Change may aid business owners

A proposed change in city code could make business renovations easier and less costly.

Dubbed the “25-percent trigger,” the facet of city code requires business and property owners who improve their buildings to bring their property up to present-day code and even help pay for some traffic mitigation measures, a prospect that is often costly for businesses.

It faces a public hearing and planning commission review next week.

Presently, if renovations cost 25-percent of the value of the building, the total code compliance aspect is “triggered,” which could cost businesses thousands of dollars more in some cases.

But that all could change with support from the city Planning Commission and council.

For the past several months, Public Works Director Cary Roe and Community Development Services Director Kathy McClung have been working closely with members of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, including Economic Vitality Committee chairman Bob Cooper, to discuss how to save businesses money, but keep practical measures on the city books.

The city has hired a consultant to help staffers come up with a good plan.

“We wanted them to give a really good background on how we fund right-of-way now,” McClung said. “We seem to be in agreement with the chamber that we need to make those changes.”

The two directors also met with individual councilmembers to gauge their interest and concerns.

“The message we got from the council is we do want to move the bar,” McClung said. “We want to benefit the small businesses so they can improve the look of their businesses.”

On the table

Some of the proposed changes are:

• Exempting all tenant improvement work, such as carpeting and drywall. Adding on to a business, however, won’t be exempted from the trigger.

• Exempting cosmetic changes to a building front façade.

• Adding the assessed value of the land to the “25-percent” formula on all properties under 100,000 square feet. About 75 percent of retail properties could benefit under the new formula.

Also, when Federal Way obtains grants or other revenue for projects, the city would subtract the amount from what the affected business must pay the city.

“They’d only pay a portion of the city’s cost instead of the total cost,” McClung explained.

Response has been good so far, said McClung, adding that she hopes to hear more from citizens at a 7 p.m. public hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 5 in City Hall.

“We don’t want to put the whole burden on the rest of the taxpayer. It’s finding that fine line,” she said.

Commission to hear matter

Planning Commission Chairman John Caulfield said he had not yet received a staff report on the proposed changes, but had seen a letter signed by chamber members requesting the changes. He said he was looking forward to seeing the proposal.

“Economic development we recognize is one of the big issues for the city,” Caulfield said. “This is one (area) that directly plays into the redevelopment of downtown.”

Business leaders’ initial reaction to the proposed changes has also been positive.

At a chamber breakfast meeting last month, Cooper, who is also a vice-president of Lloyd Enterprises, Inc, said he was pleased that working with the city would benefit businesses that want to improve their position.

Business leader wants more

But one commercial real estate agent, Mark Freitas, said he’d like the city to go as far as it could to support small business success. He suggested the proposed changes to the “25-percent trigger” code should just be a starting point.

“If the councilmembers listen to what staff recommends and uses some measured good judgment ... then maybe it’s a step forward.” Freitas said.

Freitas, who also served as Planning Commission chairman for more than three years, said some laws punish business owners who have the best intentions. For instance, a business that installs an efficient gas heater could reduce pollution and save energy costs, but the improvement is calculated in the “25-percent trigger” formula.

He said he’d like to see the council take a more aggressive direction to support businesses, instead of directing staff to find common ground.

“I’m saying the council needs to think about it,” he said. “They can’t just pawn it off on staff."

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