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Bellingham Herald Errors With "Homes Per Acre"
Well, most people we've talked to want to give credit to the Herald for actually trying to cover an issue in depth. On Sunday, Oct 20, a special section focused on growth problems in our county. The front page had photos of different neighborhoods of Bellingham and showed the "homes per acre" for each, plus the proposed density of homes per acre for the proposed Chuckanut Ridge development on the Southside.
The numbers absolutely did not make sense. How could the Birchwood neighborhood, known for its spacious backyards and quite streets, have a density the same as apartment complexes? Why it looked like the Chuckanut Ridge development would be more open and spacious than most of Bellingham.
Where did the numbers come from? We called the reporter. She could not say for sure. Different plans and studies. One from 1980. She said the Chuckanut Ridge Developer told her of some and suggested she include the Happy Valley numbers, which he said had the highest density in the city. He suggested the 21st Street student housing section to her. So, she included a "portion" of Happy Valley - 21st Street - but labeled it "Happy Valley" because it is in that neighborhood.
Why label it "Happy Valley" when it is only the student housing on 21st street? Well, she told us that the density varied a lot and so they tried to include representative examples. We were told the Herald did not intend to mislead readers by mislabeling the photos.
So - we checked with the Bellingham Planning Office. They provided us with a table of neighborhood home densities. Dated the end of 1992.
homes per acre
Official Planning Dept
homes per acre
Now, these official figures are almost 4 years old. But, things haven't changed that much. They reflect average neighborhood densities.
We don't blame the developer for suggesting his numbers to the Herald - he is just a very smart guy who is trying to get his development approved. If he can work with a Herald reporter to help shape a special supplement in the Herald showing his project in a good light, more power to him. Since his development will have the density of apartment complexes, and will destroy a pristine woodland, he needs all the help he can get. Now, he can come back at us with low density numbers for the "South" neighborhood where his development is located. The problem with that is it will not reflect the density of his development and that is what the concern is all about.
There are no official numbers for Chuckanut Ridge as it is not built yet. The planned density is easy enough to figure. The present plan by the developer calls for 1,464 homes on 51.5 acres for a density of 28.5 homes per acre. The developer got the figure of 14.5 by including the 44.5 acres of swamp that he cannot build in. If we calculate home densities in this way for Bellingham then our official density numbers become even lower. For instance, Happy Valley would drop from 4.5 to 3.9 homes per acre. So, whether we take 14.5 or 28.5, this still leaves the Chuckanut Ridge development at 4 to 10 times the density as any neighborhood in Bellingham. The Herald would have us believe the development density is much less than most Bellingham neighborhoods.
Come on Herald, you can do better. We in Bellingham depend on the Herald for our basic community information. While we applaud the Herald for taking an in depth look at a local issue, there is no excuse for such gross errors. The Herald has the habit of believing the "facts" given it by large corporations, developers and government agencies. This habit led the Herald to be wrong about the Port of Bellingham information for over a year until the Kap scandal broke in 1991. We are not suggesting the Herald purposely prints wrong information. It is rather that they are easily duped. So comon, Evan Miller, tell your reporters to check the facts before running stories.
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