Why can’t we check out items from that awesome library in UP?

Every few months, someone posts some variation of the following questions on Facebook: “Why can’t we use the library in UP? Why does Fircrest reimburse the cost of a Tacoma library card, but not a Pierce County library card?”

My wife and I are professional writers. We both grew up going to local libraries in our hometowns. This is an issue that’s near and dear to my heart, so I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about it. Here’s a primer that should help explain why things are the way they are in Fircrest:

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Mildred St. Update #4: we did it

I’m several weeks late in reporting this, but I should close the loop since the blog leaves it as an open question. The cities of Fircrest and University Place did indeed reach agreement to jointly apply for the federal grant that makes significant improvements to Mildred Street between Regents Boulevard and 19th Street.

As The News Tribune reported, there was “discord.” What can I say? Sometimes democracy ain’t pretty. But the bottom line is we got there – thanks in large part to the willingness of the Eaton family – which owns the vacant 9-acre parcel between Columbia Bank and Sunrise Center. That property represents one of Fircrest’s best hopes for commercial growth that can help stabilize our small city’s budget.

If UP gets the grant, Fircrest’s share is an estimated $87,000. The Eaton family has agreed to pay Fircrest’s share. It’s a smart move on their part: they get road improvements in front of their property that are worth several times more than the investment. The Fircrest City Council approved an agreement with with the Eaton family at tonight’s Council meeting.

Now we wait. We’ll find out this summer if the grant application is successful.

Mildred St. update #3: will we make it?

It’s crunch time. The Fircrest City Council meets Tuesday and is scheduled to make a decision on whether to join the City of University Place in applying for a federal transportation grant to install infrastructure on Mildred Street – a major arterial between our two cities.

The News Tribune’s Christian Hill did a good job of summing up the issues in a story posted online today (and presumably running in Monday’s print edition). Fircrest is hustling to draft an agreement that ensures our city’s interests are addressed during the design and construction process. But as Hill reports, UP says there’s not enough time to reach an agreement, and would we please just sign on the dotted line?

It can’t ever be easy, can it?

Mildred Street update #2

Does anybody know who Mildred Street is named after? Because she’s proving to be troublesome!

We’re making progress, but it’s slower than some of us would like, and it remains to be seen if we’ll resolve some issues before the deadline to apply for the transportation grant. We’re still focused on making it a three-lane road (one lane in each direction, plus a center turn lane), which was the compromise that came up during a recent joint meeting of the Fircrest and University Place city councils. Here are the main questions and concerns voiced by various Fircrest staff and councilmembers at this past Tuesday’s City Council meeting:

University Place did the preliminary design plan without any input from our staff. That’s true. It’s been true since this issue came up in 2010. UP owns the entire roadway, so they didn’t have to approach us (although it would have been the neighborly thing to do). But there’s still plenty of time. The design on the table is preliminary – there is a long way to go, and we could condition our support for the project using what’s known as an Interlocal Agreement (IA) that includes a requirement to include us in the final design. This should be one of the easier issues to resolve, but for some reason it’s not.

UP’s design follows that city’s guidelines, which means the streetlights would be UP’s choice, etc, and we need to make sure our side looks like Fircrest. Again, this could be addressed in an Interlocal Agreement and during final design.

More right-of-way acquisition is necessary on the Fircrest side of the street than the UP side. This is true because UP’s side is against a steep slope and therefore would cost much more to change. That’s always going to be the case due to the topography, so it seems to me we should just accept this issue. And besides, by shifting the project to three lanes instead of five, less right of way is needed.

Would the improvements covered by this project have to be ripped up if the vacant property between Columbia Bank and Sunrise Center sells after the project is constructed? This is a risk to this, but it seems to be small. Construction wouldn’t start for two years, so that’s two years to see who buys it, which provides time to alter the design to accommodate development. The property owner is supportive of this project because he figures improving Mildred Street will lead to a faster sale.

Fircrest can’t afford its share of the cost, which could be as much as $126,000. This is true. But what if a property owner who stands to benefit from this project paid for the city’s share? I don’t know if this will happen, but if it does, then the cost issue would seem to be moot.

