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Bellingham Planning tries to sneak one through

By On

Eleven days - 11 days - for the public to comment on a huge neighborhood impacting building project. March 28 to April 11 - with 4 days being weekends. The Sunnyland folks are only learning this weekend what ends on Monday.

The Bellingham planning department appears to be shorting the public process for the new Options High School on Franklin Street in the Sunnyland Neighborhood. Why? Well maybe because it is so much bigger than the neighbors were told it would be. It is over twice as large as they were told in the past.

Here are some concerns. These need public comment and public explanations.

  • The plan is to school 400 students, not the 150 students that residents were told
  • Parking will be less than 70 spaces and handicapped will be 3 or 4 - violating laws. This will flood the residential streets with student, faculty and staff cars.
  • The bicycle path will be vacated and the school constructed on it. It will not be replaced.
  • Part of Franklin Street will be vacated.
  • There seems no outside areas for a school with 400 students aged 16 to 21.

The real deceptions are coming from the Bellingham School District and the superintendent Greg Baker. They have not told the residents the truth about this project for months. Now it appears the plan is the city and school district will not have to deal with the public. The public never really knew of the public comment period. Notices were sent to a very small area and late in the time period.

What needs to be done.

Mayor Kelli Linville should be contacted. She is the boss of the planning department. She can tell them to run a full, legal and informative public process. All others - council members included - can only request she order planning to open up this process to the public. Phone: 778-8100 and email mayorsoffice@cob.org

There appears to be no information online at the city planning website. The public notice simply says one needs to visit city hall and request to view the documents at the Permit Center.

Normally when a project is rushed and public notice is minimized, there are bad impacts being hidden. Part of this hidden project is the very public notice itself. The text of the specifications is so small it can not be easily read. It may be 4 point type. Yeah, they obeyed the law by including the specs - but they hid them in tiny text.

Maybe this project will not have huge negative impacts. Well that needs to be explained in an open public process. A decent amount of time and full specs on the project are needed. Neither are present for this project. Look at that drawing at the top of this article. What if that were being planned in your residential neighborhood. Can you even make sense of it? The architect did not even indicate where North is. (Corrected - as north is showing, but also very small.) Nor provide enough street information so a person can locate the project without a lot of study. They should be ashamed. Zervas is a reputable firm, so perhaps they were asked to provide a minimal drawing with text too small for reading.

I was phoned this weekend about this. I drove over to Sunnyland and walked the area and talked with residents. As the need is for the mayor to extend the comment period, I am writing and posting this Sunday evening. On Monday I will be at city hall trying to verify this information and learn more. So, this article is being thrown together as time is of the essence, so some of this may not be 100% correct. But the thrust of the article is the important issue: the residents did not know of the immensity of this project and need more time to learn and comment.

About John Servais

Writer • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Tim Paxton

Apr 11, 2016

Nice summary on this permit “application”.  I live one block away and was amazed to finally read the number of gym seats: (719) plus theater seats: 184.  A total of 904 people driving around Sunnyland looking for parking some evening?  Is this a deliberate effort to lie to Bellingham residents? Are forty two on-site parking spaces enough?  Who allowed this?  Is it time to find another, larger, site?

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Dick Conoboy

Apr 11, 2016

There is a notice on the city website.  Not sure when it was posted.  Go to: https://www.cob.org/gov/dept/pcd/Lists/notices/Attachments/2884/Notice-of-Application-and-Optional-DNS-SEP2016-0007-USE2016-0008.pdf

The document (Type II and additional DNS) is a pdf and can be enlarged to view the small print.

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Tim Paxton

Apr 11, 2016

Should the City include the really high ELF readings in the Franklin Street Power Corridor in their review?  Do parents even want their kids there?  Should the key info of 400+ students have been revealed in the project description?  It appears the 400 driving age students still need 100 parking spaces alone by City ordinance.  Do the 24 staff all expect parking spaces too?  That is 124 spaces required with only 42 spaces on site.  Why not look at 3 or 4 other possible larger sites?  Isn’t 30 acres the recommended size of a new High School?

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David McCluskey

Apr 12, 2016

Flood the streets with cars?  Um, I don’t think so.  Look at the current ratio of students that have cars at options now.  ThE kids that go there are city kids that walk or ride their bikes.

Isn’t this what everyone in bellinham pushes for anyway? Condensed areas that involves no cars?

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Tim Paxton

Apr 12, 2016

As John points out, its too bad the School District and City co-opted our right to discuss or opine meaningfully on this issue.  Too late. 

Its bad enough that key information was buried deliberately but School District employee posted false information and lied to Sunnyland residents who politely inquired and were told only 150 students.  Is this the new policy for the School District? Do you approve of this tactic?

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Tim Paxton

Apr 14, 2016

Franklin Street is a utility corridor.  The new Options High School is proposed to be almost on top of the large diameter, high pressure natural gas pipeline buried here.  Some people still remember Whatcom Creek Pipeline explosion in 1999.  Additionally, the school will be under high voltage power lines here.  Q: Is this the best 2 acre site that the school district looked at?

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John Blethen

Apr 14, 2016

I live about 2 blocks from this project and was not noticed.  When the food bank expanded recently, it was not required to provide parking.  On food bank days there are no parking spaces on Ellis south of Ohio.  While most of the Options kids may be too poor, or too “urban” to drive,  I am sure that our parking problem south of Ohio, will be worse.
My second concern is the demise of the pedestrian and bike path.  We citizens just spent a half million dollars rebuilding the heavily used bike/ped bridge over Whatcom Creek which is directly linked to the trail around Bellingham High School.  This path by the school is heavily used by Sunnyland by commuters. I wonder how the Options plan fits the Bike Ped Master plan?
My third concern is about the building ecology.  Is this building carbon neutral?  This concern may sound hooky, but really all government buildings need to set the standard.  Climate change is real.  We look to our schools for leadership into the future and as leaders, all schools must need to address our rapidly devolving environment.
We all want to see our kids do well.  We voted to spend a 100 million dollars to rebuild our school physical plants.  Lets make sure we do this project right.
I have questions about this school and until this article I was unaware of its time line and how to access information about the project

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Tim Paxton

Apr 15, 2016

Why would the School District knowingly build a High School over a high capacity Natural Gas Pipeline? (running down Franklin)

Why would G. Baker want to expose students and staff to high EMF radiation from the High Voltage power lines overhead?

I just measured readings of 1200+ milligauss a 2015 Franklin. Take your own readings but kindly don’t expose students here. In California, there is no way you could build under power lines. Or on top of a potentially explosive pipeline.

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Tim Paxton

Apr 17, 2016

From the City of Bellingham Street/Alley Vacation guidelines:

” Right of way adjacent or leading to any park, open space, view or natural area or any other natural or man made attraction should not be vacated.” 

Is this Violation of Street Vacation Policies by Planning?  BHS Soccer / Baseball fields sure look like open space areas.

Open Space Bike path alley along the tennis courts will be shut. Forever.

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Bob Aegerter

Apr 18, 2016

The Zervas Firm can be shamed into doing a better job.  Give them a phone call.

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Tim Paxton

Apr 23, 2016

Predicted mortality rate for a pipeline incident/explosion at Options?
100%

1500 feet away is considered “safe”.  So any explosion in a 3000 foot section of pipe would affect the school.  I.e. blast students.

Pipeline safety study link.
http://greglocke.ca/wp-content/gallery/NATURAL_GAS_PIPELINE_SETBACKS.pdf

10” Diameter High Pressure pipe at the site, about 20 years old.

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