Topic: Open Government (235)

The “Smoking Gun” to Provide Amnesty for Illegal Housing Units

On October 24, our City Council voted 5 to 2 (with Terry Bornemann and Gene Knutson opposed) to accept Policy H-18 of the Comprehensive Plan.

Policy H-18 is a mere 47-word statement playing a minor role in a much grander planning document. My fascination with H-18 began last spring when I read the Housing Chapter of the Comp Plan and noticed its reference to an outside group known as the CHAT (a 2009 Countywide Housing Affordability Taskforce). I wondered, “Why would this group and its 58-page findings now warrant, seven years later, a reference in the City’s 2016 Comp Plan and be deemed worthy of its own policy?”

Here, in my letter to the City Council, I explore a possible hidden purpose behind H-18, and ask is it a back-handed way to grant amnesty to zoning violators and introduce more Infill Toolkit multi-housing units into single-family zones.

For readers interested in reviewing the video in which this topic is debated, tune into City Council, Oct. 24 broadcast from link at bottom of this article.

November 1, 2016

Dear City Council:

I am writing about Housing Policy H-18 in the 2016 Comp Plan Update and its implications for illegal units.

As you know, when the City adopted its rules for ADUs under BMC 20.10.035, it established an amnesty program whereby existing illegal units could apply to become legally permitted without penalty as long as the application was made by December 26, 1996. That seemed like a fair approach at the time.

But what about the illegal units that did not take advantage of the generous amnesty program and the illegal units that were constructed since that time? How will the City treat those illegal units that are identified through the rental registration program and by local residents?

I am concerned that the administration is planning for Housing Policy H-18 to serve as a secondary amnesty program camouflaged as a benevolent policy to provide affordable housing. Is a secondary amnesty program fair to those who applied for permits in 1996? Is it fair to existing residents who have suffered from the City’s lack of enforcement?

Policy H-18’s provisions are designed to undermine single family zoning, and, by doing so, magically make illegal units legal. Is that the real purpose of H-18’s policy that allows for detached ADUs and cottages in single family zones?

Or H-18’s policy that allows for detached two-story garages to house ADUs and the conversion of garages to ADUs? Or H-18’s policy that allows condo development in single family zones? Condos in single family, how is that even possible? Or H-18’s policy to allow duplexes in single family “in some circumstances”?

Or are H-18’s “pilot projects” a mechanism to legalize already built illegal units that will now be elevated to legal status, calling them “pilots”? Yes, all of these provisions are what you voted to continue evaluating as part of the Comp Plan, but these “code changes” were never discussed by this Council.

Policy H-18 was not conceived by the City Council through an extensive review as part of the Comp Plan, nor was it reviewed by the Planning Commission prior to being brought to Council. It retained its mystery status until on October 24 when you received a three-page memo from Mayor Linville during the Committee of the Whole that outlined a series of housing proposals that had not before been discussed. And you voted, 5 to 2, to approve these proposals after having just received a copy minutes before your vote.

You voted to “continue evaluating” ways to diminish single family zoning through the use of H-18. You voted to endorse the recommendations of the Mayor’s Community Solutions Workgroup on Affordable Housing, which had as its participants, according to the Mayor, “builders and bankers,” and was characterized as “a balanced group of people.” There were no participants from the non-building, non-banking community in that workgroup.

On May 23, 2016, I wrote to you to recommend deletion of H-18 because it represented the work of a countywide group from 2009, and the full contents of their recommendations were unknown and not included in the Comp Plan. As the mystery continued, we found out that H-18 was really now intended to reference the recommendation of another group formed in 2014, the Mayor’s workgroup. Its recommendations had not been published either until Oct. 24, 2016, when you received a handout from the Mayor with a full set of recommendations that have never before been discussed during the Comp Plan public hearings.

I believe Policy H-18 has the potential of being a back-door way to allow illegal units to be transformed into legal ones. It lists housing forms from the Infill Toolkit that are explicitly not permitted in single family zones.

I urge you to rescind your vote of October 24 and remove Policy H-18 from the Comp Plan.


