Downtown apartment developments tax exemption proposal delayed

multifamily housing developments on the south side of 2300 block main street 2018-08-14
Multifamily housing developments, completed and in-process, on the south side of 2300 block main street (August 14, 2018). Photo: My Ferndale News
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A key item on the Planning and Land Use Committee meeting agenda this morning was the City’s proposal to waive property taxes for qualifying multifamily developments in the downtown and Griffintown areas for 8 years to 12 years. A public hearing was scheduled for Monday’s Ferndale City Council regular meeting.

This item was meant to be discussed at the last regular City Council meeting. But it was agreed to remove it from the agenda since Whatcom County Fire District 7 Fire Chief Larry Hoffman had expressed some questions and concerns before the meeting about whether such an exemption would negatively impact his district’s only source of revenue while increasing the number of residents and properties they served.

At today’s Planning and Land Use Committee meeting, City staff recommended delaying a public hearing, scheduled for Monday, to a date in November. This would be to enable further discussion and to bundle it with other encouragements for development according to Ferndale Community Development Director Jori Burnett.

Burnett conceded there has been no shortage of multifamily development in other parts of Ferndale without the benefit of such incentives. The goal of creating such incentives is to encourage building a bigger residential population close to the historical downtown area in the hope it will encourage businesses looking to serve that population.

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Burnett said, in addition to the lack of large nearby population, businesses have been hesitant to come into the downtown area since existing commercial buildings lack elements to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), lack fire suppression sprinkler systems and the spaces are deep and narrow.

Fire Chief Hoffman said City staff’s explanation about how the tax districts would be compensated in the absence of the property tax revenue from exempted properties was different than the explanation he had received from Whatcom County Assessor Keith Willnauer. Burnett said they had also encountered different sources providing different explanations and seeking clarification was another reason for postponing the public hearing.

The committee members agreed to continue the discussion at future committee meetings and cancel Monday’s public hearing with the expectation of another public hearing being scheduled in November.

NOTE: The 3 Ferndale City Council committees are made up of 3 councilmembers. They meet in the City Hall main conference room on the Wednesdays prior to scheduled regular City Council meetings. Items on their agendas are discussed to determine if they:

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  • should appear before the full City Council at the next regular meeting
  • require more work by City staff or whoever brought the item to the agenda
  • held until the next committee meeting for further discussion
  • should be tabled (does not advance to the City Council nor require future discussion)

The 3 different committees and the current councilmember assignments to each are:

  1. Planning and Land Use
    • Rebecca Xczar, Teresa Taylor and Fred Kennedy
  2. Public Works and Utilities
    • Cathy Watson, Fred Kennedy and Teresa Taylor
  3. Finance and Administration
    • Keith Olson, Greg Hansen and Kate Hansen


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