The Elusive Truth About Chuckanut Ridge/Fairhaven HighlandsPermalink +
Sat, Dec 05, 2009, 8:00 am // Tip Johnson
I always hate public issues that involve decades of history and require integration of multiple points. I refer to it as 'the indignity of explanation.' Public interest advocates gain nothing easily when unconcerned officials and interested parties merely listen patiently and do nothing. But here we go again.
Citizens dismayed with the irresponsible behavior of City of Bellingham officials over the years regarding the monstrous development proposed by the endangered Horizon Bank may now have a glimmer of hope, or two. Hope has been difficult to sustain amidst the apparent corruption that has followed this bizarre case of fraudulent entitlements.
First came consolidation of the property under a blind Delaware corporation, West Eden Development, officed in Lynden. Confidential statements from interviews while researching the history have alluded to the involvement of local elected officials of the time. Neither the State of Delaware nor the registered agent for the now defunct corporation (still owing back taxes) will comment on the corporate principals. A subpoena pursuant to a criminal investigation is required to obtain any information about corporations in Delaware.
Preceding this, a well known elected official with insider information on the proposed alignment of Valley Parkway had consolidated land along the route of what is now Old Fairhaven Parkway, an extension of State Route 11 - Chuckanut Drive. He did very well for himself with those investments. Some have speculated that anyone - say sitting on the Legislature's transportation committee and having already exploited the highway route - would have perfect knowledge of the inadequacies of the Chuckanut Drive bridge over Padden Creek and thoroughly understand the desirability of a highway diversion through the Fairhaven Highlands property. On a map of the time, it must have looked perfect. But I'll bet no one walked the property. They would have needed good galoshes!
On the heels of the property consolidation came the phony rezone in 1981, wherein the Chuckanut Drive diversion, or improvements to the bridge, became "prerequisite conditions" for development. The density was given to make those improvements economically feasible during development. This is not a valid basis for zoning, and occurred without the procedure common to major rezones, much less highway revisions. It was later described by former senior city planner, Chris Spens, as a "mystery at best." The corrollary question follows: What might it be at its worst?
Immediately upon adoption of the zoning, the property was sold to a local developer and the Delaware corporation abandoned. When the first iteration of the project appeared in 1995, the absurdity led it to become the poster child for our Greenways levy. The levy passed but acquisition never occurred. Citizen outrage should rightly have led to a reexamination of the zoning, but the city never took action. For a variety of reasons, the proposal died enroute to its permits and re-submerged, creating a measure of complacency among citizens and officials alike.
Along the way, then-mayor Mark Asmundson, took it upon himself to administratively adjust the project density through a Memorandum of Agreement with the owner. This occurred concomitant with a conveyance/reconveyance scheme that moved the site's largest wetlands into city ownership via the Whatcom County Land Trust, resulting in a multi-million dollar tax benefit to the owner. Even though the number of units was reduced, the method also avoided the comprehensive review and public participation normally required for zoning. The Growth Management Hearings Board has ruled this procedure improper. This is the so-called zoning in effect today.
Meanwhile, everyone was learning more about how important wetlands are to the health of Puget Sound. More stringent critical areas regulations were being drafted and discussed. This and other Growth Management issues boggled the city long enough that the State threatened the city with sanctions if a new comprehensive plan was not adopted.
On the very eve of adopting new critical areas regulations based upon best science, the disastrous proposal was resubmitted. It was a hasty proposal, full of defects and lacking crucial elements. It was nevertheless somehow determined to be "substantially complete" by city planners within a few days of receipt. At that time, the project lead for the Planning Department was married to a construction manager employed by the developer. The city's most immediate prior determination of completeness was for a small addition to an existing South Hill home and took six months. Yet the largest development proposal in Bellingham's history, proposed in one of the most sensitive wetland areas in the city, already subject to controversy years earlier, happened in only days. Citizens filed an appeal which the city rejected. The proponent asserted that this tricky move had "vested" their rights under the old regulations. Now, the newly released Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) recommends newer alternatives by detailing the deficiencies of the original application. How could it have been complete?
Finally comes the debacle of possibly the worst impact statement ever written. After selecting the proponent's preferred consultant at half the projected cost of the next nearest bid, planners joined with the developer to devise a set of several alternatives with mainly insignificant differences. Not one fully complies with the prerequisite conditions or even the outdated wetland regulations. Virtually every citizen scoping request was ignored to produce a shamefully deficient document that bends over backward to meet the proponent's objectives and hides the extent of impacts amidst a welter of meaningless miscellany - the proverbial needle in a haystack. Citizens were given three weeks to read over 500 pages of obfuscation, subterfuge and outright dissemblance. Impact statements are legally required to be "concise" and usually limited to 150 pages. Not this one.
