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Why to vote NO on proposed Park District

By On

By guest writer Phyllis McKee. She owns commercial property within the district and has been involed in Fairhaven affairs for almost 40 years.

Why vote NO on Proposition #1, the Metropolitan Park District proposed for South Bellingham?

In one move, how could only those people owning property in south Bellingham (I-5 to the bay & city limits to South Hill) find themselves obligated to pick up the tab for a City-wide loan not due until 2017 and create an entity with the authority to, amongst other things, condemn property (and the property does not even need to be within the area being taxed), pay a wide-range of expenses, including paying its commissioners, and tax those same property owners forever, yet remain separate from and independent of City oversight or citizen vote? Simple … by those Southside voters failing to recognize the Trojan Horse being pushed up to their doors and thereby failing to vote NO on Metropolitan Parks Proposition 1 on 2/12. (Ballots are being delivered today and Monday.)

The two flawed assumptions are that it is the right and responsibility of Southside property owners to pay a debt that belongs to the entire City, and secondly, that the Metro-Park model is the best and only method to save the 100 acre/Chuckanut woods. Neither is correct and both should be questioned. Look behind the curtain before approving such action as getting that genie back in the bottle would be impossible. As well-meaning as the Proponents may appear to be, to expect future commissioners to be bound by promises being made now is neither binding nor realistic. The threat to develop all/part of the woods is a blatant scare-tactic and if proposed at all would be challenged by the citizenry.

Proponents insist that the taxation will be limited to $0.28 per $1000 valuation, for only 10 years, and then disband, but, but the one-size-fits-all tool they are using to create the Metropolitan Park District is a legal entity (like a corporation or LLC), a junior taxing district that has broad built-in authority including the ability to tax at $0.75/$1000 forever to support future goals. Yes, future goals that could have little or nothing to do with woods, and what of the unresolved, over-lapping or conflicting authority with the existing City Parks branch of government? None of this has even been addressed. (Google Metropolitan Park District for some interesting, hair-raising reading.)

Furthermore, voting yes does not save the 100 acre woods … the biggest battle cry of the Proponents. The 100 Acre Woods is already saved; it is already owned by the City. All this fuss is over some internal loan the City Council made to purchase the property in the first place. An internal loan that does not need to be paid back until December of 2017 … giving plenty of time to come up with more creative solutions than sticking a limited group of property owners with the bill. Some contend that this is just a financial or economic vehicle/move, or some such thing. Let me see. Well, I guess it could be seen that way, just as me stepping up out of the blue to pay off your maxed out credit card might be seen as a financial or economic move. By voting YES (or as importantly, failing to vote NO), those Southsiders are saying to Council, ‘here, let us take care of that for you so you do not have to worry about it’ when they should be saying ‘you created it, fix it’, and then keeping an eye on the solutions proposed.

Please understand that failure to vote at all just means fewer yes votes needed to pass. Furthermore, please know that with (I believe) only three exceptions, those five Commissioners who will run the show, for all practical purposes the majority of those running and impossible to avoid, have been hand-picked by the Pro-side and will appear on the same ballot with the proposition.

About Guest writer

Writer • Member since Jun 15, 2008

Comments by Readers

Christopher Grannis

Jan 27, 2013

Two more public meetings were held last Wednesday and Thursday to provide information to folks who wanted to learn more or discuss the proposed Chuckanut Community Forest District. On Thursday Five of the Candidates for Commissioner were among the group as were a few people who are opposed to the formation of the Park District. It was a cordial respectful meeting where everyone had a chance to say their piece. The Candidates all affirmed that if the district is formed the taxation will be limited to $0.28 per $1000 valuation, for only 10 years, and then disband. One person kept repeating that the taxation would be the maximum allowed and that taxes would be collected for ever. She said they, referring to the candidates who will be elected, wanted to annex all of the Chuckanuts, clear down to Bow. There was frustration because one person kept insisting the Commissioners would do what they had just said they would not do. John Brown pointed out that this is face to face democracy,  people discussing a way to preserve the ecological treasure that is a unique asset to our City and a part of why Bellingham is such a great place to live, and that democracy only works where there is trust. I trust the folks who have been part of the struggle to preserve the woods.
The proponents of the CCFD have all been involved for years. We were there a year ago at the City Council Finance Committee meetings when Council made it clear that they oppose using any portion of a future Greenways IV levy to repay to loan. We have done our home work. We have examined all of the possible ways to raise three plus million dollars and there are none except the Park District or sell part of the Park for high density development.
The reason this land was not developed decades ago like the land around it is that it is not easily developed. Because of the terrain and problems with access the infrastructure would be very expensive. To make it pencil out there would need to be a very high number of units. One number out there is 350 units on 25 acres. If you think this a scare tactic you need to do your home work.
The choice is clear, preservation or destruction by development. The proponents of the Park District are asking this community to vote to for preservation. This is democracy in action. Please vote for:
Cathy McKenzie Position 1
Dan Remsen or John Hymas Position 2
Susan Kaun Position 3
Vince Biciunas Position 4
John Brown Position 5
Please vote yes for the forest, vote yes for parks and healthy recreation, vote yes for wetlands and the salmon they support. Please Vote Yes for the Chuckanut Community Forest District.

