an awful shock. Had the traffic impact assessment been designed as a fee to be paid at the end of Year 1, or in installments, it could have been made manageable, although it would impact the year’s profits.  For many new businesses, th amount might as well be $60,000.

The correct time to advise entrepreneurs who plan on entering the Kirkland market that they should be prepared to pay a Traffic Impact Assessment fee of several – to tens of – thousands of dollars is at the beginning of the process, before they commit to their lease, before they make purchases and commitments to suppliers and service providers, and to their clients, before they leave their former jobs, move to a new city (or, as in my case, a new country). The Traffic Engineer was included in our fact finding tour at the beginning of May, and while he advised us there would be a Traffic Impact Assessment fee to be paid, we were under the impression we could expect a fee in the order of a few hundred dollars.

So, we continue our battle. We still do not have our Building Permit. We anticipate calling on our Hero again for one last charge of the doggy brigade. We believe we will be victorious. And maybe, after all of this, the City of Kirkland will reconsider its Traffic Impact Assessment fee structure.

Update: January 21, 2011:�

Apparently, the Scampers scenario was an important factor in the decision by City Council to suspend Traffic Impact Assessments in Change of Use scenarios.   

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