Auburn hopes cutting fees will drive downtown development

AUBURN, Wash. – Downtown Auburn is ready for change, and city leaders hope a series of building incentives will help developers make it happen.

“We understand development is going to start happening again,” Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis said. “We have a special product so we decided to make a special deal.”
On Monday, the City Council voted to cut Auburn’s Park Impact Fees by 75 percent, as well as all planning, engineering and building fees for any development project located in the downtown core and approved by the planning department before the first of next year.
“We have a few blocks in the main downtown urban center area that are vacant or partially developed,” said Jeff Tate with Auburn’s planning department. “We are looking for what other cities are looking for - mixed-use-type development with ground-floor commercial and residential above.”
The Mayor said the city has had a tough time attracting new development to the downtown corridor over the last five years.
“Auburn worked very hard to set up a 120-year-old city for redevelopment in its downtown, “ he said. “We replaced all of the infrastructure, got grants and loans from the federal and state government. We were all set to go and then the great recession took place.  So we sat.”
But now as things start to turn around, Lewis said he believes Auburn has a lot to offer, and if incentives and fee reductions will help entice more developers to the city then it makes sense to do it.
“This is a good example of the community and the council open to do business and asking what the market thinks we need to have," he said. "We are ready to look at almost anything."
The city currently has 32 pieces of property available for redevelopment in the downtown core, all of which are eligible and included in the Park Impact Fee incentive plan. Historically, Tate said Auburn has focused on single-family development. Without the incentive, a developer looking to build a new home currently pays $3,500 per unit in Park Impact Fees.
“As we refocus some of the downtown efforts and encourage apartment or multi-family uses, $3,500 per unit is pretty expensive,” Tate said.
But under the new incentive plan, that development fee would be cut to $875 per unit.
“With the Park and permitting fees approved, that could save developers a massive amount of money,” Lewis said.
Aside from cutting the Park Impact and permitting fees, the city is also waiving traffic impact fees and construction tax refunds and delaying the payment of utility system development charges and school and fire impact fees until a project is finished. Normally developers would have to pay all these fees upfront. 
The only rules developers must follow in order to take advantage of the building incentives is the project must be on one of the 32 parcels the city has available downtown and all necessary development approvals by the city must be completed by Dec. 31.
“We think we have a lot to offer with our proximity to the Sound Transit Station and our urban environment,” Tate said. “And now is a good time take some of these actions try and encourage these projects in Auburn.” 
More information about the incentives and the available property can be found online.
Parcels outlined in red are available for development using the new building incentives approved by the City Council. (Map courtesy City of Auburn).