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Frank James

Jan 27, 2013

What the developers like Phyllis, who does not even live in the district, do not want you to know is that voting NO for the District WILL increase your taxes. The infrastructure needed for this project would be millions of dollars. The very real costs that we pay for the utility infrastructure, schools, fire protection and other costs all add up for a development like this to more than the costs of buying the park! A detailed study was done by the nationally renowned urban planner of this specific site an our specific laws and tax structure that showed exactly that.

Don’t believe they hype of Bill and Phyllis, just follow the money and vote for the community and not special interests. If you want to see the Fodor study go to the Responsible Development website (RDnow.org) and search for Eben Fodor. Some of the details have changed since the study was completed but the basic facts are still the same. Allowing development on this property will cost us all more than preserving it as a park.

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Delaine Clizbe

Jan 27, 2013

Mr. James,
I keep hearing this argument from proponents that we will pay infrastructure costs if this land is built on.  Please tell what infrastructure costs have been accounted for in the development of a park on this land?  What proponents fail to realize is that the addition of this park to Fairhaven IS increasing traffic and congestion.  One major access point will likely be Fairhaven park and will necessitate folks traveling over the 12th street bridge to get to it.  Another access point, at several spots on 24th street will show increasing traffic.  As one poster on the Herald noted, “I go south for recreation and I go north for groceries”. 

What folks do not seem to realize is that the South Side of Bellingham is pretty much recreation central for all of Bellingham.  We sold a perfectly good home on Samish Way because of the huge increase in traffic due to folks heading to Lake Padden and Galbraith.  If anyone has driven by Lake Padden on a hot summer day you will see the huge issue it has become.  On opening day of fishing season or during an event like the Padden Triathlon you will even see cars parked up the side streets.

So it is a simplistic argument that “The folks on the south side should pay for the park that is benefiting them”.  We very much will be paying for a park that benefits the entire City.

Tell me, will the .28/1000 levy cover?:  Increased traffic on the 12th street bridge from folks accessing this park.  Parking lots on 24th street or traffic mitigation in that area. Wetland mitigation from increased traffic and parking on 24th street.  Bathroom facilities on the 24th street side of the property.(not everyone will be able to hold it until they get all the way over to Fairhaven Park) 

Where will the money come from to cover these costs?


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Dan Pike

Jan 27, 2013

Ms. Clizbe,
The costs of running the park will be part of the ongoing parks budget.  This was a purchase envisioned in the Greenways III levy, with the City Council envisioning up to $8 million of that levy being available for this purchase.  For background on that, since you allege I ‘overspent’ the Greenways allocation by gaining Council approval for the use of $4.5 million on this, please read this past NWCitizen article:

http://nwcitizen.us/entry/greenways-iii-policy-and-practice-disaster

Regarding why the Southside should bear this short-term, modest increase in property tax levies, more benefit accrues to those of us living here.  While it is of city-wide benefit, too, having the MPD kick in a bit more is a small price for preservation.  In the long run, we will all benefit, and not just from the preservation of an urban forest, with its ecological richness, but also because it makes Bellingham an even more attractive location for people who could choose to live anywhere, and plant their businesses anywhere. 

I’ve had conversations in the past with a prominent local businessman who is adamantly for lower taxes.  He complained when I was Mayor that he wished we would emulate Burlington, WA, which has a lower tax rate than Bellingham.  I asked if he’d prefer to live in Burlington, and he admitted he would not.  His business is here because of the kind of community we are, rich with natural, recreational, and cultural amenities.  To have all those, we tax ourselves more than many communities do. 