University Place still intends to charge traffic impact fees to anyone who puts a sizable development on that vacant property. This is a big sticking point. UP and Fircrest have disagreed for years over whether UP, which owns the entire roadway, has the legal authority to assess fees on a property owner in Fircrest. Fircrest folks say UP’s fees have chased away at least two potential developments on Fircrest’s side of the street. We maintain that one jurisdiction cannot assess a fee to a business inside another jurisdiction (see Nolte v. City of Olympia). That’s not to say UP can’t seek relief for traffic impacts within its borders, but it should do that via other means allowed by state law, not traffic impact fees. Still, UP leaders made it clear this week they will not change their stance. Could this fee issue be negotiated as part of the Interlocal Agreement?

The Fircrest City Council will discuss the Mildred Street project at our study session on Monday, April 16. It’s at the end of a hefty agenda, which includes a first quarter financial report and a report on our fiscal outlook through 2013. Those are not expected to be glowing reports.

We are scheduled to vote on whether to sign onto UP’s project at our April 24 meeting. If you have thoughts about this, now is the time to share them with the City Council and/or staff.

 

Update 1: possible Mildred Street corridor compromise

As I reported earlier, we recently held a special joint meeting of the city councils of Fircrest and University Place. It was a long, but very productive meeting. Seriously – I walked out of there thinking, “Congress could learn something from us.”

I’ll get into details below, but here’s the gist: We made significant progress toward a possible compromise, but the question is whether there’s enough time to agree on numerous details before the grant application deadline, which is May 1.

The councils opened the meeting by agreeing that there was an “elephant in the room” – years of simmering tension between the two cities, and miscommunication and sometimes no communication. UP Mayor Ken Grassi graciously noted that his council has four new members – in effect, he said, it’s like having a new council – and that we should start a new and better relationship.

Then we got into a long discussion about UP’s proposal. UP wants to apply for a competitive federal grant that’s administered by the Puget Sound Regional Council. Lots of other jurisdictions also are applying for these limited grant dollars, so if Fircrest signs on as a co-applicant, then staff believes the grant would almost certainly score high enough to be approved.

One of the biggest concerns among Fircrest councilmembers was the proposal to squeeze two lanes down to one in front of Sunrise Center, and then open up more lanes again at the intersection with 19th Street.

UP City Engineer Jack Ecklund explained that the grant in question is for “non-motorized” transportation projects. It primarily pays for sidewalks, curbs and planting strips. He said we could not use this money to pay for a full lane of travel.

Another major concern on the Fircrest side is the UP proposal would require more space – and there’s no space on the UP (west) side of Mildred. That means we’d have to negotiate with property owners on the Fircrest side, and if that didn’t work, the UP officials said we would have to agree to use the power of eminent domain. I won’t speak for my council colleagues on here very often, but I didn’t hear anyone indicate a willingness to take property for this project.

Then a compromise was floated: what if we took the whole street down to three lanes – a travel lane in each direction and a center turn lane? That’s already the case further down Mildred. And we’ve confirmed that the City of Tacoma is considering doing that on Mildred on the other side of 19th. Continue reading

Fircrest and UP councils to hold joint meeting about Mildred corridor improvements

When it comes to Mildred Street, there are some things that the city councils of Fircrest and University Place agree on: it’s an important arterial for both cities. Its current condition between 19th Street and Regents Boulevard is, well, not exactly welcoming. And updating the street could spur development on both sides, which would benefit the tax bases of both cities.

Here’s what we don’t agree on: what to do about it.

UP is preparing to apply for a $675,000 regional transportation grant to pay for design and right-of-way to improve Mildred from 19th to Regents with sidewalks, curb and gutter, landscaping, streetlights and bike lanes. UP is asking Fircrest to sign on as a project co-sponsor, which boosts the chances of winning the grant. They also want Fircrest to pony up $126,000 to help with the matching grant. (UP would apply for another grant later to pay for most of the $1.7 million cost of construction.)

At first glance, the project sounds great. But as you’ll see, Fircrest officials have had a number of important questions about this project for several years. UP has yet to answer them. That’s why we’re doing something unusual.

The UP and Fircrest city councils will convene a joint meeting on Wednesday, March 14. The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in UP’s Council Chambers, 3715 Bridgeport Way. The only agenda item is to discuss the Mildred corridor project. The meeting is open to the public.

There’s no question that corridor is vital to Fircrest’s future. We must increase our commercial tax base in order to stabilize our city’s budget and maintain a strong level of service to our 6,500 residents.

That said, UP’s proposed design is problematic.  Continue reading