Chuckanut Ridge: The real land supply implications

On his personal blog, former City Councilman John Watts has written a column entitled, “Chuckanut Ridge: Land Supply Implications” in which he concludes, “without a reasonable level of build-out on Chuckanut Ridge – now being called ‘Fairhaven Highlands’ – the city will need considerably more additional space for its projected new population growth than any estimate that assumes build out of CR.”

[Before I respectfully disagree, I’d like to publicly offer my condolensces for the loss of John’s cat, Giddy Gato. John and Joan, I hope you received our sympathy card.]

OK, here’s why I respectfully disagree: The city’s land supply analysis - which is designed to accommodate its projected population growth - fully anticipates that a certain amount of developable land within city limits will be preserved as parks. It does not, however, specifically identify which land will be preserved. As far as the land supply analysis (LSA) is concerned, it does not matter whether Chuckanut Ridge is preserved or whether a similar parcel in any other neighborhood is preserved. The LSA specifically includes a reduction of the city’s population capacity by 14,197 people due to the preservation of 891 acres of developable land for parks. In other words, the LSA already accounts for the fact that parcels like Chuckanut Ridge may be preserved and not developed.

Contrary to John’s claim, there is absolutely no need to add land because these 891 parkland acres, which can easily include Chuckanut Ridge, will be preserved. Further, the preservation of Chuckanut Ridge – or any other parkland for that matter – has absolutely no impact on the requirement for Urban Centers, waterfront redevelopment, downtown high-rises, or further upzones in city neighborhoods. All of these factors have already been accounted for in the city’s land supply analysis

.

For anyone who needs confirmation of these facts, I suggest you contact Bellingham GIS specialist Chris Behee who prepared the land supply analysis.

About Larry Horowitz

Commenting member • Member since Jan 16, 2008

Comments by Readers

Larry Horowitz

Aug 09, 2008

John Watts,

If you’re reading this column, I just wanted to pose these questions for you to consider:

1) Based on the city’s current land supply analysis, if the city acquires 40 acres of developable land in the Guide Meridian / Cordata neighborhood, will that have any impact on the city’s ability to accommodate its projected growth?  In other words, would the city need to expand its UGA?

2) Would your answer be any different if the city acquires the 40 acres of developable land within Chuckanut Ridge?

3) What if the city acquired both 40-acre parcels (but not more than the 891 developable park acres already factored in the LSA)?

On a different note: In your most recent comment to me, you mentioned that you thought we were continuing to talk past each other.  Perhaps a better solution than commenting about each other’s column online would be to meet for coffee and discuss these issues in person.  (If necessary, we can invite an impartial mediator.)

Your thoughts?

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Tip Johnson

Aug 10, 2008

The “Eudora Syndrome” is apparently more serious than I previously imagined.  It seems to affect the accuracy with which old school engineers are able to read their slide rules!

At the (-> referenced blog, Watts describes the Chuckanut Ridge (aka Fairhaven Highlands) project’s supposed importance toward fulfilling Bellingham’s population infill goals.

He claims that, in terms of meeting the City’s population targets, failure to “build out” Chuckanut Ridge would result in between “...1292 and 1847 additional acres needed for the City’s UGA.”  He suggests this would be tantamount to sprawl.

He passes on to explain that the Chuckanut Ridge site’s”...85 acres contains only about 40 or so acres that are actually suitable for building.”

So somehow, the loss of 40-some acres would require the addition of up to 1,847 acres?  Geez, I must be missing something!

So somehow, it makes sense to build the equivalent of 1,847 acres on 40 acres of sensitive wetlands, steep slopes and mature forest? 

He neglects to mention that building this density on this site will turn the many wetlands - the most significant of which are publicly owned - into toilets for this project.  An ancient beaver pond, teeming with tiny freshwater shrimp, will wither under the toxic strain of this project’s runoff.  These mature forested wetlands have been identified as a keystone of the food chain for a significant wildlife corridor extending from Sehome Arboretum to the Chuckanuts. The site feeds two salmon streams, presumably sustaining juvenile salmonids with its wealth of food.