I am not blindly for more taxes; in fact the only veto I ever used was to veto a property tax increase in 2008.  However, to have the kind of community most living here vote for repeatedly, some taxes are required.  The supplemental taxes, such as the Greeways levies, public school funding, and this Park District levy are examples of where we, as citizens, get to make that choice.  It is not driven by those in office, but rather by how we colectively want to develop as a community.  i’m proud to live in a community that values the broader public benefit over a small personal financial savings.

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Delaine Clizbe

Jan 27, 2013

Mr. Pike,
I am a bit of a blonde so please explain to me how it is that I am about to taxed to pay back a loan when you sir did not overspend!

If that money is available in the Greenways III levy why am I being asked to pay more?

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Delaine Clizbe

Jan 27, 2013

Mr. Pike,
Will the on going parks budget cover the cost of traffic mitigation in the area as a result of this park?

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Dan Pike

Jan 27, 2013

Ms. Clizbe,
Regarding being taxed for something on which I did not overspend, I would ask how I am controlling a majority of votes in this election, when I am not in office, and can only vote once?  Voters will choose whether or not to enact a new tax for the remainder of the loan.  Other alternatives include selling enough of the property to repay the balance.  Do you think allowing a vote is a bad idea?  Or perhaps you don’t trust your fellow citizens to vote appropriately?

As the link shows, a majority of the City Council that approved the Greenways III levy believed their vote was to authorize up to $8 million in Greenways funds to make this purchase; the overall price was less than the property was valued at in the early 1990’s.  A strong majority of voters approved said levy.  The City—at my urging—spent $4.5 million in Greenways III funds on this purchase.  Maybe I’ve got a bit of blonde in me, too—please explain, in simple terms, how spending $4.5 million of an allowed $8 million is overspending?  Thanks.

Regarding traffic mitigation, your comparison of Lake Padden with Chuckanut Ridge is an apples-to-oranges comparison.  As an undeveloped park, Chuckanut Ridge would generate about 2.5 trips/acre per day, according to standard ITE trip generation models, or about 200 additional trips per day.  Since these are distributed prety widely throughout the day, the overall impacts would be fairly minor.  In contrast, the proposed development at the property would have generated about 7,000 trips per day, with aggregations around the peak am and pm commute trip times, exacerbating already congested conditions.  Preserving this as a park will preclude that kind of trip loading on the neighborhood, and ensure the community does not get stuck with a huge burden for upgrading and widening the 12th Street bridge, which would cost millions of dollars.  Lake Padden is a developed park, with a golf course, ball fields, a robust trail system, and a popular swimming area.  That type of facility generates about 5 - 7 trips/acre/day, exclusive of the golf course.  Since Lake Padden is 160 acres, it generates around 1000 trips/day.  The golf course likely generates that much again, and because of its proximity to the rest of the park, it likely generates significant complementary use—golfers drop their familes off at the picnic area, etc—that is not going to occur at Chuckanut Ridge.  In addition, many of the users of Chuckanut Ridge are neighborhood residents who already use the park by walking to it, so there are no traffic impacts from that component.

Hope that clears up your questions.

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Donald Duck

Jan 27, 2013

Without voting YES on Proposition 1, the city will ultimately need to pay off the loan by selling a portion of the property. A minimum of 250 units, more likely 350 units, would be built. The south end impacts and loss of parks legacy for future generations are worth the cost of a bowl of soup per month at the Colophon, and I like the citizen initiative. As a south end homeowner I am voting YES.

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Delaine Clizbe

Jan 27, 2013

Mr. Pike,

I never said YOU were taxing me.  However, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes in this town so who is to say who all the players are in this saga.

So I think I am starting to understand.  You and/or the City Council thought the Greenway III levy authorized 8 million on this purchase.  Ok.  So how is it you only had 4.5 million to spend on it?  You needed an additional 3.2 million.  I really don’t give a hoot what you “promised” to pay for the land.  For whatever reason you did not have the money, hence the loan from the Endowment.  And therefore, an over expenditure occurred. 

