Pizza is not often sold “by the cut.”
But Chas Kubis and Charlie Pasquier, owners of Goat Mountain Pizza on Holly Street, are taking a chance that such a model will resonate with late-night crowds.
“We’re kind of following an old Roman tradition,” Pasquier said. “We’re trying to make something for everyone.”
Goat Mountain, open daily except for Saturdays, has a small menu. Each day, a selection of pizzas rotates through a deli-style serving area.
Customers can select exactly what portion they want right down to the smallest inch. Prices are then determined by weight.
The restaurant opened at the very end of August. Yet Kubis and Pasquier said their start was pushed back several months.
The business partners spent their summer working with city officials to obtain a proper building permit that would comply with state building codes. They also had to pay a traffic impact fee to the city, which was a difficult expense to cover for the self-financed company, they said.
Traffic impact fees fund transportation-related infrastructure and improvements in Bellingham, including sidewalks and bike lanes.
While 81 percent of respondents in an informal 2011 survey of downtown commerce said the district was either a “good” or “fair” place to do business, development fees and building permit difficulties were cited as barriers to growth.
The survey was conducted by city officials and local nonprofit groups as part of the “myDowntown” project, which is attempting to create a new Sub-Area Plan for the downtown core to present to Bellingham City Council by next year.
City officials, however, have said the argument that Bellingham’s fees limit developers is not always supported by facts.
City traffic fees below regional average
City transportation planner Chris Comeau said the debate over whether Bellingham charges too much money in fees boils down to one question: Who should pay for the cost of development?
“The reason cities charge impact fees is to offset the actual cost of growth,” Comeau said.
In 2010, Bellingham’s base rate for its traffic impact fee was $1,932, according to city data. When that base rate was ranked against those charged by 64 other jurisdictions in western Washington, Bellingham landed in the bottom third of all rates.
Bellingham’s 2010 base rate was lower than those of other Whatcom County cities such as Lynden and Ferndale. It also below the regional average ($2,870) and the regional median ($2,385).
Two cities in the region, Kenmore and Lynnwood, charged traffic fees of more than $7,000.
Comeau said the money the city collects in traffic impact fees accounts for 20 percent of the total amount spent on transportation maintenance and improvements.
In addition to keeping the city’s fees below the regional averages, Comeau said he’s helped pilot the city’s new traffic impact fee reduction program.
Among other incentives, the city will give developers a 22 percent reduction for locating new growth inside urban villages such as the downtown district. If developers want to build or renovate a building that is on one of Whatcom Transportation Authority’s “GO Lines,” they can get a 25 percent reduction, according to Comeau. See case study of costs for residential development projects with urban village and traffic impact fee reduction programs in effect.
“The whole point of this is we’re trying to reward developers who want to develop in our downtown,” Comeau said.
Kubis and Pasquier said they are not opposed to paying impact fees. Both said they understand the need for the city to collect money to fund infrastructure.
Yet Kubis said one problem was the fact the traffic fee must be paid upfront, rather than having an option to space it out in installments or make an annual payment.
But Comeau said the period prior to a business opening is the one time when officials have clout to ensure fees are paid.
“That’s the only time the city has any leverage over a developer to collect that money,” Comeau said.
Building official acknowledges headaches
Both Kubis and Pasquier said their frustrations were not meant as a direct attack on city employees or on the city itself. Pasquier said they were mainly the result of a “flawed system.”
City building official Jim Tinner said in many ways, he agrees—at least when it comes to building permits.
Tinner said city building inspectors and permitting officials are bound by the Washington State Building Code, which set minimum parameters for building codes and permits.
He said the state codes were set primarily with new construction projects in mind. When it comes to existing buildings—such as the historic Bellingham Hardware Building where Goat Mountain Pizza is located—the codes don’t provide for much flexibility.
That lack of accord in the codes would make construction particularly difficult for businesses operating in converted spaces, he said.
Goat Mountain Pizza is one example. The restaurant’s space was previously a hemp retail store. Converting it to a pizza parlour involved a plumbing overhaul and other installations.
Tinner said he was sympathetic to Kubis and Pasquier, but changes to the building codes would have to be made at the state level.
“We are not allowed to make the codes any less restrictive. We are just as stuck with them as the building owners are,” Tinner said. “We’re trying to find solutions. But particularly with old buildings downtown, it’s very difficult.”
Bellingham’s permitting office recommends business owners or developers work with a licensed architect, Tinner said.
State law actually requires developers work with architects on spaces larger than 4,000 square feet.
Goat Mountain in business
With their restaurant open, Kubis and Pasquier are happy the process is over and they can get down to selling pizza.
The duo originally met and developed their business model while they were neighbors in Belgium. Having flexibility and an open approach toward their company helped them make it through the permitting and development process, they said.
Kubis said he thought new business owners benefit from discussing their proposals with consultants, developers and as many other people as they can before starting.
Pasquier agreed. New owners should prepare for anything, he said.
“Start planning early,” he said, “and plan for being delayed.”
Contact Evan Marczynski at email@example.com or call 360-647-8805.
This article was revised on Oct. 1, 2012. A previous version had incorrectly referred to the Whatcom Transportation Authority as the Whatcom Transit Authority.
Evan Marczynski photos | Bellingham Business Journal