The question of how — and when — to pay for street improvements related to new city development is certainly a thorny one, but one thing is clear: It makes little sense to require payment when a line on a map is the only change taking place.
Fortunately, The Dalles City Council agreed and city staff has instructions to come up with a better plan for how to make improvements happen — hopefully tied to when new development is actually expected to make an impact on foot and vehicle traffic.
That’s a good start for the city, which has seen its reputation blackened at the state level for trying to charge big bucks up front for work that may be years, or even decades away.
When improvements cost more than the land is worth, it’s time to take a close look at the system and its expectations.
On the other hand, most property developers have paid for their own street improvements in The Dalles from time immemorial. (That’s how most of those streets and sidewalks in central The Dalles came into being.)
It seems unreasonable to expect past developers who have ponied up the money to pay for their improvements to shell out more for someone else’s property.
It’s unfair to expect the citizenry as a whole to start subsidizing individual profit. (Even though we do it in ways too many to list almost every day to spur economic development.)
We don’t envy the city as it looks for ways to find the balancing point between progress and punitive cost.
We’ve seen the challenges that increasingly restrictive regulation puts on the ability of a city to grow and thrive.
The federal Clean Water Act, for example, has resulted in regulations that continue to get tighter and tighter as more provisions of the act are implemented.
That means higher utility costs as water system improvements are made and less land for development as yet another layer of land use law further restricts the quantity of buildable urban land.
Make no mistake, the same thing happens in regulation at the local level. Local rules, too, have a tendency to be progressively more strict as time goes on.
It might be good to rethink that approach.
Perhaps the city should take its cues from its citizens, instead of the other way around. That’s what happened when former City Councilor Merritt Probstfield started campaigning for extension of sewer lines into the rural east The Dalles area surrounding Old Dufur Road in the 1980s and 1990s.
As much as Probstfield, who lived out that way, might have liked to see everyone hooked up to those sewer lines, it wasn’t realistic to expect everyone to cough up cash on the spot. So the city extended the line and, as septic systems aged and malfunctioned, land owners gradually paid the fee to hook up to the city line. And gradually the cost of the line itself was repaid.
Perhaps the best option for the city is to allow owners to maintain a minimal level of street development until conditions clearly dictate improvement — and help land owners form LIDs for improvements on their own timelines.
We’ve seen examples closer to the city center: areas where streets are paved, and sidewalks are missing, or curbs and sidewalks are both missing.
It’s a different philosophy from what’s currently being employed at the city — responsive change, rather than anticipatory change — but maybe that’s a better choice for The Dalles at this stage in its development.
We look forward to seeing city government take sound steps that will help improve its reputation, both with citizens and the rest of the state.