Your numbers for traffic patterns make sense.  However, I still think an extra 200 cars a day on the 12th street bridge would be an issue.  But hey, I’m all for some of the Padden traffic staying down in the lowlands because ultimately that makes MY neighborhood nicer:)

Can you please define for me what an “undeveloped park” is?  I would also be very interested to see an actual “park plan” for this land.

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Delaine Clizbe

Jan 27, 2013

Mr, Hegedus,

I just happened to be visiting the Fairhaven Park Apartments/Padden Creek Apartments today.  I have always looked at those apartments as I run by on the interurban trail and think what a beautiful setting for folks to live.  A quick search of their website tells me that their complex is nestled on 14 acres and has 253 units.  Now, Mayor Linville suggested selling what? 20 something acres?  Folks should check out the Padden Creek Apartment complex for a little perspective on how much “development” we are talking about here.

Personally, I’m for putting in some nice multi-family dwellings, on the very small portion of land the Mayor Linville suggested,  so families can raise their children in a beautiful setting with trees and trails and the Fairhaven Park splash park in close proximity.  Now THAT would leave a legacy for the future!

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Dan Pike

Jan 27, 2013

A correction to my earlier post:  Lake Padden Park is over 800 acres; Lake Padden the body of water is 160 acres at the surface.  That means the traffic generation of Lake Padden is about 5,000 trips per day, versus about 200 at Chuckanut Ridge.  I apologize for the error.

Ms. Clizbe,
Regarding your questions and responses to my earlier posts, I’m not sure what is unclear, nor do I understand why you think I overpaid.  Maybe we’ll simply need to accept that we have different perspectives on this issue, which is fine.  To try and restate what happened in buying the park, there were still I believe about $6.5 million in Greenways funds still unspent, and designated for southside parks acquisition.  As an aside, there is a myth that the north end was short-changed during my tenure regarding parks acquisition; in fact, including this purchase, we spent over twice as much acquiring north end parks as south end ones during my term—consistent with the Greenways III plan.

The Chuckanut Ridge purchase was limited, at my recommendation, to $4.5 million of Greenways funds to try and find a solution that worked for everyone in the community.  There was a great deal of divisiveness within both the Council and the greater community over whether it was $8 million, or $6 million, or a little over $4 million targeted for this purchase.  Three Councilmembers felt adamantly it was $8 million, two were at the middle figure, and two were at the $4 million and change amount.  By going with the lower end figure, using some available funds for parks acquisition that had to be spent in the south end and taking the balance as a $3.2 million loan, I hoped to settle the discord, and that we could have a community conversation about how to address the balance.  Among the methods to address this balance, we specifically discussed a temporary tax increase, and also the alternative of potentially selling some of the property.  This vote allows a community conversation, which I appreciate your participation in, of whether we want to tax ourselves to preserve the entire parcel.

As to what an ‘undeveloped’ park is, generally it means a park without features such as ball fields, defined swimming areas, basketball courts, or other amenities such as picnic areas, splash pools, etcetera.  The City of Bellingham’s Parks website has a spreadsheet listing the features of each park here: http://www.cob.org/services/recreation/parks-trails/index.aspx

Of the five types of features listed (Sports fields, trails, play/picnic areas, water access, and other amenities), undeveloped parks would have only trails and/or water access.  By contrast, Lake Padden has all five boxes checked.  I am not certain what the status of the planning for this park is at this point.  To some degree, I expect it’s hinging on the current vote.  If you want something more specific, I’d suggest you contact the Parks department; staff are very knowledgeable and helpful, and will let you know what the status currently is, and how you can stay informed as things move forward.

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Delaine Clizbe

Jan 29, 2013

Mr. Pike,
You know I have thought about it for a couple days now, running it over and over in my little head, but I still just can’t fathom how we ended up with a loan but you did not “overspend”

So I’m not even going to agree to disagree with you on this one!

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Dan Pike

Jan 29, 2013

No worries, Ms. Clizbe.  Unless you paid full cash for every house and car you bought, either you overpaid, or you can figure out what I meant.  I’m simply trying to explain what went into my thinking, in a manner meant to foster civil dialog, something which is growing all too scarce at every level of our society.  However, I can only address my side of the conversation.  For what it’s worth, I’m glad to see you engaged, even while I disagree with your conclusions.

In any case, we can disagree to disagree, if you prefer.  I’ll leave you to figure out what that means.

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