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Eric Hirst Resigns Greenways Committee

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Editor note: Of course this posting is with Eric’s permission. Our website is not able to exactly reproduce the formatting and bullet points in his letter. Thus there is also a pdf of his letter and concerns at the link below this article.
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ERIC HIRST
360-656-6690
1932 Rhododendron Way
Bellingham, Washington 98229
EricHirst@comcast.net

October 21, 2010

Mayor Dan Pike
City of Bellingham
210 Lollie Street
Bellingham, WA 98225

Dear Dan:

After 4-1/2 years on the Greenway Advisory Committee (GAC), I am resigning from the committee. I very much enjoyed my service on the GAC, superbly led by Tom Chisholm and Kenni Merritt (2006), Laurel Cook (2007), and John Blethen (2008 – present). Leslie Bryson and Tim Wahl, CoB Parks Department, provide excellent support and guidance to the committee. I will miss our monthly meetings and walks.

In spite of the many benefits I received during participation on the GAC, I am resigning because of the delays, mistakes, and controversy over the proposed Fairhaven Highlands project.

The City Council has failed repeatedly to decide on the southside portion of the GAC Strategic Plan. In addition, I believe the Administration has made many mistakes in overseeing the proposed Fairhaven Highlands development. Unfortunately, I have become increasingly frustrated by—even angry at—these actions and inactions. The primary role of the GAC, working with city staff, is to review and assess various parcels of land for possible inclusion within the Bellingham parks, trails and greenway system. The committee should not be, and does not want to be, involved with politics. Sadly, problems associated with Fairhaven Highlands have often dominated our meetings during the time I have served on the GAC.

The attachment explains my concerns about Fairhaven Highland and offers several suggestions. Please call me if you would like to discuss any of these ideas.

cc: Bellingham City Council, Greenway Advisory Committee, Leslie Bryson, and Tim Wahl


Eric Hirst Concerns about
City of Bellingham Treatment of Fairhaven Highlands

October 2010

City Council and GAC Strategic Plan

— Draft plan presented to council in October 2008

— In January 2009, council approved Northside and Whatcom Creek portions of plan, deferred consideration of Southside portion until draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for Fairhaven Highlands completed, expected to be three months

— Since then, council decided four times to defer consideration of Southside plan – now two years since it was first presented to council

— Implications of repeated deferrals

- Loss of motivation to consider parks additions on south side of town

- Loss of opportunities to acquire properties at low prices

- Almost no land purchases on south side of town: to date, Greenway Levy III purchases amount to $6.9 million (of $12.1 million, 57% of total) on north side, but only $0.6 million (of $6 million, 10%) on south side.

- Loss of motivation/enthusiasm by GAC and parks department staff

— Recommendations to City Council:

- Approve Southside plan as submitted by GAC

- If council cannot do that, then explicitly reject Southside plan and provide clear guidance to parks department and GAC on how to proceed with review of lands in south side of town and allocation of the $6 million for Southside purchases and $2 million in undesignated purchases

City Administration

— Surprising haste in approving Fairhaven Highlands permit applications in April and November 2005, the latter only a few days before city council approved a new, stricter Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO)

— Subsequent failure to rescind approval upon learning that these initial applications were incomplete, especially on wetlands delineation

— Publication in Fall 2009 of an incomplete and inadequate DEIS; the city received more than 300 comment letters on the draft, almost all of them critical

— Failure to insist that property owners/developers pay for completion of a thorough and rigorous EIS or abandon the project

— Granted multiple extensions of the deadline for completion of a new EIS

— Conclusions

- City has consistently acted contrary to the preferences and interests of its citizens (especially on wetlands protection, stormwater management, and traffic congestion) and in favor of the property owners/developers

- These actions likely artificially increase the value of the property (to the detriment of citizens) by granting time extensions for completion of the EIS, being unwilling to revisit vesting (given the omissions from the 2005 applications), and not insisting on compliance with the 2005 CAO

— Recommendations to Bellingham Mayor

- Review the original 2005 applications for completeness, acknowledge past errors associated with these approvals, and rescind vesting for this project

- Grant no more extensions for completion of a new EIS

- Ensure that the EIS, if and when paid for by the developer, explicitly addresses the many citizen comments offered during the October 2009 public hearing on the DEIS

- Communicate with Bellingham citizens about this project, its compliance with local and state laws, and the city’s intentions

Related Links

About Eric Hirst

Contributor • Member since Jul 23, 2015

Eric Hirst has a Ph.D. in engineering from Stanford University, spent 30 years as an energy policy analyst at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and retired to Bellingham 14 years ago. He [...]

Comments by Readers

Steve Wilson

Nov 10, 2010

Eric,
Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the actions/inactions that have led to this current situation.  I find myself nodding in agreement with your analysis of the disappointing actions of the previous mayor and planning directors (we’re on our third one since Fairhaven Highlands was proposed).  Yet, I’m puzzled why you would implore council to release Greenways funds for southside acquisitions at this stage in the chess match.  Land prices are showing no signs of going up.  Could you elaborate?

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