News

Downtown housing awarded tax break

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

A slim majority of the Federal Way City Council passed a 10-year property tax exemption for new apartment buildings and condominiums downtown, but not without some discussion and a change of position by the council’s newest member.

The tax exemption, passed 4-3 Tuesday, is part of what Councilman Eric Faison has called “a package of carrots and sticks” to encourage developers to build up a vibrant downtown with shopping, restaurants and residences.

But Councilman Jack Dovey, who initially supported the measure, said he changed his mind after considering the unfair burden the exempted properties would place on other taxpayers for city services, including fire protection, libraries and schools.

“If we’re not funding these calls, we’re asking people to pay for other people’s services,” he said.

Council members Linda Kochmar and Dean McColgan have opposed the exemption since it was suggested, saying it presents an unfair burden on the fire department, libraries and school district, which are partially funded out of property tax revenue.

“We’re asking service providers to provide services free of charge and asking residents to subsidize other residents’ services,” Kochmar said.

McColgan said the burden of property taxes should be shared by everyone who receives the services.

Faison, who has supported the tax exemption through the city’s Land Use and Transportation Committee, which he heads, said the city would be wise to direct any further multi-family housing developments to the downtown core, where streets and utilities already exist.

Under the Growth Management Act, the city must plan for a certain amount of housing units. Faison said the city should concentrate housing in downtown so outlying areas won’t have to be rezoned.

Councilwoman Mary Gates agreed, saying the city should concentrate growth where there are sidewalks, sewers and scheduled transportation improvements. “The goal of protecting residential neighborhoods should be on our minds,” she said.

Mayor Jeanne Burbidge supported the ordinance as a measure to encourage growth downtown.

“Federal Way is one of the few cities of our size in the region that hasn’t taken the opportunity to achieve some of our goals,” she said.

But Kochmar and McColgan said the city should wait until the market is right for developers to be interested in building downtown.

McColgan said the tax exemption “is not enough of an incentive to encourage developers to take a risk” in a rough market.

Instead, he said, the city should focus on ensuring Federal Way is on the map when big companies are looking for places to relocate or open new offices. That, he said, would lead to more residential needs in the city.

Staff writer Erica Jahn: 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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