Of course, cramming 1,847 acres of density onto 40 sensitive acres is important because it will reduce sprawl?  Give me a break! That makes “sprawl” look good to me.

Watts caps the whole thing off with the justification that the project “...has been zoned for its allowed density since Mt St Helens erupted in 1980!”

Of course, the zoning was accomplished without any hearing before the planning commission, without recommendation from the commission to the council, without any public hearing before the council, no notice to affected property owners or any legal notice in the paper, etc. ad nauseum.  I think you can search this site for some of that stuff.  I’ve reopeated it so many times I’m getting sick of hearing it myself.

What is so disgusting about this kind of gratuitous support for such an insensitive project is that a bunch of hokey, abstract numbers matter more than protecting a real and significant ecology.  Weird!

At the end of the day, what can be said without apology is that the City has done everything possible - plenty of which they shouldn’t have - to sustain this project, and done nothing - including much that they should have - to limit it.

I’m sure that makes the developer very happy.  But what about the environment?

And if you are truly just anthropocentrically selfish, then how about this site being the only site that could be used to expand Fairhaven Park to meet the City’s own goals for regional parks for the infill population targets they have set for the southside area? 

Wouldn’t it be nice to connect Fairhaven Park with our InterUrban acquisitions and leverage them all into a regionally significant “Gateway to the Chuckanuts”?

Get real and stop Chuckanut Ridge!

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Larry Horowitz

Aug 10, 2008

Tip,

I specifically ignored John Watts? comment about the 1,292 or 1,847 acres because these figures are so unrealistic.  Now that you?ve mentioned them, please let me clarify.  At the top of this article, I have attached the original table that John refers to in his column, which he sent to me in February 2006 and which I believe was prepared by Chris Behee.

The table basically states that if 739 units are developed on CR, the city?s land supply shortfall is between 1,292 and 1,847 acres.  This is identified as the current scenario.  If only 370 units are built, this table claims the shortfall will increase to between 1,319 and 1,958 acres, an increase of 27 to 111 acres.  If 0 units are built, the shortfall will increase to between 1,347 and 2,069 acres, an increase of 55 to 222 acres.

Of course, all of this data is nonsense because the land supply analysis (LSA) already provides for the preservation of 891 park acres that are otherwise developable (free from critical areas and net of stormwater and right of way reductions) and already zoned for residential development.  If Chuckanut Ridge?s 40 developable acres are part of the 891 developable park acres to be preserved, there is absolutely no impact on the city?s land supply.

Hope this helps clarify John?s comments.

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g.h. kirsch

Aug 10, 2008

It is certainly to be hoped that the reopening of matters surrounding the flawed comprehensive planning that produced Bellingham’s present internally inconsistent plan is not going to be redirected into some kerfuffle over Chuckanut Ridge/Fairhaven Highlands.

The public’s interest is in understanding if the former administration, in particular the former city planner, simply got it wrong, or, if not, why they directed staff to start with these flawed assumptions; and how so many bought into the consequent conclusion and were entirely willing to ignore the implications of its internal contradictions.

While it has been repeated so often to be almost hackneyed, the reason to understand history is to avoid repeating the mistakes.

The goal of our reconsideration of those events should be to determine whether the conclusions were derived from assumptions based on facts, or were the assumptions, in fact, chosen in order to reach a certain conclusion.

If the latter was the case, we need to know how to avoid a similar gaming of the planning process in the future.  For it indeed seems that once the tar baby is set down on the porch, those that embrace it have a very difficult time letting go.

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Tip Johnson

Aug 10, 2008

Thanks Larry.  The table does help clarify.  I knew the numbers couldn’t make sense, but Watts’ argument relied on them so much that it couldn’t make sense either.

I just re-read his original column and it still doesn’t make sense.  But for the sake of less muddle, strip out the numbers and I’ll stand on my previous comment.

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Larry Horowitz

Aug 10, 2008

Tip,

Glad to be of help; I have removed the table as you suggested.  It is clear that the net impact of preserving any 40-acre parcel will be around 40 acres.  In the distorted analysis referred to in Watts? column, the impact was between 27 and 55 acres, not the 1,292 that his article seems to imply (although I admit I am confused by his comments as well).

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Tip Johnson

Aug 10, 2008

Larry,

Hey!  I liked your table!  I was referring to the use I made of Watts’ numbers in my comment, that my points could stand without the numbers.

Put the table back!  ;-)

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g.h. kirsch

Aug 10, 2008

May I suggest that the peculiar conclusion that Mr. Watts projects points to the peculiarity built into the Land Supply Analysis itself. 

Consider what he has written and its implications under the LSA for density, and we begin to see what its assumptions were intended to rationalize; UGA expansion.

Buildable Land Needed— 40—— 1,292— 1,847
Residences Needed——-  739 ——— 739 ——-  739
Accres per Residence — 0.5 ——— 1.75 ——-  2.5
 
Obviously, the first column is the current scenario and the amount of land needed for each prospective residence.  The other two columns are the low and high ends of the acreage range the LSA would require to accommodate the same number of residences.

Again, the more important question is how and why and who is responsible for the methodology that gives us a Comprehensive Plan with S-P-R-A-W-L built in?

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Larry Horowitz

Aug 10, 2008

Tip,

I have added the table referenced by John Watts as a ?Related Link? above.  Note that John?s ?peculiar conclusion? as referred to by Greg Kirsch cannot be derived from the data in this table.  The ?Current Scenario? is the starting point, i.e., the calculated population and land shortfall in the city?s erroneous land supply analysis (LSA).  The city claims it needs to add 1,292 acres at a minimum based on this scenario.  This table indicates that if Chuckanut Ridge is preserved and no units are built, then the city will need to add 1,347 acres at a minimum rather than 1,292; therefore, the effect of not developing Chuckanut Ridge is a mere 55 acres (1347 ? 1292).

Of course, as I have explained above, this entire analysis is invalid because the LSA already presumes that 891 developable acres will not be developed and will be preserved as parks.  I repeat: If the 40 developable acres within Chuckanut Ridge are preserved as part of these 891 developable park lands, there will be absolutely no impact on the city?s land supply analysis because such preservation has already been factored into the final calculation.

Does everyone get it??

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g.h. kirsch

Aug 11, 2008

John pretty unambiguously concludes the land supply impact of not building out Chuckanut Ridge, “would amount to between 1292 and 1847 additional acres needed for the City’s UGA.” 

This, of course, purportedly needed to compensate for the 40 acres of buildable land that would be given up.

I think we all understand your counter argument, that it is not the total land need without development at CR, but the difference between the land need without development and the need with that development that might require UGA expansion; and that the LSA includes some 800 acres already set aside for non-development, which easily could include the 40 acres to be utilized for Fairhaven Highlands.

Perhaps you can understand my table as something of a reductio ad absurdum.  If the methodology implies that foregoing development of these 40 acres implies John’s conclusion, then the methodology contains a contradiction.

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Larry Horowitz

Aug 11, 2008

Greg, I?ll be the first to grant you that certain assumptions in the city?s current land supply analysis are badly flawed; however, I can assure you that the methodology does not require the UGA to be expanded by 1,292 acres simply because a single 40-acre parcel is preserved as parkland. Only John Watts could explain how he came to that conclusion.

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Doug Karlberg

Aug 11, 2008

This whole discussion reminds me of “paper fish”. Entirely too much time in front of spreadsheet that magically gives them an answer to any problem posed.

To predict future housing needs absent serious reflection on economic trends and drivers, is fraught with risk, especially the farther into the future one attempts to predict.

This exercise may be necessary, but common sense tells us you can predict almost anything you wish, as the analysis ignores future events and almost exclusively depends on the past being perfectly replicated into the future,

...which seldom happens in real life.

~

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