Bjornson Inspired by Tacoma’s Growth Principles

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Can Bellingham learn a trick or two about managing growth from the City of Tacoma? Councilmember Louise Bjornson thinks so; and I’m inclined to agree.

“I believe,” Louise remarks in a letter to Mayor Pike, “the majority of Bellingham residents wish to infill the underutilized portions of the city rather than have the city continuously sprawl outward into the county. However, it is also important to protect the integrity of Bellingham’s Single Family Neighborhoods.”

Louise was inspired by Tacoma’s four “Guiding Principles for Future Growth” which their Council affirmed last year:

* Protect critical/sensitive areas
* Protect industrial lands
* Protect single family neighborhoods
* Direct density into centers

Adding her infill solution to the mix for Monday’s public hearing on resolutions already advanced by Mayor Pike and Councilmember Weiss, Louise recommends that Bellingham designate five to eight mixed-use centers in existing, but underutilized, commercial areas that are already served by public transit and other critical services. A key tenet of her resolution is the insistence on design guidelines that ensure quality development in a “pedestrian-friendly scale and manner,” with a significant caveat:

“The city shall continue to recognize the importance of Single Family Neighborhoods and the continuing importance they play in Bellingham livability, quality of life, stability, and predictability of neighborhoods. The City shall minimize any action which impinges on the integrity of Single Family Neighborhoods and mitigate all impacts.”

After a brief but enjoyable conversation with Louise, I thanked her for her “well conceived infill resolution” and promised to share her elegantly simple idea with others in the community who are actively working on solutions for our region’s growth challenges. In an email to Mayor Pike, I confirmed that Louise’s “creative solution to Bellingham’s infill stalemate is one that many residents and neighborhoods could endorse,” emphasizing the critical need to protect the character and vitality of existing single family neighborhoods, as required by the Growth Management Act.

However, the adoption of any strategy for infill and sprawl reduction MUST include a proviso that all parties, particularly local residents who are often left on the sidelines, have a seat at the table from the very beginning. We have all experienced the frustration of arriving after the train is too far down the track. This time, let’s make sure all parties are aboard before the train departs.

The goals that Louise has crafted into her proposal are certainly worthy of consideration. Her vision - to transform a few, carefully selected and underutilized commercial centers from low density car-centric strip malls into pedestrian-friendly, walkable urban villages (while carefully addressing neighborhood fears) - is intriguing.

Given the opportunity, city and county residents are more likely to work together to support development that achieves true infill when assurance is given that existing residents will continue to enjoy the neighborhood character and vitality needed to preserve quality of life. Such “successful” infill will:

 Preserve farmland, forests, critical environmental areas, fish & wildlife habitats of local importance, and our region’s natural beauty;
 Redevelop and re-use existing sites and buildings within built-up areas where infrastructure and services are already in place;
 Be located on a transit corridor, near employment, schools, shopping and recreational amenities;
 Preserve semi-rural areas that lie at the urban fringe;
 Provide an alternative to driving;
 Consider long-term quality of life issues; and
 Enjoy strong public participation and support.

Based on my current understanding, I enthusiastically support Louise’s goals, which achieve a delicate, but elusive, balance. Thank you Louise. I hope your resolution and its worthy aspirations are met with approval at Monday’s public hearing.

About Larry Horowitz

Commenting member • Member since Jan 16, 2008

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Jan 28, 2008

Although I agree with much of what Louise Bjornson has proposed but there still is no mention of the effect of decades of neglect in enforcing single family zoning codes. Many of our neighborhoods have already lost their character. This must be reversed or we will be building our new Bellingham on the rotting stumps (illegal rooming houses) which now proliferate. Read my latest blog entry on Louise’s article by going to http://www.zonemaven.blogspot.com.

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Mary Anne Rangel

Jan 29, 2008

I also thank Louise Bjornson for her proposed resolution for Bellingham’s growth.  I agree that we need to preserve and protect critical areas, farmland, single family neighborhoods and industrial lands.  Like Larry Horrowitz, I believe the local residents should have a seat at the table when decisions that affect us all are to be made.  It is important not to sprawl out into the county.  Indeed, we need to protect the county from too much growth, especially the farmlands and forested mountains still remaining, like King and Queen Mountains.  Far too many mountain tops are being deforested for housing in Washington. 

Louise Bjornson’s idea to add growth within the underutilized portions of the city is a good one. 

Larry Horrowit’s points about saving farmland, forests, environmentally sensitive areas, fish and wildlife habitats of local importance and our region’s beauty are excellent and I agree with them. We need to   pay attention to our remaining wetlands as well.  That which makes our area so appealing to developers is what we need to save whenever possible.  Otherwise, our area will no longer be so appealing.  Do we want to wait until it is too late to save ourselves from total develop ment of every piece of green, wooded, farm, and mountain area?  I hope not.

Again, thank you, Louise Bjornson for your vision.

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