A People’s Victory - and a Rare One

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Thu, Sep 01, 2011, 10:21 pm  //  John Servais

The Commons was fairly packed with a celebratory crowd of perhaps 300 people. Here, the representative of Washington Federal speaks. He was well received. The party started at 6 pm and continued till 9.

Dana Lyons and friends organized a celebration this evening of the purchase of Chuckanut Ridge as a city parkland. Even though it is 10 days before the legal purchase is completed. The party drew a huge crowd to Fairhaven Middle School Commons for a self congratulatory love fest - as was appropriate. Music, speeches, Mallard Ice Cream, big sheet cakes, potluck, and maybe over 300 people all in their most carefully casual northwest clothes.

Except for the banker from Washington Federal. Dana correctly invited him and he looked the banker. He did not try to pretend otherwise and the crowd loved him for it. He was pleased to be there. He spoke well and complimented everyone. As was appropriate. He got a standing ovation.  And so it went this evening, again and again.

The public personalities of the 16-year-long effort to stop development on the 100 Acre Wood spent good time naming many others in the community who deserved credit. But none of the southside social elite mentioned the guy who maybe is responsible for making the deal work in the end. The guy who did enormous research on the legal and financial aspects of the property and made sure that information was in the legal record where it would eventually cause the parties to make a deal. Larry Horowitz. If anyone mentioned his name, I sure did not hear it and I was listening for it. So tonight he did not exist. They could have given Larry much credit - even though they are mad at him about how he thinks the deal should have been carried through.  They could have been bigger people this evening. But they chose not.

There was the normal amount of revisionist history. Tonight, the fight lasted at least 30 years, not 16 or 20. Tonight people got credit who strongly opposed buying the land. But that is the way of public events. All the city council was applauded but only some of them supported this these past couple years. Who got credit was politically very important this evening. It was small town politics at its best.

We are paying $8.3 million and that is probably $3 million too much. Our mayor is not a negotiator. In fact, others did all the work and he had trouble carrying water. He came to the council this summer and said the council had to pay $8.9 million and could not see the appraisal. Otherwise they would lose the deal. Take it or leave it. The council told him no. Too much. They also insisted they see the appraisal. The mayor went back to the bank and told them the council said no.

The bank dropped $600,000 off the price and said the council could see the appraisal. The mayor brought the news back and the council approved the deal. Hell, the mayor is good buddies with Edelstein, the man who held up this deal for over a year. He is now playing this for all he can during the mayoral election campaign.

We probably did pay too much. The EIS would have shown the property to be not qualified for development, maybe halving the perceived value. But we finally have the property and that is what is most important. Even paying a bit too much is secondary to getting this property.

In the end, the party was fine. It was a rare people's victory over big institutions and government agencies. It reminds one of the opening of Boulevard Park in the summer of 1980. For years prominent and powerful people in Bellingham said we had enough parks and did not need one down on the waterfront. I remember the 1960s efforts toward the park and how it was slammed. But from the day it opened it became Bellingham's most popular park - and I never found a person who was against it. Some figured out ways to take credit. Regardless, the important thing is we got Boulevard Park. And in a few days we will get Chuckanut Ridge.

It was a fun celebration and all were smiles. But it is always appropriate to seek the truth and not believe in the noise of the crowd. Thank you, Larry Horowitz, for all your work to help us get Chuckanut Ridge. 

Dana Lyons and four city council members who have really been for buying Chuckanut Ridge. From left; Dana, Barry Buchanan, Seth Fleetwood, Terry Borneman and Gene Knutson. Can you pick out the banker?

John Lesow  //  Fri, Sep 02, 2011, 9:05 am

John-you are absolutely right
Larry Horowitz deserves a great deal of credit for his unfailing dedication to getting this purchase approved

g.h.kirsch  //  Fri, Sep 02, 2011, 10:34 am

Agreed, John (Lesow). 

And in the end, Larry’s unhappiness with the result reminds me of advice received long ago. 

When every opposing party in a compromise is somewhat unhappy with the result, it is probably a fair deal.

Hue Beattie  //  Fri, Sep 02, 2011, 2:33 pm

I thank Larry Horowitz and also Larry Williams for his efforts. 
I would have prefered a downzone . There have been many Mayors and City councils and planning directors that could have done it. But this Council and this Mayor saved the land for us and I thank them. Eldelstein was legally taken out of the picture by the new bank, Washington Federal, and I thank them.
I thank you also but I like Pike and you don’t. Linda Allen singing We Shall Overcome at the end was great. I should send a tape to Assmondesen and Gorge Vega.

