Chehalis Eyes Code Change to Streamline Development Process

Developers Have Brought Concerns to Recent City Council Meetings

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The City of Chehalis could begin the process of making changes to city code to create a more streamlined development process in June following the comments of several developers who raised concerns at recent council meetings.

Chehalis city code requirements were the talk of Monday night’s Chehalis City Council meeting, with a citywide requirement for every project needing a traffic impact analysis (TIA) at the forefront of the discussion.

A TIA is a study done on how a proposed development might impact the efficacy of the city’s transportation infrastructure. It’s aimed at considering how many extra vehicles a potential development will put on the roads and whether the roads can accommodate them.

After a typical TIA, the city’s staff will suggest measures or improvements that will need to be done to the transportation system to accommodate the new development, if any. In some cases, a TIA would bar a potential development from happening if the needed infrastructure improvements for said project are infeasible.

In Chehalis, TIAs are required almost across the board for all potential developments.

“What we have noticed is city code essentially requires a TIA for almost any project because the entire city is part of the Transportation Benefit District,” City Manager Jill Anderson told the council. “And the city code says if the project is in the Transportation Benefit District, it requires a traffic impact analysis.”

Kevin and Melody Hicks, who are planning to build an RV park behind the Security State Bank lot on National Avenue, gave public comment at Monday’s meeting expressing concern over the city’s blanket TIA requirement, which they said is hampering the progression of their development. The couple is just the latest in a string of potential developers who are running into snags with the city’s development processes.

“This is our money that we are putting into it. We don’t have corporate money funding that project. That’s one of the reasons why we’re here, is the TIA that they’re requesting,” Kevin Hicks told the councilors.

The couple has already taken preliminary measures to study the traffic impact of the potential RV park, he said.

“We had a previous traffic trip generation letter done that we paid for. Now, we’re asked to provide the TIA,” he said. “That’s another $4,800 to (5,000) bucks. And they told us (they’re) three weeks away from getting that done. We were kind of hoping to get this project off the ground this summer. With the water around here, we only have a few months to get this thing off the ground.”

He said the city's staff is currently holding up the State Environmental Policy Act analysis required in the development process because the TIA is not done yet. They expressed frustration with the project’s stagnation because of that.

“We agree with the Hicks (family) that their project doesn’t need a full-on traffic impact analysis, that the trip generation analysis could be done and that that is most likely sufficient. However, the code says that it’s required,” Anderson said. “In terms of the Hicks’ project, in particular, the RV park, is that technically it is under the existing code … and we would need an exception granted by the council to do that — to waive or suspend that requirement.”

Mayor Tony Ketchum tried to assuage the damage the current code may be inflicting on the Hicks family in a response to their comments.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel … through this process — which is the way the process should work — but it wasn’t as smooth as it should have been,” Ketchum said. “The city has come to the decision that the TIA (requirement) is flawed in a lot of places. And they are looking at it to rewrite it. And we hope to have it brought to us in the first meeting in June to look at and have a new process in place. Hopefully, that works for what you’re looking for.”

Anderson told The Chronicle the entire code may need to be updated, but the city will need to work on that over time to make sure that any proposed changes do not have ripple effects on other aspects of the code. Agreeing with Ketchum, she said a code change specific to the TIA requirement could be addressed at the first council meeting in June.