This is occurring under the direction of Bellingham Planning Director, Tim Stewart, at a time when citizens are learning he is no stranger to such controversy, and is unafraid to ride roughshod over citizens or the environment to accommodate large developments. Stewart's arrival in Bellingham was preceded by a scandal in nearby Shoreline involving a large corporate development and another salmon stream. According to reports, Stewart changed regulations, recommended variances and falsified an affidavit in order to assist in the approval of a project largely within protected wetland buffers along Thornton Creek. A now famous documentary, "Up Thornton Creek" details Stewart's adroit rule changing and application management, demonstrating his predilection for private property values over environmental or community values. Citizens were sued for slander and the City even threatened the homes of vocal activists. See for yourself (25 minute video).
The video: Up Thornton Creek
So what about the hope? Well, one glimmer is that the bank is teetering on the brink of ruin and probably can't develop the proposal. Also, the FDIC has enjoined them from participation in multiple-family housing development. They could probably figure a creative way to pass the multi-unit portion of the project on to their construction partner. More likely, they will try to sell it once the permits are in place, much the way the blind Delaware corporation sold it as soon as the zoning was in place. However, this is a difficult project. It is mired in controversy and could be a difficult sell under the assumptions of the past. Environmental constraints loom large for the project as proposed, but it may be feasible to build some number of homes, particularly in the southwest quadrant. This is a flickering glimmer with risks.
The brightest glimmer for citizens, and their best hope lies, ironically, with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. As poorly written, badly organized, pointedly biased and incompetent as it proves under analysis, it does irrefutably accomplish one very important milestone: it establishes the utter absurdity of this scale of project in this location. Even varnished with the proponent's best finish - literally plastered with lipstick - it is obviously, categorically, an impossible, ruinous project. Steep slopes are to be blasted away. Roads on twenty foot fills with retaining walls are required to access the property. Wetlands are proposed to be filled and buffers violated. Stormwater will be piped to flood the forest floor, weakening trees and altering hydrology in critical wetlands. The project will use public resources, full of salmon and freshwater shrimp, as a storm sewer - utilizing technology already proven inadequate.
Remember Mayor Asmundson administratively negotiating the current density by contract with the owner? O.K., that's not a proper method of zoning and is likely itself subject to challenge. But the main point is that the density was reduced by half. Think of it! If the project looks stupidly impossible now, just imagine it at twice the density! The DEIS unequivocally establishes that a zoning error occurred in 1981. No one could possibly have evaluated the actual property, much less considered the policy framework of the city and neighborhood, to conclude this level of density meets the public's interests or is in any way appropriate within this sensitive environmental feature. That review, normally required for zoning, has never been done.
Now the developer is even trying to welsh on the prerequisite conditions. In a last minute comment on the DEIS, they have asserted that their "scientific traffic study determines that neither the connector nor the widening of the bridge is necessary," that "not only does the Director have authority to determine that the prerequisite conditions are inapplicable to the development," but that "he also can only impose the conditions if they are found to be commensurate with the impacts." In a masterful grab, they complain that "the prerequisite conditions were imposed without the benefit of a transportation study," but seem singularly unconcerned that the zoning was similarly imposed, along with the prerequisite conditions, also without benefit of study. In fact, the record reflects the city's interest in achieving the prerequisite conditions was the only basis for the zoning.
So whose job is it to correct zoning errors, to adopt zoning in the best interests of the community as a whole, and to adequately condition new developments consistent with those interests? The City Council - not the Mayor or the Planning Department - is statutorily responsible. One problem is that over the years, the Council has delegated much of their authority to the Planning Director and Hearing Examiner. This has streamlined the review process and allowed Council to focus on policy issues, but has also somewhat limited citizen access to elected officials for relief from nonsense like this proposal. Nevertheless, the ultimate authority remains the Council's.
But can citizens, having battled this scourge since 1995, rely on the Council for help? How can citizens escape the dilemma of either subsidizing a failing bank with millions toward an outrageously inflated purchase price, or subsidizing the development with millions in public services, infrastructure, lost opportunity, destroyed resources and degraded quality of life? Past efforts have fallen upon deaf ears.
