Code change could boost redevelopment

A proposed code change to make certain business improvements less costly has cleared the city Planning Commission.

The approval drew cheers from Federal Way Chamber of Commerce officials who worked closely with city staff and councilors to lower business costs for small-scale redevelopment.

Dubbed the “25-percent trigger,” the aspect of city code requires business and property owners who improve their buildings to bring properties up to modern-day code and help pay for some traffic mitigation measures, a prospect that is often costly for businesses. Presently, if renovations cost 25-percent of the value of the building, the total code compliance aspect is “triggered.”

If the new plan passes muster in the city land use commission and council during the next few months, property improvement costs could become less impacting.

Some of the proposed code changes are:

• Exempting all tenant improvement work, such as carpeting and drywall. Adding on to a business, however, will not 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 the city obtains grants or other revenue for projects, the amount would be subtracted from what the affected business must pay out.

“I don’t think it could have been better. I think we set a precedent,” said Bob Couper, chair of the Chamber’s Economic Vitality Committee.

Couper noted that Planning Commission Chairman John Caulfield had some reservations about the changes, but he and others came on board after hearing a staff report and testimony from business leaders.

Couper said he and others had worked nearly two years to get the proposed changes to city councilmembers. For their part, councilmembers have repeatedly said they would like to work in the interests of local businesses.

“This goes a long way to making that statement,” Couper said.

Caulfield said the measure passed unanimously, in part, because of the Chamber’s clear and sustained message.

“What we were hearing from the business community is it was a disincentive,” he said.

“I think we have a really positive outcome,” he added. “Federal Way is setting itself up and positioning itself for some great things to happen.”

Also this week, the Planning Commission filled to its membership roll. After interviews with city councilmembers, Grant Newport, a Weyerhaeuser employee and Federal Way resident since the mid-1980s was named to the commission Tuesday. Newport’s experience in land-use and environmental planning put him above the other candidates, Caulfield said. Named to the commission as alternates were: Marta Foldi, Diana Christine Nelson and William Moore.

“That’s the best set of candidates I’d ever seen,” Caulfield said.

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