The Elusive Truth About Chuckanut Ridge/Fairhaven HighlandsPermalink +
Sat, Dec 05, 2009, 9:00 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.
Sat, Oct 03, 2015, 3:47 pm // John ServaisJames King to return to Alaska and take job with U.S. Forest Service. Mayor will appoint a new parks director.
1 comments; last on Oct 04, 2015
Fri, Oct 02, 2015, 11:48 am // David CampThe "... new jail just doesn't pencil out", writes a well qualified accountant. A look at the future costs of the proposed jail.
8 comments; last on Oct 04, 2015
Tue, Sep 22, 2015, 5:54 pm // John ServaisThere is a good alternative for a decent jail - but we first must vote down the jail sales tax proposal in November.
5 comments; last on Sep 24, 2015
Sat, Sep 19, 2015, 4:37 pm // John ServaisWendy DeFreest, of Avenue Bread, will open a new "burger joint" called The Filling Station by late October in Fairhaven. It will not be a sandwich cafe.
Tue, Sep 15, 2015, 6:26 pm // Tip JohnsonFEMA camp or new county seat?
12 comments; last on Sep 24, 2015
Sun, Sep 13, 2015, 9:42 am // John ServaisBeware walking RR tracks on the Fairhaven waterfront in the event of unexpected encounter with a high speed train
2 comments; last on Sep 18, 2015
Mon, Sep 07, 2015, 9:06 pm // Tip JohnsonMains a' bursting - Avast!
Wed, Aug 26, 2015, 10:17 am // John ServaisPadden Creek daylighting project strays far from city promises to homeowner that his property would remain intact.
4 comments; last on Sep 05, 2015
Mon, Aug 24, 2015, 5:11 am // Guest writerChristopher Brown guest writes how traditional communal warrior reintegration practices could help our returning combat veterans.
Wed, Aug 19, 2015, 7:55 pm // Whatcom CitizenA Whatcom Citizen writes of protest movements and how our proposed county mega jail is related to them.
15 comments; last on Sep 04, 2015
Wed, Aug 19, 2015, 5:00 am // Dick ConoboyMoves to set the minimum wage to $15, even if successful, are woefully insufficient. And why aren't people speaking out about abusive work scheduling?
2 comments; last on Sep 17, 2015
Tue, Aug 18, 2015, 12:17 am // Guest writerBruce Radtke, a retired Bellingham librarian, reported to be assaulted by police for handing out leaflets
5 comments; last on Aug 27, 2015
Sun, Aug 16, 2015, 3:39 pm // Guest writerIs the tail wagging the dog? Edward Alexander guest writes on why predictive software for our police needs basic questions answered before purchase.
1 comments; last on Aug 22, 2015
Thu, Aug 13, 2015, 11:29 am // John ServaisNothing in the Herald this morning, so NWCitizen is informing citizens of shootout at Cornwall Park.
1 comments; last on Aug 13, 2015
Sun, Aug 09, 2015, 11:52 am // Guest writerBarbara Perry has been researching the secretive election processes of the Whatcom Conservation District. Really secretive. Probably fraudulent.
1 comments; last on Aug 12, 2015
Tue, Aug 04, 2015, 8:09 pm // John Servais9:52 - final post for tonight. A running blog about the election results on this August evening. Feel free to comment.
8 comments; last on Aug 06, 2015
Tue, Aug 04, 2015, 10:14 am // Dick ConoboyWhile the city deals with permitting on the Hansen rental megaplexes, the council has asked for proposals from staff on design standards for historic areas.
9 comments; last on Aug 07, 2015
Wed, Jul 22, 2015, 12:42 am // Guest writerEric Hirst provides us all with a well researched report on Whatcom County water issues - rights, Lake Whatcom, ground water and more.
10 comments; last on Aug 12, 2015
Tue, Jul 14, 2015, 4:13 pm // John LesowThe fight to keep Point Roberts from becoming a Radio Tower Farm is not over.
3 comments; last on Jul 22, 2015
Mon, Jul 13, 2015, 5:38 am // Dick ConoboyBellingham police are obviously trained to de-escalate armed confrontations. This is the way it should be.
6 comments; last on Jul 14, 2015
Thu, Jul 09, 2015, 8:27 am // John ServaisLois Garlick has died. For many decades, she and George served as environmental stewards and leaders in preserving wildlife and nature.
2 comments; last on Jul 10, 2015
Wed, Jul 08, 2015, 9:27 am // John ServaisLast minute political maneuvering by liberal council seeks to counter conservative review commission ballot proposals.
