Wednesday, December 08, 2021
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Guiding Moses Lake to plan for growth

by By Allison Williams, Moses Lake city manager
| November 18, 2021 1:00 AM

Greetings, Moses Lake community and Moses Lake stakeholders.

This has been an intense fall season. The public processes, which included the adoption of the city’s new Comprehensive Plan and a very competitive election that impacted four of our seven city council members, have created significant conversation in the community. As it is with the “telephone game,” the story can change and so with this report to the community, I will give you your city manager’s perspective.

I am so excited that our city council took action to adopt the city’s new overall Comprehensive Plan. The city has not had this holistic conversation in 20 years. Our community has changed over time, and ideas and values were brought forward through an extensive community input process that resulted in a city plan that reflects the type of community Moses Lake could become if the plan is implemented, starting with a new vision: “Moses Lake is a diverse, connected and supportive community of innovation and opportunity that values its namesake lake, small town vibe, growing arts and cultural scene, abundance of sunshine and outdoor activities.”

The vision is supported by goals set for the city to:

• Foster greater trust in city government

• Work with partners to improve the lake water quality

• Address homelessness and affordable housing

• Address the sprawl that is putting a strain on the transportation network

• Address the vitality of downtown and the overall community aesthetics

• Enhance the tourism economy

• Work to enhance the availability of jobs, particularly for the young.

As your city manager, I am committed to the city’s work. To answer the goals above, our city is working to increase our transparency and community engagement. These reports to the community are one example. We are excited about the work of the Watershed Council, and we are actively partnering with them on lake health issues. Housing is a critical concern of our community, as it has become increasingly unaffordable, especially based on the fact that 49% of our population has household incomes below $50,000 a year. And our feedback showed a desire for a range of housing types.

Our new Housing Action Plan identifies ways that the city can directly impact affordable housing and build on our work with the Sleep Center and enhanced shelter to address homelessness. The development code update that is underway will be able to address many of the strategies in the Housing Action Plan that was adopted as a part of the overall Comprehensive Plan.

The city is utilizing the lodging tax funds to support the tourism economy and has invested in the Larson Recreation Center to enhance facilities. A very exciting new project is the effort to develop a Creative District in Moses Lake. This will promote the revitalization of our downtown and connect many of our citizens who may also be artists and crafts people, with resources and opportunities downtown and at our local farmers market. With the Creative District work, the Downtown Moses Lake Association was successful in receiving (thank you) a T-Mobile grant to develop an incubator based on creative businesses. This will also help us to recruit jobs to Moses Lake that bring families who are looking for these quality-of-life features in their community.

I left the most difficult goals for the last. First, a brief overview of the city’s planning process under the Growth Management Act (GMA) is helpful.

The Washington State Legislature adopted the Growth Management Act (Chapter 36.70A RCW, the “GMA”) in 1990 in response to concerns that: “Uncoordinated and unplanned growth, together with a lack of common goals expressing the public’s interest in the conservation and wise use of our lands, pose a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development, and the health, safety, and high quality of life enjoyed by the residents of this state.”

The GMA requires Grant County and its cities complete comprehensive plans and development regulations to guide future growth, which includes a mandate to manage and direct growth to urban areas where public facilities and services can be provided most efficiently, to protect farms and rural character, to protect critical environmental areas, and to conserve natural resource lands. The GMA requires that the city review and, if necessary, revise its comprehensive plan and regulations every eight years to ensure they remain compliant.

“Comprehensive planning identifies community or ‘public’ interest through a public and political process. The resulting plans reflect the political compromises needed to forge consensus for a community plan. While not everyone will be satisfied with the end result, the comprehensive plan as adopted should deal with the many conflicting forces that shape a community. It is not the purpose of a comprehensive plan to eliminate conflict. Rather, it provides the framework for considering and resolving conflicting issues in the community.” (Washington State Department of Commerce Growth Management Services Local Planning Short Course guidebook, Version 5.3, 2017)

The city’s comprehensive plan addresses the central issue of how we will balance and resolve competing demands on our public facilities and resources. We are mandated to ensure that those public facilities and services necessary to support development will be adequate to serve the development at the time the development is available for occupancy and use without decreasing current service levels below locally established minimum standards.

The GMA planning process mandates a robust citizen participation requirement from which community values, needs, goals and objectives are expressed through the comprehensive land use plan. The city engaged in an extensive citizen participation process, which began in July 2020 and culminated in December 2020. The public outreach process included mailings, an online story map that yielded significant responses, stakeholder interviews and public meetings. Stakeholder names were brainstormed at the first task force meeting July 16, 2020, to ensure broad involvement.

In our community outreach, we heard many comments about urban sprawl, the strain on the transportation network, and the inability to focus our city’s limited resources. Because our growth has exceeded our capacity to serve, the city council engaged the services of professional consultants to evaluate our comprehensive plan with particular attention on the capital facilities, housing and transportation elements, and the size and shape of our Urban Growth Area. The analysis that was brought forward was an in-depth analysis that actually opened our eyes and our city council members’ eyes to the fact the city is woefully behind in its planning.

The city is required to design a UGA to include areas and densities sufficient to permit the urban growth that is projected to occur in the city for the succeeding 20‐year period, based upon our population projection assigned by the Washington State Office of Financial Management. To provide for growth, the city needed a thorough understanding of what land was realistically developable, available and suitable for growth within our community. The analysis of our UGA revealed that it was oversized and unsustainable.

Here are the words of the Department of Transportation: “The city’s new land capacity analysis is quite noteworthy and is a foundational element of strong community planning. As other state agencies have noted, development-related decisions have long-lasting impacts to the transportation system, other capital facilities, city budgets and your residents’ quality of life. Accommodating projected growth in a compact land use pattern with appropriate market-based contingencies, is a key step in minimizing up-front capital costs and ongoing operation and maintenance costs for all components of a multi-modal transportation system. Accordingly, WSDOT supports the recommendation to ‘identify portions of the unincorporated UGA (urban growth area) where it will be difficult to extend urban services within the planning period and consider such areas for removal from the UGA.’”

And they identify additional analysis that needs to be conducted: “WSDOT appreciates the inclusion of information from various transportation planning efforts, including ongoing studies for Mae Valley and Yonezawa Boulevard. However RCW 36.70a.070(6) specifies broader content requirements for the transportation element, including the following:

• ‘Estimated traffic impacts to state-owned transportation facilities resulting from land use assumptions …

• Specific actions and requirements for bringing into compliance locally owned transportation facilities … that are below established level of service standards ...

• Forecasts of traffic for at least ten years based on the adopted land use plan … ’”

As a result of state GMA requirements, the Comprehensive Plan identifies a number of areas where we are deficient and additional planning is required, and therefore there should be consideration of “right sizing” the UGA to where the city has facilities and then the city should be planning for the growth and how it will be financed.

This community knows we are struggling with balancing the competing demands on our public facilities and resources. The Love’s project is illustrative of the impacts that growth has. We heard your voices, and the city council made a very difficult decision to support a down-sized UGA in order to permit the city’s infrastructure and resources to catch up with growth, and so we know how we will finance future growth without impacting the levels of service to current residents.

The numbers in our Capital Facilities Plan are telling – staff has identified $298 million in expected capital costs over the next 20 years, but the city’s projected revenues during that same period falls short at $218 million. We have our work cut out for us.