Prop 1: New Parks District is Wrong Approach

By Guest writerOn Jan 24, 2013

By guest columnist Bill Geyer. See short bio at end of article.

The February 12 Special Election will ask south Bellingham voters to approve or disapprove creation of a new taxing district. This election is premature. If this district is approved, it will impose new property taxes on a few of us to pay a City loan that is not due for almost 5 years.

Why is there a loan?
In 2011, then-Mayor Pike and the City Council purchased 82 acres (Chuckanut Ridge) for $8,200,000 with $4,500,000 from Greenways III funds, $500,000 from park impact fees and a $3,200,000 loan borrowed from the Greenways Endowment. Voters approved the Greenways Endowment in 2006, not to be spent, but to generate future income for park maintenance citywide. The $3,200,000 loan must be repaid by December 31, 2017, almost five years from today, plenty of time to consider other options.

Some activists favor quickly creating a new taxing district, a Metropolitan Parks District (MPD) to pay off the City’s loan with increased property taxes within the district. Voters need to understand the consequences before taking such a drastic step.

What is the MPD per State law (RCW 35.61)?

1. An independent, separate unit of government. For the last 40 years, Bellingham has operated according to our voter-approved City Charter as a full service city for all. Carving a small area into a special taxing district that duplicates existing City parks services is not efficient. Voters should not create competing, overlapping local government.

2. Run by five paid parks commissioners. Only voters in Edgemoor, Fairhaven, South Hill, Happy Valley and South neighborhoods elect the five commissioners, each paid up to $8,640 per year. (See map below). All Bellingham voters elect the Mayor and Council making them accountable to all voters, not a select few. Parks decisions are too important to be left to a small, special interest group.

3. Commissioners can tax property up to $0.75 / $1,000 valuation within the district without a further vote of the people. Unlike school bond levies approved by the voters for a specific period of time, the new parks tax is set by a majority vote of the parks commissioners for as long as they want. Three commissioners could increase your taxes for a long time. Most governments charge their maximum legal tax rate. Would a parks district be different? At these rates, your annual property taxes will increases by $187.50 on a $250,000 home (more than $1,800 in just ten years); $262.50 on a $350,000 home; and $337.50 on a $450,000 home. Renters would not escape the tax as landlords pass property taxes on to their tenants.

4. Own and operate parks. Bellingham residents created a great parks system. Why create a competing system? Citywide support unified voters to approve three Greenways levies. This Special Election by a small, special interest group undermines our unity placing future Greenways at risk.

5. Condemn private property. Commissioners have the power to condemn private property for parks, parkways, roads or moorage inside AND outside the district boundaries. District taxpayers pay the condemnation costs. Do south Bellingham voters want this power in the hands of a few special taxing district commissioners?

Are there better financial options to pay off the $3,200,000 loan? Yes, such as:

Keep the site as a park, but sell the development rights to be built elsewhere in the City;
Keep ¾ of the site as a park, sell the remainder for a modest number of new houses;
Refinance the loan into the next Greenways levy for all voters to decide;
Sell or lease other City property;
Raise funds with a private capital campaign;
Lease the high elevations on the site for communication towers;
And many others you can suggest.

All south Bellingham voters should VOTE NO on Proposition 1.

Once defeated, the Mayor and City Council should convene Bellingham residents experienced in appraisals, property management, finance, and neighborhood planning to create viable options. Our residents have great talents that solved many past issues. Our Greenways legacy is one example. The current election ignores our greatest asset – our ability to work together. We should honor our Greenways legacy for citywide solutions and not separate south neighborhoods for special treatment as a special taxing district. For good government, please tell your friends and neighbors in south Bellingham to VOTE NO on Proposition 1.

——-

Bill Geyer, a 28-year South Hill resident, is a certified professional planner. He serves as the Chairman of Protect Bellingham Parks, the committee devoted to defeating Prop 1 and advocating for realistic financial solutions to repay the City’s $3,200,000 loan to the Greenways Endowment Fund.

About Guest writer

Writers • Member since Jun 15, 2008

Comments by Readers

Clayton Petree

Jan 24, 2013

Do we know who will be the commissioners if this were to pass?  I would imagine the 5 have already been picked.  I realize you said there will be an election, but will that be an official election similar to this one, or just a small meeting with a show of hands and they are “elected”?

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John Erickson

Jan 24, 2013

WOW! Finally after all these years Mr.Geyer has finally done it! He has found WMD, you remember those pesky things,never found because they weren’t there. Yes, he has found them, only this time WMD are “WORDS of MASS DECEPTION”.

Mr. Geyer was involved with Padden Trails development and the King mountain project and has his own idea what our city should look like, massive housing projects at this city’s edge. Both projects needing massive public (tax payer) investment for their own profit. For some reason neither projects are being built at this time.

In buying the 100 Hundred Acre Woods the city raided the Greenways endowment fund, this was always a short term solution. The MPD is an answer for funding to repay that endowment fund. NOTHING MORE. Lets go thru Mr. geyer’s points.

1. It is a funding vehicle, not a duplication of city park services.

2. The Commissioners have stated time and time again they will receive NO PAY, they will be volunteers.

3. The tax will be $0.25 per $1,000. That’s it, no exceptions.

4. Bellingham Parks will still own and operate all of our parks just as they always have.

5. there is no intent to do anything other than pay back this inter fund loan. There is no reason to make this any more complicated than stated.

If you want to find another funding stream, go for it, maybe we can pay this off in four or five years.

Do not believe the fear or the misinformation Do not be a low information voter. You deserve to know the truth.

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Clayton Petree

Jan 24, 2013

John,

You’ve actually made me more curious.

Which commissioners said they will be volunteers?  Are they pre-s"elected”?

Who are these people?

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 24, 2013

It’s a shame that Northwest Citizen agreed to publish this fear-mongering nonsense and that we need to waste our time responding to it.  How to begin?

First, Guyer’s claim that the park district represents only “a few of us” is ridiculous.  The park district boundaries were very carefully considered and includes the majority of the five neighborhoods directly impacted.  The district itself represents between 15% and 20% of the entire city.  This is not just “a few,” but the ones who will feel the most pain from a poorly designed mega-development.

Second, Guyer’s assertion that there is “plenty of time to consider other options” indicates he has no clue.  Even though Council stated that a sale of the property would only be considered as a last resort and not until the end of 2017, people like Guyer are already calling for a portion of the property to be sold, almost five years before that ultimatum would be necessary.  Additionally, the loan agreement calls for repayment in full at the end of 2017.  It is essential that we take advantage of as many years as possible to accumulate funds to repay the loan so as to minimize the annual burden.  If we waited until 2017, the park district would no longer be an option, and we would have wasted five years.

Regarding Guyer’s 5 points:

1) Guyer claims the park district will duplicate existing park services but has failed to identify a single service being duplicated.  In fact, the Chuckanut Community Forest Metropolitan Park District (CCF MPD) has a single mission – to raise funds to acquire a conservation easement to protect this forested wetland for future generations and repay the inter-fund loan.  If the city is already doing this, that would be something we’d all like to know.

2) Guyer asserts that the MPD commissioners will be compensated.  That is simply not true – at least it’s not for the six candidates who are running as volunteers:  Cathy McKenzie, John Hymas, Dan Remsen, Susan Kaun, Vince Biciunas, and John Brown.  Where does Guyer get this stuff?

3) Each of these six commissioners have also pledged to limit the levy to 28 cents, or $28 per YEAR per $100,000 valuation.  These six have earned their reputations as trustworthy and committed community leaders with tremendous integrity.  From a personal standpoint, I have known and have worked closely with every one of them for years.  I have complete faith that they will live up to their commitment to limit the levy to the 28-cent level needed to repay the inter-fund loan.  Guyer’s implication that we need to fear the levy being raised the 75 cents is nothing more than a shameless scare tactic.  Don’t believe it.

4) Guyer mistakenly asserts that the park district will somehow compete with the city’s park system.  It will not.  The city will continue to own and operate all park lands within the park district.  The park district simply creates the vehicle needed to repay the inter-fund loan.  Geyer’s failed attempt to complicate that matter is self-serving.

5) Another bogus fear-mongering tactic and ‘straw man’ argument is Guyer’s reference to a condemnation power provided in state law that has NEVER been used by any of the Metropolitan Park Districts in the state.  Does Geyer really worry that his home will be condemned by the park district?  Give me a break!  Each of the six candidates listed above have pledged not to use any power to condemn or acquire property.  Again, the CCF MPD has a single purpose: to raise funds to repay an existing inter-fund loan.  That’s all. 

Shame on you for resorting to fear tactics Bill Guyer.  I expected much better from you.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 24, 2013

Clayton, there is a separate election on Feb 12 to elect five commissioners. 

There are two candidates for Positions 1, 2, 3 and 5 and one candidate for Position 4.  They are:

Position 1: Cathy McKenzie and Patricia Montgomery
Position 2: John Hymas and Dan Remsen
Position 3: Susan Kaun and Jan Brown
Position 4: Vince Biciunas
Position 5: John Brown and Anna Williams

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 24, 2013

I apologize for misspelling Geyer’s name in my previous comment.  I tried to edit my comment but was not able to.

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John Servais

Jan 24, 2013

Larry writes: “It’s a shame that Northwest Citizen agreed to publish this fear-mongering nonsense and that we need to waste our time responding to it.  How to begin?”

Well, damned if I do and damned if I don’t.  As my email to commenters and writers said - and Larry got this email - weeks ago I invited the proponents to submit an article.  They are a cautions bunch and were not sure and wanted to talk about it - and after 3 weeks have not sent anything to me.  I offered the same to the opponents and they finally have sent something and it is posted.  Funny how I feel clean as driven snow here. 

Now I’m being damned by one of the leading proponents of the measure.  Why are you folks so afraid of an airing of issues?  Waste your time, Larry.  It is called democracy and open processes.  It is called open public discussion and debate.  And if you do not want to “waste” your time then don’t expect the rest of us to waste our time trying to learn about this issue.  I’ll just vote “No” on it and go on my way.  You are proposing that I be taxed.  Pray have the decency to address the criticisms of your proposal.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 24, 2013

John,

This issue is not a matter of providing equal time to both sides.  Nor is it a matter of addressing criticism of THE (not “my”) proposal.  The issue is the publishing of a hit piece that does nothing more than incite fear based on a complete lack of understanding of the issues and the commitments.

Let me ask you, John: 

1) Are you really afraid that your home is going to be condemned?
2) Are you aware of any services the park district is going to duplicate?
3) Do you actually believe the park district commissioners will be compensated?
4) Do you not trust the commissioner candidates who have pledged to limit the levy to 28 cents?
5) How exactly does the MPD compete with the city parks dept?

You have called me a “leading proponent” of the measure.  If that were the case, I don’t recall being invited by you to submit an article.

You say that you’ll just vote “No” and go on your way.  Funny, didn’t you already tell me you were against the park district months ago?

By the way, it’s my understanding that Bill Geyer was told - in no uncertain terms - that at least six of the candidates would not accept compensation, would limit the levy to 28 cents, and would refuse to use any powers to condemn or acquire properties.  Geyer knows that the MPD has a singular focus, but he ignored all that he knew in order to scare people.  John, I suspect that you knew all of this as well yet published Geyer’s article as if you did not.

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Wendy Harris

Jan 24, 2013

Here is one Northside resident that strongly favors the proposal and hopes that it passes. This is important habitat because it protects and provides connectivity to the Chuckanut Wildlife Corridor, a biodiversity area of regional importance.

The City liberally approves development proposals that fill wetlands and destroy critical areas. It’s record on mitigation for wildlife impacts is abysmal.  One of the worst offenders is the Parks Department.  It refuses to mitigate impacts from development at Bloedel Park on a rare and functional wetland and a degraded wildlife corridor.  And talk about misuse of Greenway Levy Funds… the Parks Department falsely alleges that the future overwater walkway located between Blvd. Park and Cornwall Landfill, an $8 million dollar project, was approved by voters as part of the Greenway III Levy. This is not even on land the City owns. It is on tidelands owned by DNR that will be leased. The Parks department wanted to lease out Big Rock Park to an organization that was seeking private profit, and fortunately in this case, the Parks Department responded to public opposition. 

The City, and its Parks Department, have done a disservice to ALL City residents by ignoring the ecological importance of Chuckanut Ridge and by failing to protect and mitigate for urban wildlife. I am grateful to the Southside residents who recognize the need to protect this irreplaceable land.

Economic analysis establishes that parks and greenspaces are actually an overall source of revenue.  They protect property values and make areas more attractive to new residents, new businesses and tourists.  On the other hand, private development results in public subsidies for roads, public services and infrastructure, even considering development impact fees.

Mr Geyer, I have another finance option for you… if the City enforced the Habitat Conservation Area provisions of the CAO, it could designate the park a compensatory mitigation area for wildlife impacts as part of an In Lieu of Fee plan.  This would allow developers to pay into a fund used to pay off the loan. The Mayor is cutting a backroom deal with Costco, intended to save the company, and cost taxpayers, almost $1 million dollars for a compensatory wetland mitigation area.  Compensatory wetland mitigation projects are rarely successful. Protecting rare habitat with high conservation value is a sure thing.

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Christopher Grannis

Jan 25, 2013

The Chuckanut Community Forest is part of a wetland Forest ecosystem without any human habitations or roads in its water shed. The biologically rich wetlands and the two salmon streams it supplies with clean cool water would suffer severe degradation if any of them are subjected to development. The Partnership For Puget Sound, the state agency charged with reversing the decline of the Puget Sound, makes protecting pristine watersheds like this one its highest priority. The community that lives in the proposed Park District has been fighting since 1990 to preserve this ecological treasure and understands its importance to the Puget Sound as well as the need to preserve this Habitat corridor and the need for open space parkland within South West Bellingham.
It is clear the only viable way to repay the $3+ million loan used to complete the purchase of the Chuckanut Community Forest, without its destruction by high density development, is the Park District. Even former Mayor Mark Asmundson back in 2005 said the only practical way to pay to prevent the development of this property was the formation of a Metropolitan Park District to raise funds.

Bill Geyer is a developer. Of course he would prefer sale and development to preservation. Thanks to John Ericson and Larry Horowitz for correcting Geyer’s misinformation. The levy will be $.28 / thousand assessed valuation or $70 on a $250,000 home for ten years. The Park District will sunset when the Park is secured and the loan is repaid. 
The voters in South West Bellingham who want to preserve the ecological treasure known as the Chuckanut Community Forest should vote for Cathy McKenzie, Dan Remsen or John Hymas, Susan Kaun, Vince Biciunas, and John Brown. Their candidate statements are on the website; http://www.chuckanutcommunityforest.com
Christopher

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Bill Geyer

Jan 25, 2013

Mr. Horowitz,
Do you live in the proposed district?  I have for 28 years and am concerned about the consequences, hence my article.  You are welcome to read RCW 35.61 for accuracy of the citations.  The law is a very convenient truth.

Second, you would readily admit to a basic fact - there are no commissioners today.  To assume this point is very presumptive, to say the least, and dishonors the voters choice to decide if a district should be created. Some commissioner candidates have met with current City Council members to “negotiate” terms of the new MPD.  How presumptive, a select group of individuals presuming to speak for the voters before the Voters create the district.  How arrogant to speak presumptively as an elected commissioner, a poor treatment of the voters basic constitutional right to elect their representatives.  Bellingham voters are very protective of their electoral rights, and I think they see through the curtains.

The choice remains to registered voters within the district, of which I am only 1.

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Bill Geyer

Jan 25, 2013

Ms. Harris,
Excellent idea regarding the in lieu fee as part of the CAO.  I proposed same to the City 14 years ago which they turned down.  I then asked City Parks for specific sites to perform mitigation all at my cost and to the public’s benefit.  The response at the time was “we don’t have any sites and would not know what to do with them.”  Your proposal underscores my key point above - our City Counci does not have a monopoly on solutions.  You, and many others, can bring real financial solutions to the table that can resolve repayment of the $3.2mm loan.  We have shared common proposals to the Council before and would welcome the opportunity to explore this again once Proposition 1 is defeated. 

On your other point for protecting the natural resources on the Chuckanut Ridge site, I have been on record for many years supporting same, including my 2007 City Council candidacy. About 65-75% of the site that should be protected.  The remainder could be defined by City Council for its ultimate use.  Using smart growth techniques, developable areas can be minimized while creating value to be sold in the market to pay off the $3.2mm loan.  I have discussed same with the MPD proponents and received an initial positive response.  Looking forward to further discussion.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 25, 2013

Yes, Mr. Geyer, I have lived in the park district for 11 years.  So what?

Regarding your claim that it was “presumptive” and “arrogant” for “a select group of individuals” to communicate with City Council before the election, I disagree.  These individuals did not meet with Council and other city officials as elected commissioners; they met as proponents of the initiative to place the park district on the ballot.  It is not possible to place the initiative on the ballot without first meeting with city officials.  Did you expect them to communicate telepathically?

As far as your concern “about the consequences” of the park district, is it a major concern of yours that a keystone habitat and urban forest comprised of Category I mature forested wetlands and steep slopes will actually be preserved for future generations?

Are you concerned that the 28-cent levy will cost you a total of $130.58 per year (around $11 per month) based on current assessed values?  If so, just say so.  Don’t confuse the issue by implying that unpaid park district commissioners plan to condemn your home, increase the levy, duplicate city services, create a competing park system, or accept pay for volunteering their time.  Those claims are simply fear-mongering straw men arguments that have no place in this dialogue.

Of course it’s true that we won’t know who the commissioners are until after the election.  But we do know that Vince Biciunas is running unopposed in Position 4 and that either John Hymas or Dan Remsen will be the Position 2 Commissioner.  We also know that either John Brown or Anna Williams will be the Position 5 Commissioner.  Those three positions represent a majority.  Every one of these candidates have pledged not to increase the levy beyond 28 cents, not to condemn or add property, and to dissolve the park district once its sole mission is complete. 

It is now a political reality that none of the concerns you stated in your article can come to pass.  They have proven to be the empty claims that they are.

No one has denied the powers created by RCW 35.61.  However, you have failed to admit that those running for park commissioners have pledged not to take advantage of these powers.  That is the inconvenient truth you find so hard to swallow.

As I stated before, I have known and worked with six of these candidates.  They have tremendous integrity, and I know they will live up to their commitments.  I do not know the other three candidates (Patricia, Jan and Anna); but I suspect you do and are supporting them.  Unless you fear that these three candidates will do the horrible things you envision, then there is no need to worry.  I understand that Anna attended a meeting last night and committed to limiting the levy to 28 cents and dissolving the park district after the inter-fund loan is repaid, so we are now assured of a majority that has no intention of doing any of those things you wrote about.

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George Munger

Jan 25, 2013

The proponents of proposition 1 essentially say: 
“We just want to collect taxes for this one purpose . . . Trust us.  Your taxes will only go up by a little bit . . . and only for a little while . . . and the operating costs won’t be much . . . so, don’t worry.  Just trust us.” 
If a new government entity is created, however, with powers under state law as listed by Mr. Geyer, surely this entity will take on a life of its own the day after it is created.  Who knows what ‘urgent new problems’ will require ‘urgent new solutions’ supported by this or that special interest group, or even who the commissioners will be in a few months, let alone in one year or in five years or in ten years.  Creation of a new taxing entity with the power to raise taxes without a further vote of the people is not a good plan when there are other options available.  It’s better to vote NO.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 25, 2013

Mr. Munger,

If we used your logic, isn’t it true that we would never have created any school districts, fire districts, water districts, cemetery districts, EMS districts, hospital districts, library districts, etc.  Hell, we’d probably not have any government at all.

Sure, we could make all of our decisions based on fear, I suppose.  But what kind of life would that be?

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George Munger

Jan 25, 2013

Mr. Horowitz,
There are better options, as I stated.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 25, 2013

Please enlighten us, Mr. Munger.  What options are BETTER?

What are the advantages and disadvantages of these options?

Do the costs outweigh the benefits?

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George Munger

Jan 25, 2013

Mr. Horowitz,
I refer you to the article.  They are well presented.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 25, 2013

Mr. Munger,

Mr. Geyer presented ‘other’ options, but he did not provide any details about their relative advantages and disadvantages, their costs and benefits, or how they are ‘better’ than a park district.

Please explain why these other options are better.  Mr. Geyer has not done so, and neither have you.

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George Munger

Jan 25, 2013

Mr. Horowitz,
Perhaps not to your satisfaction, but the article above makes a persuasive case.  The better option now is to vote No for the reasons stated there and in my first comment.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 25, 2013

Mr. Munger,

Regarding the cost and benefits of the park district, I just wanted to point out that the average ANNUAL assessment on the 133 apartments at Padden Creek based on the latest valuation is $15.

That’s $1.25 per MONTH. 

I find it hard to believe that any other option provides as much benefit for as little cost.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 25, 2013

Hmmmm…

How can an article that provides no information on the advantages & disadvantages or costs & benefits of alternative options be persuasive that these options are BETTER than any other?

Unless fear overrides wisdom and intelligence.

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Delaine Clizbe

Jan 25, 2013

At the risk of another angry phone call from Mr. Horowitz, I wanted to write to voice my agreement with the points Bill Geyer raises in his letter.  I myself have three basic concerns about this Metropolitan Park District.

First, a Metropolitan Park District has a huge amount of power in the hands of 5 decision makers.  While I’m sure the intentions of all the folks running for a Commissioner position are good, a lot can happen in ten years.  The maximum amount of time any Commissioner can hold the position is 6 years and then they must re-run.  There is no guarantee that the next folks running for seats will have such good intentions.

Second, I have not been given any information about what the plan is for this “park”.  As an avid runner and mountain biker I want to know that I will have access to this land that I have paid for and will continue to pay for if this plan goes through.  To expect the public to vote for a group to take control of a huge chunk of public land and not know what their intentions for the land is, is just ludicrous. 

Third, I have issues with this new tax!  I paid for this land once and don’t think I should have to pay again.  It really is that simple.  The City Council made a bad deal with this purchase.  They should be the ones to find a way to fix it.  Mr. Geyer had some suggestions for other options.  I would include in that list one other option: Use the low income housing levy we just voted in, pay off the endowment, and build some quality low income housing on a small portion of the land and have the rest remain natural with a trail system throughout it.

Fire away Mr. Horowitz!

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 25, 2013

An angry phone call?  Really?  I simply called to let you know that your website had erroneous information, which you later corrected.  Of course, in your comment you failed to mention that you got incredibly defensive and hung up on me, but later called to apologize for doing so while letting me know you corrected the false information.

I have yet to meet a single person who wants the park district to do anything more than enable the city to pay off the inter-fund loan while preserving the property for future generations.  No one.  If any park district commissioner tried to do more than that, there would be thousands of us who would immediately object.

Sure, a person can live in fear about what may occur six years from now.  But most rational people understand that there are small risks all around us that are unlikely to occur.  People die every day in car accidents.  Does that mean we should all stop driving?

The risk that any of the concerns listed by Geyer might occur is incredibly small.  Beyond that, the vast majority of those living in the district would object if any commissioner suggested them.

The park district is a community-led solution, not a government-led one.  It is democracy in action.  People who live in the district created this solution and get to vote on it. 

You are trying to scare people into making a decision based on fear.  It’s not illegal, but is it moral?

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Wendy Harris

Jan 25, 2013

Mr. Geyer, can you share your analysis for determining that 25-35% of Chucknut Ridge can be developed?  Does this analysis include species-specific breeding, foraging and resting needs, maintain minimum habitat buffers and habitat patch sizes, and protect or restore habitat connectivity, wildlife corridors, and bird migration pathways.

Because the City has no wildlife management/habitat plan that identifies areas appropriate for protection, restoration or development, avoiding impacts to areas known to have high conservation value is of increased importance.

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Bill Geyer

Jan 26, 2013

Ms. Harris,
The 25-35% range comes from the various environmental documents on file for Chuckanut Woods.  Using the new CAO buffers would probably track towards the lower end of the range.  The Mayor’s proposal last summer to keep 22-25 acres zoned RM Planned while rezoning the remainder Public (parks open space) approximates this value as well.

More important is the value of the site unit yield.  The number of units permitted on the 82 acre site per the current RM Planned zoning is 714 single family units or 1190 multi-family units.  The unit yield can be sold as a transfer of development rights (TDR) to another location in the City or its urban growth area.  Although the market for TDR’s remains low in the present economy, the City Council has until December 2017 to sell the TDR’s for cash to repay their $3,200,000 loan.  At the low end of $2000 per unit, this could generate at least $1,500,000.  Timed to an improving market at $3000 - $5000 per unit and the City can retire the entire loan with additional cash left to preserve/protect the parks site in perpetuity. 

A variation to generate cash more quickly would be to sell a small part of the site (say 15 acres) for a limited number of new homes this year.  City Council members, as the fiduciaries for the property owners (Bellingham citizens), can decide what can be built on the site by covenants.  The Council could engage in proper site planning to achieve the environmental protection you describe while determining what portion of the site could be used to meet our GMA infill goals.  The result is natural resources are protected, an adjacent site of limited development, immediate cash to the City, and a residual of TDR’s that can be sold over the next 4 years to retire the loan. 

In short, proper planning with complete information transparent for all to see would lead our community to a much better solution than the current situation.  We should honor the integrity of the voter-approved Greenways Endowment fund to follow all proper steps to repay the $3,200,000.  It begins with a basic tenant of using the value of the asset currently in hand to retire the debt.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 26, 2013

Mr. Geyer’s suggestion that TDRs be sold to raise funds to repay the loan is a strategy that complements the adoption of a park district.  They are not mutually exclusive.  Mr. Geyer should be advised, however, that his information regarding unit yield is not accurate.  The correct total is 739 units, either single- or multi-family.

To the extent TDRs are sold, the park district can either reduce the annual levy or reduce the number of years.  The same is true for any other option that raises funds, all of which would complement the park district and reduce the total levy.  Unfortunately, the park district cannot wait until these other options are discussed at length.  As readers may recall, Council and the administration both promised to present alternatives more than a year ago, but they have failed to do so.  That is why the community has taken the lead.

The park district levy will not be assessed until 2014.  That gives people like Mr. Geyer plenty of time to develop alternative ways to raise funds.  However, as Council stated when they agreed to acquire Chuckanut Ridge, a sale of any portion of the property would only be done as a last resort and not until the end of 2017.

A final word about environmental protection:  It should be fairly obvious to everyone that the development community’s record in Bellingham is atrocious.  Mr. Geyer is wrong to presume that we would trust development consultants like him to “achieve the environmental protection” Wendy describes.

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Wendy Harris

Jan 26, 2013

Bill. Your answer was nonresponive to my questions. Can you identify the “various environmental documents” establishing that 25-35% of Chuckanut Ridge could be developed without fragmenting and/or destroying habitat identified as a regional biodiversity hotspot? I would very much like to see these documents, since this runs counter to best available science recommendations to avoid any impacts to rare and important habitat. Ann Eissenger’s comprehensive habitat review remains the last word, at least until the City does a comprehensive update.  And that environmental document clearly does not support development at Chuckanut Ridge. Nor is it clear to me how any development would be able mitigate impacts to achieve equal or greater ecological function, required under City Code, given the level of existing ecological function.

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Bill Geyer

Jan 29, 2013

Mr. Horowitz, your calculation of 739 single or multi-family units is incorrect. 

Current zoning is South Neighborhood Area 4, with a designation of RM Planned, a density quotient of 5,000 sq ft minimum detached lot for single family or 3,000 sq ft per unit for multi-family.  The unit yield is calculated by dividing the gross acreage by the density quotient (see BMC 20.38.050.B.3.

http://www.cob.org/web/bmcode.nsf/f6281a531e9ead4588257384007b2367/d3759470e88da30d8825615d0077e41e!OpenDocument

For the 82 acre site, the correct calculations are

(82 x 43,560) / 5,000 = 714 single family units

(82 x 43,560) / 3,000 = 1190 single family units

This commonly referred to ass the site unit yield.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 31, 2013

Mr. Geyer,

Thanks for the lesson on calculating site unit yield.  I think I’ve got it.

As far as the maximum units for Chuckanut Ridge, the fact that you don’t understand that the actual limit is 739 units indicates you don’t have a very good handle on this property.  (Note, for example, that every development alternative submitted by the developer was for exactly 739 units.  A coincidence?  Not likely.)

Here’s a hint:  There was a separate density agreement signed by the developer and the city when the largest wetland was graciously donated to the city years ago.

Bottom line: 739 is correct.  1190 not so much.

Nice try though!

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