1 comments; last on Aug 12, 2015
Tue, Jul 07, 2015, 9:13 am // John ServaisThe Charter Review Commission made Monday evening's meeting their last - and forwarded 8 charter amendments to the County Council
3 comments; last on Jul 08, 2015
Tue, Jul 07, 2015, 5:34 am // Dick ConoboyFor Rent: York neighborhood, new, 7 bedroom single-family home, near WWU. Only $44,000 a year. City planning not paying attention.
6 comments; last on Jul 09, 2015
Mon, Jul 06, 2015, 4:30 pm // John ServaisTwo dirty tricks by the uber-conservative minority on the Charter Review Commission aimed to put their agenda before the council.
3 comments; last on Jul 07, 2015
Thu, Jul 02, 2015, 2:55 pm // David CampTrees are dying for lack of water! Only citizen action can save them.
Thu, Jul 02, 2015, 7:47 am // Dick ConoboyIf your 4th of July holiday is much more quiet this year, you can thank Clay Bulter who passed away at the end of May.
Mon, Jun 29, 2015, 5:00 am // Dick ConoboyThe Samish Neighborhood Plan has been the subject of three undesired rezones in the last year. The city ignores its own guidelines to the detriment of all.
Thu, Jun 25, 2015, 6:00 pm // John ServaisUpdated at 6 pm. Our county justice system has spent 6 years trying to teach Luba Pekisheva that she should not defend herself. Justice denied and miscarried.
8 comments; last on Jul 22, 2015
Mon, Jun 22, 2015, 5:00 pm // David CampA look at the proposal in historic financial context with projections and several questions for the proponents.
8 comments; last on Jul 10, 2015
Mon, Jun 01, 2015, 3:49 am // Dick ConoboyThree extraordinarily large (7-bedroom) single family home rentals are proposed by developers Dave and Jon Hansen on Iron St. in the York Neighborhood.
7 comments; last on Jun 10, 2015
Mon, May 25, 2015, 8:17 pm // John ServaisYoung Chiara spent 3 nights hanging from the anchor chain of Shell Oil's Arctic Challenger as a protest to arctic oil drilling.
Thu, May 21, 2015, 11:50 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein we ponder the fate of humanity
Mon, May 18, 2015, 11:17 pm // John ServaisJoy Gilfilen is challenging incumbent Jack Louws for County Executive.
4 comments; last on May 20, 2015
Fri, May 15, 2015, 6:10 pm // John ServaisRunning update of who is filing for office in Whatcom County. Posts during day Friday and final update Friday evening.
4 comments; last on May 17, 2015
Wed, May 13, 2015, 5:30 pm // John ServaisUpdated | Ski to Sea race does not need to race through sensitive Chuckanut Community Forest Park for special mountain bike leg. City did not renege.
10 comments; last on May 15, 2015
Sun, Apr 26, 2015, 2:05 pm // Guest writerTani Sutley writes a second article on the increasing number of vacation rentals - and the County Council bill to let them expand dramatically.
4 comments; last on May 02, 2015
Thu, Apr 09, 2015, 5:03 am // Dick ConoboyThe Puget Neighborhood is about to become a bit more crowded but less than originally planned. 600+ students to be housed south of Fred Meyer.
6 comments; last on Apr 12, 2015
Sat, Apr 04, 2015, 1:15 pm // John ServaisThe port's latest bone-headed deal calls for the good citizens of Whatcom County to consider the options...unless we're enjoying our Groundhog Day.
3 comments; last on Apr 07, 2015
Thu, Apr 02, 2015, 8:30 pm // Tip JohnsonThe difference between a threat and a promise
5 comments; last on Apr 03, 2015
Wed, Apr 01, 2015, 12:20 am // John ServaisPort of Bellingham today sold out our public waterfront to a foreign shell company formed 6 days ago. Sold it cheap and with a screwy arrangement.
32 comments; last on Apr 05, 2015
Sat, Mar 21, 2015, 11:16 am // Guest writerKamalla Kaur worked with David Mason on his biographical materials and offers this tribute to his illustrious life.
2 comments; last on Mar 23, 2015
Fri, Mar 13, 2015, 5:00 am // Dick ConoboyThe Whatcom County Council has sent discussion on changing the meth ordinance back to the Public Works, Health and Safety Committee
Thu, Mar 12, 2015, 1:06 pm // John ServaisAdd your thoughts and remembrances. Robyn du Pre` was a stalwart and true environmental advocate for Bellingham and Whatcom County. She died this week.
9 comments; last on Mar 23, 2015
Thu, Feb 26, 2015, 10:39 am // Riley SweeneyRiley shares some insight into the national political parties
5 comments; last on Mar 09, 2015
Wed, Feb 25, 2015, 6:31 am // Dick ConoboyIn a hearing, possibly on 3 March, the Whatcom County Council will consider an ordinance changing the rules for contaminated meth use sites.
1 comments; last on Feb 27, 2015
Mon, Feb 09, 2015, 6:00 am // Dick ConoboyNot all rent-to-own propositions are an unwise method to buy a home but some are schemes to rip off the unsuspecting tenant.
Mon, Feb 02, 2015, 9:34 am // Guest writerNo ballot mailed to you. You must request a ballot for voting in the Whatcom Conservation District election. Deadline to apply is Feb 9. By Barbara Perry
Thu, Jan 29, 2015, 10:56 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein Bellingham's billion dollar boondoggle is revisited
5 comments; last on Aug 14, 2015
Tue, Jan 27, 2015, 9:55 am // Terry WechslerThe Lummi requested on Jan. 5, 2015, that the federal government, through the Army Corps of Engineers, honor Art. V of the Treaty of Point Elliott and deny…
1 comments; last on Feb 04, 2015
Sun, Jan 25, 2015, 12:32 pm // Guest writerAdventures of George Pickett in the Pacific Northwest Wilderness
5 comments; last on Jan 28, 2015
Sat, Jan 24, 2015, 3:15 pm // Terry WechslerThe fourth area refinery crude by rail infrastructure project to receive permits without benefit of environmental review is being appealed, and provides an opportunity to make precedent.
Fri, Jan 23, 2015, 12:13 am // John ServaisThe second annual award for Citizen Journalism will be to The Political Junkie himself who runs the Sweeney Politics blog, Riley Sweeney.
2 comments; last on Jan 24, 2015
Tue, Jan 20, 2015, 3:07 am // Guest writerGuest article by Sandra Alfers. Water and sewer connections drive unwanted annexation. Trickle Creek homeowners are muzzled by a "no protest zone."
1 comments; last on Jan 20, 2015
Sun, Jan 18, 2015, 10:14 pm // Guest writerEllen Murphy gives us a poem for this Martin Luther King day of remembrance.
2 comments; last on Jan 21, 2015
Sun, Jan 18, 2015, 9:15 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the ridiculous is ridiculed
5 comments; last on Jan 21, 2015
Thu, Jan 08, 2015, 2:54 pm // Guest writerTani Sutley guest writes about the vacation rentals situation and presents goals for the county council to consider for improving our rural neighborhoods.
1 comments; last on Jan 10, 2015
Wed, Dec 31, 2014, 1:16 am // Guest writerDuuhhh! Try doing without it. Marian Beddill provides an overview of our rural Whatcom County water situation and the efforts to find fair solutions.
3 comments; last on Jan 08, 2015
Wed, Dec 24, 2014, 1:23 pm // Riley SweeneyThe Herald gave us their top 10 stories, Riley gives you his top 5
Thu, Dec 18, 2014, 5:04 pm // John ServaisOne part of the environmental study for the proposed Cherry Point mega coal terminal has been completed and released. It deals with ship collisions - they call it…
2 comments; last on Dec 22, 2014
New LinksBellingham Wins
Election InfoElection Results
WA State Elections
Whatcom County Elections
Coal, Oil & TrainsCoal Stop
Community Wise Bham
Powder River Basin R. C.
Local Blogs & NewsBellingham Herald
Bham Business Journal
Bham Politics & Econ
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
League of Women Voters
Western Front - WWU
Local CausesChuckanut C. Forest
City Club of Bellingham
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary
WA Conservation Voters
Whatcom Peace & Justice
Governments- Whatcom County
Port of Bellingham
US Supreme Court
US The White House
WA State Elections
NWCitizen 1995-2007Early Northwest Citizen
Weather & ClimateCliff Mass Weather Blog
Nat Hurricane Center
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That?
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good Web SitesAl-Jazeera online
Change The Mascot
Foreign Policy in Focus
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Middle East Times
New American Century
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Project Vote Smart
Stand for the Troops
Talking Points Memo
The Crisis Papers
War and Piece
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Register
Bhm Herald Politics Blog
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
Intrnational Herald Tribune
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph