City officials consider half-street code requirement changes

As it is stands, Auburn’s half-street code requires property owners to complete public improvements across the frontage of their property when they develop it.

Fortunately, the code also gives City Engineer Ingrid Gaub some flexibility in its application.

On Monday night, Gaub gave City Council members at their regular work session their first look at possible changes to the rules, with respect to what triggers the half-street code, and when state law demands such improvements.

Typically, Gaub said, when the codes says “public improvements” it includes the paved roadway up to half of the road, sidewalks, concrete curbs and gutters, landscaping, dedication of the public right-of way – if that’s needed – street lighting, storm drainage, street marking, and a conduit at least three inches in diameter for the City’s communication systems.

It should come as no surprise, then, that such requirements – and many property owners do not see them coming – can quickly add up to shockingly big bucks.

Here are the development scenarios, then, that may trigger some or all of the half-street improvement requirements:

• Residential development of four units or less when the planned improvements exceed 50 percent of the existing property value as determined by the county assessor;

• Improvements to commercial development that exceed 25 percent of the property’s assessed value;

• Improvements to property without a building on it. If there is a building on the property, however, the City will consider the value of the building compared to the value of the proposed improvements under the county assessor’s determination;

• A new or additional residential, commercial or industrial unit, e.g., when a developer or homeowner plans to add a new unit to a single-family home, or when an improvement within a commercial space adds another tenant;

• When a developer or homeowner plans to install five or more new parking stalls; or

• When a developer or homeowner plans to build a new access point to a public street – for instance, a public or private driveway.

But as said above, the code allows the city engineer some flexibility in determining what elements of the half street are required. This applies particularly to an existing road with an existing improvement, for instance a roadway with sidewalks but without street lighting.

“So the half-street requirement might just be that they have to put in street lighting. If it’s an unimproved road, they may have to do all of the improvements. The code gives us some flexibility to make sure it fits the existing conditions and what the City wants to do in that particular corridor or road,” Gaub said.

State law allows a maximum 10-year deferral of the half-street improvements. In making the determination to allow or to refuse a deferral, Gaub said, the city will consider a number of variables, for instance, whether it would in the best interests of the city.

“Can you give me an example of what’s in the best interest of the city?” asked Councilman Larry Brown.

“Best interest means considering all the items that are there,” Gaub replied. “For example, if a single-family home wants to go in an undeveloped area where there are no sidewalks or other infrastructure within miles of the residence, does it make sense for us to require them to build 50 feet of sidewalk that doesn’t connect to anything? While we might want it ultimately, the best interest of the city is for the property to develop, as opposed to not developing because it has an additional burden of having to build a half street that isn’t going to help anybody.

“We also have to look at what the other improvements around the property are, what we are connecting to, and does it make sense to complete those half-street improvements or not? Do we, or does anybody else, have any pending projects in the corridor that might impact it? We have to look at safety, about what happens if we don’t build that half-street out. We have to look at traffic volumes and patterns in the area, We also look at what’s needed for storm drainage and talk with other city departments as necessary for systems they need to manage in the right of way,” Gaub said.

When the deferral expires after a 10-year period, if the City hasn’t called it in and made the property owner build the half-street improvements, the City takes on the burden of completing those improvements at some point in the future.

“As you are aware, we don’t have the funds to complete local residential street infrastructure to this extent. It requires additional staff time for us to go out and evaluate. So, as we do projects we look at our deferral agreements to see if any of them need to be called in. We also look during development to see if it makes sense, if we have enough of them on a corridor that at some point we should call them in because there’s five or six properties that could partner together to do the half-street improvements that need to be done,” Gaub said.

As for right-0f-way dedication requirement, Gaub said, state law does not allow any deferrals.

Here are some of the code changes the city is contemplating:

• Keep the language about a new or additional residential, commercial or industrial unit that is to be created;

• Keep the requirement for a new-access point created, while clarifying that this applies to additional driveways on existing developed property. That is, if all that is planned is to add a driveway and nothing else, the city would like to consider whether that access point would generate additional vehicle or pedestrian trips before it requires the half street improvements;

• Provide clear definitions, so that the property owner knows if he or she is dealing with a new public road, a new private road, or a new driveway for a full development that may trigger the requirement for half-road improvements; and

• Make clear that an existing family home that adds uses already recognized in the current zoning code is exempt.

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