Tip Johnson  //  Sun, Sep 04, 2011, 9:47 am

Indeed, Larry held the key to resolving the issue if it had somehow, magically - as so many times in the past - managed to survive.  Furthermore, his mild-mannered demeanor, combined with indefatigable persistence was a wonder to behold.  I congratulate him for his work with the observation that it is always amazing what one can accomplish when they don;t care who takes the credit.

As for the price, as I have pointed out before, the City deserved to pay more for having created the phantom value and steadfastly refused to correct it.

As for the credit, I’ll thank Pike for finally swinging the deal.  But, like every other City administration since the secret of the phony zoning was unleashed in 1996, Pike failed to do the work necessary to correct the problem. All along, the zoning should have been reviewed.  All along, the project should have been required to comply with current regulations.  All along, the application should have been required to be complete.  All along, this project got the most amazing pass.  It was truly magical.

Here is my favorite factoid.  When the project’s most recent application was accepted in an unprecedented three business days, the immediately prior determination of completeness was for a small addition to an existing South Hill home.  That one took six months.  It indicates a serious problem in Building Services.  Has Pike fixed that?

Larry might be unhappy with the price but I expect he will eventually get over it.  Thanks, Larry.

Dudley Evenson  //  Thu, Sep 08, 2011, 11:02 pm

Hi Folks, a couple of clarifications.  The battle to save the Chuckanut Ridge/100 Acre Wood has been going on 20 years, not 16 years as the article states.  We first became involved in 1990 and in 1991 formed a non profit group called Interurban Neighbors which made videos, put out newsletters, raised funds, hired lawyers, engaged specialists, worked with the mayor and planning department and sponsored meetings.  Many more people became aware of the project in 1996 and then two Greenways levies were successful with community wide support.  And by the way, Dean and I just watched the video of the evening’s celebration and Larry Horowitz was thanked loud and clear by Jody Bergsma.  He was also on my list under the historical poster boards in the back of the room.  So many people worked for years to make this a successful effort.  Now hopefully, we can keep the community fire ignited and keep saying NO COAL TRAINS TO CHINA FROM CHERRY POINT!

Mike Rostron  //  Fri, Sep 09, 2011, 8:35 am

Dudley and all:
And hopefully we can work towards a day when city zoning decisions are not driven by the interests of developers, but by what is best for the citizens of those neighborhoods; where elected city leaders direct staff and not vice versa; where preservation of neighborhood historical assets and character has priority over the rush to build some Seattle consultant’s idea of what Bellingham’s future landscape should look like; and where “infill” is not just the latest in vogue term for giving profit-driven developers carte blanche to impose their will on the residents.  Congratulations on your success, but one battle does not win the war.  There are obviously well-moneyed powers afoot in our community who would like nothing more than to turn the whole city into monolithic development tracts while they use their profits to live the good life in other less spoiled locations.

Larry Horowitz  //  Fri, Sep 09, 2011, 10:47 am

Thanks to all who have commented here and who have called and emailed me personally.  And thank you, John Servais, for recognizing what goes on behind the scenes.

As many of you know, I have no doubt the property could have been acquired by the city for less - very likely substantially less.  As a taxpayer, I lament Pike’s failure to negotiate a better deal.  And, as a supporter of Chuckanut Ridge, I fear that this ‘partial’ victory may turn into defeat when the city needs to sell much of it to pay off the loan from the Greenway endowment.  Had Pike taken advantage of the information we provided him - information that was readily available - to really negotiate on our behalf, we might have gotten a ‘total’ victory.  I have no inclination to light a cigar or run a victory lap.

I had not intended to comment on this story, but Mike Rostron’s comments here and on Tip Johnson’s article* are so important I feel it’s necessary to add my support.

Mike is right: The city needs to “start listening to the residents and property owners in the neighborhoods” and to ensure zoning decisions “are not driven by the interests of developers, but by what is best for the citizens of those neighborhoods.”

The defeat of the poorly-conceived Fairhaven Highlands project is an important victory.  But the war is not over.  I encourage everyone to read Mike’s comments and take them to heart.

Mike, if I can help you in your battle, please do not hesitate to contact me.

* Link to Tip Johnson’s article, “It’s finally done… except the lessons”

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