The DEIS, perhaps unintentionally, has finally zeroed in on a set of serious policy issues for which the Council is the only legitimate venue. Public comments have intentionally added a laser quality to this focus. Combined with concerns over potential bias from the Planning Director, Council's attention is ever more appropriate. Remarkably, even the developer has asked that testimony regarding "the sequence of events which produced the now nearly 30-year old comprehensive plan and zoning" should be "verified for accuracy as well as relevancy." I agree. The preposterous level of damage this project could inflict argues strongly in favor of such a review. The developer even offers to help. No thanks. The Council is the only body capable of adequately representing citizens' interests in this review.
The Council would do city taxpayers a valuable service by assuring development is not based on planning errors, that zoning is consistent with the city's overall policy framework and not a real estate game designed to enrich a few at a cost to all. Now that the developer has made it clear they will oppose the prerequisite conditions, what on earth has the city to gain from this development? It has become a classic bait and switch, a quid sans quo, but one with enormous risks to the community and environment.
The truth is that this has never been a rational development proposal founded in comprehensive planning designed to benefit and improve the community. History suggests and the DEIS proves: It's something much worse. Turning a blind eye and pretending to follow normal procedure is simply not enough. It's time again we asked our elected representatives to please help.
A Thornton Creek news archive (hyperlinks unverified)
Related NWCitizen article
Public Comments on the DEIS
An example of public comments, including my own, a great analysis by Dr. David Hooper and Robin du Pré from ReSources, among others.
Sun, Nov 23, 2014, 3:27 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein Whatcom's Klan heritage may be oozing from some cracks
5 comments; last on Nov 26, 2014
Sat, Nov 22, 2014, 2:48 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley dives into the data with precinct maps and historical perspectives
Thu, Nov 20, 2014, 8:15 am // Dick ConoboyCampus Crest Communities, Inc. has officially offered for sale the Lincoln St. property that was to be a student apartment development.
2 comments; last on Nov 23, 2014
Wed, Nov 12, 2014, 12:51 pm // John ServaisUpdated Nov 12. Howard Harris, the founder of the Bellingham silent peace vigil at the Federal Building in Bellingham, has died. He and Rosemary were leaders in our…
Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 1:34 pm // John ServaisOn this Veterans Day, a note about how vets need our government to step up - as has never been done. And a personal note on the power…
3 comments; last on Nov 13, 2014
Thu, Nov 06, 2014, 5:53 am // Dick ConoboyThe Campus Crest apartment complex may be the "victim" of a corporate restructuring plan.
3 comments; last on Nov 10, 2014
Tue, Nov 04, 2014, 11:28 am // John ServaisWhile smearing Seth Fleetwood over a common tax arrangement, we discover Doug Ericksen also has a benign tax lien - one he denied.
6 comments; last on Nov 11, 2014
Sat, Nov 01, 2014, 11:29 am // Tip JohnsonOr why to vote for Nyima, the dog, for County Prosecutor
4 comments; last on Nov 03, 2014
Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 1:18 am // John ServaisA link to Riley's Political Junkie for excellent recommendations - and a few thoughts of my own.
1 comments; last on Oct 30, 2014
Thu, Oct 23, 2014, 10:01 am // Tip JohnsonIt's just how things roll in Whatcom County
5 comments; last on Oct 26, 2014
Wed, Oct 22, 2014, 1:44 pm // John LesowUpdate Oct 22: John Lesow has posted a comment with considerable more information on this issue.
1 comments; last on Oct 22, 2014
Tue, Oct 14, 2014, 5:36 am // Riley SweeneyRiley does a local political comedy show
1 comments; last on Oct 15, 2014
Wed, Oct 08, 2014, 5:24 pm // John ServaisThree final candidates for Bellingham Planning Director spoke today at a cozy 'meet and greet' of government employees and developers.
6 comments; last on Oct 11, 2014
Sat, Oct 04, 2014, 11:23 am // Tip JohnsonWherein we see that sometimes government can do what business can't.
9 comments; last on Oct 07, 2014
Fri, Oct 03, 2014, 9:26 am // Dick ConoboyAn experienced real estate inspector provides a window to the dangeroous conditions found in rentals in Bellingham
3 comments; last on Oct 05, 2014
Thu, Oct 02, 2014, 1:33 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley files a full report of the Tea Party debate for State Leg candidates
1 comments; last on Oct 04, 2014
Tue, Sep 30, 2014, 7:00 am // Guest writerWherein a Fulbright scholar, professional engineer and successful business owner files for public office
4 comments; last on Oct 02, 2014
Mon, Sep 22, 2014, 4:07 am // Dick ConoboyLast Thursday, the Planning Commission voted to recommend the docketing of the spot rezone of 801 Samish from Residential Single to Commerical Planned (non-retail)
6 comments; last on Oct 03, 2014
Wed, Sep 17, 2014, 9:26 am // John ServaisWe post a disturbing report of a personal encounter along Samish Way, with the permission of John Stark, who experienced it.
2 comments; last on Sep 17, 2014
Tue, Sep 09, 2014, 7:21 am // Riley SweeneyRiley and John share the short list of who might replace Cathy Lehman on the Bellingham city council on January 5.
8 comments; last on Sep 10, 2014
Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 10:48 am // Terry WechslerWhile the state spends hundreds of thousands of dollars defining risks of crude by rail, Skagit County finds no significant adverse impacts of a crude-by-rail proposal.
1 comments; last on Aug 28, 2014
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 1:06 pm // Guest writerPatrick McKee of the Sunnyland Neighborhood guest-writes about the August 11 City Council slap-dash zoning changes.
2 comments; last on Aug 23, 2014
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 3:54 pm // Terry WechslerNot content with causing massive inconvenience, BNSF is now literally dumping on county residents.
10 comments; last on Aug 26, 2014
Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 2:48 pm // Guest writerJudith Green of the Sunnyland Neighborhood guest writes this brief summary of what went wrong with the planning last week.
1 comments; last on Aug 22, 2014
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 6:12 am // Terry WechslerA massive upgrade of the Cascade [rail] Corridor has left residents stranded and the sheriff asking Washington, DC, to intervene.
7 comments; last on Sep 02, 2014
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 2:13 pm // Guest writerSandy Robson guest writes of the need for real prosperity at Cherry Point, not a destructive short term coal port that destroys the fishing grounds.
5 comments; last on Oct 02, 2014
Tue, Aug 12, 2014, 9:52 am // Riley SweeneySome Context for the Primary Results
Mon, Aug 11, 2014, 10:31 pm // John ServaisBellingham City Council abruptly changes zoning codes to force Planning Department plan on Sunnyland residents.
7 comments; last on Aug 14, 2014
Fri, Aug 08, 2014, 9:10 am // John ServaisUpdated Wed evening. The Tuesday evening 8:20 pm Auditor report on the election is in.
5 comments; last on Aug 08, 2014
Fri, Aug 01, 2014, 7:00 am // Dick ConoboyCouncilmember Murphy's proposal is based on a complaint-based rental ordinance from Tacoma, demonstrated to do little for the health and safety of tenants.
14 comments; last on Oct 01, 2014
Fri, Aug 01, 2014, 3:47 am // Terry WechslerCarefully planned actions are rolling across the state to make the point that it's not OK to expose us to risks associated with CBR.
7 comments; last on Aug 04, 2014
Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 10:40 am // Riley SweeneyNorthwest Citizen has conducted a phone poll of likely voters, with some surprising results!
9 comments; last on Jul 29, 2014
Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 6:52 am // Dick ConoboyIn contravention of the Bellingham Municipal Code, the City Council will consider on 4 August a last minute docketing request that ignores the Planning Commission and Samish Neighborhood.
1 comments; last on Jul 30, 2014
Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 9:47 pm // Guest writerGuest writer Mike Rostron explains how Bellingham city planners played loose and illegal with planning processes.
Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 6:22 pm // John ServaisSunnlyland residents win one - after a seven year effort. Planning Department failed them and all of us.
2 comments; last on Jul 23, 2014
Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 4:30 am // Guest writerLandlords are so caught up opposing a licensing and inspection ordinance, they cannot see the upside for them in ridding the city of bad rentals.
19 comments; last on Aug 01, 2014
Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 12:24 pm // Guest writerJudith Green explains how the Bellingham Planning Department is trying to cram their plan onto a neighborhood.
5 comments; last on Jul 21, 2014
Sun, Jul 13, 2014, 1:26 pm // Terry WechslerYears after BP completed its north dock, the Army Corps of Engineers released a draft EIS and it's really really stupid.
Tue, Jul 08, 2014, 7:20 am // Dick ConoboyThe city council "persuades" the city administration to withdraw a request for an intrusive police threat warning system
2 comments; last on Jul 08, 2014
Mon, Jul 07, 2014, 5:54 am // Terry WechslerIt is time we stop allowing corporations to externalize the costs associated with their risky business practices, and demand more from our regulators who hold the keys to…
3 comments; last on Jul 13, 2014
Mon, Jul 07, 2014, 4:04 am // Guest writerGuest writer Sandy Robson breaks the story of officials from Washington treated to a coal-promoting junket to Wyoming.
2 comments; last on Jul 13, 2014
Fri, Jul 04, 2014, 4:00 am // Guest writerFerndale's most famous landmark is frequently commented on and is often in the news. Here is their side of the story.
4 comments; last on Jul 07, 2014
Wed, Jul 02, 2014, 4:14 pm // Terry WechslerOn the anniversary of the Lac-Megantic disaster, communities throughout North America rally in solidarity to remember and protest wholly inadequate government response to crude-by-rail's risks.
4 comments; last on Jul 12, 2014
Fri, Jun 27, 2014, 8:01 pm // Guest writerIn the Weekly, Tim Johnson left out three words in quoting Craig Cole - and his story misleads readers. Guest article by Sandy Robson.
11 comments; last on Jul 01, 2014
Tue, Jun 24, 2014, 9:24 am // Dick ConoboyThe Bellingham Police Department wants to purchase "threat assessment" software with federal monies. Citizen comments were vehement and negative. City Council confused.
5 comments; last on Jul 03, 2014
Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 9:18 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the failings of a bad policy framework are revealed
1 comments; last on Jun 19, 2014
Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 6:53 am // Dick ConoboyThe possession and use of consumer fireworks are no longer permitted within the city limits.
1 comments; last on Jun 19, 2014
Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 10:39 am // John ServaisWyoming Senators and coal honchos were in Whatcom County June 10 - to hold a news conference with select reporters.
7 comments; last on Jun 20, 2014
Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 10:20 am // John ServaisBellingham Hearing Examiner, Dawn Sturwold, retires in three weeks. Successor selection is hidden from all of us.
3 comments; last on Jun 11, 2014
Fri, Jun 06, 2014, 1:07 pm // Terry WechslerPart 2: Following Ken Oplinger to California, and Home Again
4 comments; last on Jun 19, 2014
Sat, May 31, 2014, 11:39 pm // Guest writerA Venn diagram where coal, the Endangered Species Act, Republicans, and Wyoming’s Board of Education collide.
2 comments; last on Jun 02, 2014
Wed, May 28, 2014, 2:15 pm // Guest writerA perspective by guest writer Ellen Murphy reflects on the Whatcom Watch and the threatened law suit by Craig Cole.
22 comments; last on Jun 01, 2014
Tue, May 27, 2014, 12:23 am // Wendy HarrisWhy was so little consideration given to the concept of developing the waterfront for eco-tourism?
5 comments; last on Jun 11, 2014
Mon, May 26, 2014, 6:51 pm // Wendy HarrisCity park improvements have implications on the local and global scale.
2 comments; last on May 29, 2014
Wed, May 21, 2014, 11:10 pm // Guest writerWyoming is ready to try and legally force us to limit our environmental scoping for the Cherry Point coal terminal
4 comments; last on Jun 17, 2014
Sun, May 18, 2014, 10:57 pm // Wendy HarrisReckless rezones and far-fetched explanations result in more slaughterhouses and meat packing plants
3 comments; last on May 20, 2014
Sat, May 17, 2014, 1:34 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley takes a closer look at the Charter Review Commission candidates
2 comments; last on May 21, 2014
Tue, May 13, 2014, 4:04 pm // Wendy HarrisBellingham's annual water quality report indicates that city hall's propoganda machine is going strong
1 comments; last on May 14, 2014
Sun, May 11, 2014, 1:20 pm // Terry WechslerPart 1: Introduction to the Bellingham Basin’s Potential for Fracking, Earthquakes, and Earthquakes Due to Fracking
3 comments; last on May 14, 2014
Fri, May 09, 2014, 9:02 am // John ServaisThe Political Junkie for Whatcom County - that would be Riley Sweeney - has Overstreet not running for reelection in the 42nd.
1 comments; last on May 13, 2014
Election InfoCounty election results
State election results
Coal, Oil & Trains
Community Wise Bellingham
Powder River Basin R. C.
Local Blogs & NewsBellingham Herald
Bham Herald Politics Blog
Bham Politics & Economics
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
League of Women Voters
Western Front - WWU
Local CausesChuckanut Community Forest
City Club of Bellingham
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Reduce Jet Noise
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary Building
WA Conservation Voters
Whatcom Peace & Justice
Port of Bellingham
State election results
US - The White House
WA State Access
WA State Elections
WA State Legislature
Weather & ClimateCliff Mass Weather Blog
Nat Hurricane Center
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That? - climate
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good Web SitesAl-Jazeera online
Foreign Policy in Focus
Innocence Project, The
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Middle East Times
New American Century
Paul Krugman - economics
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Project Vote Smart
Stand for the Troops
Talking Points Memo
The Crisis Papers
War and Piece
NwCitizen 1995 - 2007Early Northwest Citizen
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Police Activity
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph