Pasco planners say developer should pay mitigation fee

The Pasco Planning Commission rejected a landowner's arguments that a proposed 50-duplex subdivision shouldn't pay a fee for the new students the homes would bring.

The commission voted 6-1 this week to recommend that the city council approve the preliminary plat for the Columbia Villas if the developer pays a special mitigation fee.

The Pasco School District is trying to find ways to provide classroom space for its rapidly growing student enrollment. Pasco schools, with about 15,000 students, are expected to reach nearly 21,000 students in the next five years.

This is the first time Pasco has required this type of fee during the preliminary plat process.

The district is using this process because the Pasco City Council and Franklin County Commission haven't approved the district's request of an ordinance that would automatically require impact fees on new subdivisions. One proposal would have developers paying $6,012 for each single-family home built and $5,572 for each apartment unit.

So the district is asking the city and county to require developers to negotiate a payment when projects go through the State Environmental Policy Act and platting process. The district must ask for the fee for each project and must negotiate individually with each developer to set that amount.

In the case of Columbia Villas the planning commission's decision doesn't set an amount but just requires them to come up with an agreement with the school district.

FBA Land Holdings, which owns the nearly 14 acres north of Sandifur Parkway and west of Road 76 where Big Creek Land Company of Idaho proposes to build the duplexes, challenged the fee's legality.

The Metropolitan Creditors' Trust of Spokane set up FBA Holdings to sell real estate received in the sale of Metropolitan Mortgage & Securities, a Spokane company that went bankrupt in 2004.

The trust is trying to pay back the 10,000 mostly elderly couples who invested in the failed company. Hundreds are Tri-City residents.

But city officials have said state law requires the city to determine if there are adequate services such as schools, streets, sidewalks and parks for new homes. One way to meet that is to provide mitigation if, as in this case, schools don't have capacity for more students.

The school district claims the agreements are supported by case law because the city has not specified an amount.

Instead, if Big Creek Land Company decides to buy the property, the developer and the school district would negotiate an agreement, said Pasco city planner David McDonald.

The planning commission decision can be appealed until Aug. 29, he said. If no appeal is filed, the city council could vote on the issue Sept. 6.

If an appeal is filed, the council would hold a closed-record hearing, where no new testimony is permitted and the council decides the issue based on transcripts from the planning commission meetings.