Anne Mackie

- - - -

Editor note: the link below is to the 2 hour 25 minutes video of the October 24 afternoon council of the whole meeting. H-18 concerns start at 1:45:45, with Terry Borneman explaining the problem at 1:52:45, with Gene Knutson explaining at 2:05:00, and the discussion continues till 2:17:35 vote of 5 - 2, and a second vote. And then confusion about what they even voted on.

Related Links

About Anne Mackie

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since Aug 21, 2016

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Nov 04, 2016

Here is the text of Policy H-18 as amended by the city council on 24  October:

Policy H-18 Continue evaluating the recommendations of the City’s Community Solutions Workgroup on Affordable Housing, including:

 Detached ADUs, small lot and cottage housing in single-family zones;

 Impact fee reductions for ADUs;

 Reduced parking requirements; and

 Other code changes and incentives that allow and encourage well-designed infill development.



Geoff Middaugh

Nov 06, 2016

The critical problem involving H-18 is that it has never been proposed, vetted or presented to citizens and neighborhoods.   This is a failure of governance in the process.    H-18 was created in secret, and is being implemented through the Comp Plan by a trick.   H-18 provides a loop hole to take apart protections in other places of the Comp Plan for single family residential zones.   It’s a bait and switch, under the lure and trickery of “affordability” and “innovation”.    H-18 must be removed and an open discussion on critical affordable housing option undertaken that includes citizen’s and neighbors, and not just bankers and builders.  This open discussion must occur before it is incorporated into the Comprehensive Plan, not after. 

To comment, Log In or Register

The “Smoking Gun” to Provide Amnesty for Illegal Housing Units

By Anne MackieOn Nov 04, 2016

On October 24, our City Council voted 5 to 2 (with Terry Bornemann and Gene Knutson opposed) to accept Policy H-18 of the Comprehensive Plan. Policy H-18 is a mere 47-word statement playing [...]

2 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Surly Citizens Object to Backroom Deals

By Anne MackieOn Oct 19, 2016

Anne Mackie guest writes about the Monday, Oct 17, Bellingham City Council meeting. She is a community leader who lives in the York neighborhood. What does it look like when a [...]

3 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Whatcom Chief Ferry: Urgent Questions

By John ServaisOn Sep 30, 2016

The Whatcom Chief went back into service last night, connecting Lummi Island to the rest of Whatcom County. It just came out of a three week yearly maintenance and had [...]

22 comments, most recent 3 years ago

MNAC Paddy Whack Give the Dog a Bone

By Dick ConoboyOn Sep 12, 2016

Guest writer Anne Mackie lives in the York Neibhborhood and is a community leader on residential planning processes. She has organized the Sep 14 community forum. Oddly, the month of August [...]

1 comment, most recent 3 years ago

A Big “Never Mind”

By Anne MackieOn Aug 31, 2016

Anne Mackie guest writes. Anne has lived in the York neighborhood for many years and is a community leader on issues of neighborhood planning. Saturday Night Live’s Roseanne Roseanna [...]

5 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Chapter 2:  Playing the race card

By Dick ConoboyOn Aug 23, 2016

After the “Shout Down” by Council President Pinky Vargas on August 8, Anne Mackie and Dick Conoboy received the following email from Council Member April Barker, author of the [...]

7 comments, most recent 3 years ago

Options High School: Great idea, wrong site

By Guest WriterOn Jun 06, 2016

Tim Paxton guest writes. Tim's testimony and evidence caused the Hearing Examiner to deny permits for Options HS last week. Tim knows of what he writes. We are all [...]

5 comments, most recent 4 years ago

Greenways may reverse heron colony buffer purchase this evening

By John ServaisOn Jun 03, 2016

Updated late night, June 2 I went to the Greenways Advisory Committee meeting at 7 pm this evening, based on the agenda posted online at the city website. That agenda now displays [...]

10 comments, most recent 4 years ago

Proposed over-water walkway is dead

By John ServaisOn May 21, 2016

It can now be reliably reported that the long planned over-water walkway, running from the north end of Boulevard Park to the Cornwall Avenue landfill, has been cancelled by the [...]

11 comments, most recent 4 years ago

Missing Options High School traffic study

By Guest WriterOn May 17, 2016

Patrick McKee, a leader in the Sunnyland Neighborhood, guest writes. Bellingham School District did not accurately answer questions contained in the Environmental Checklist submitted as part of their application to [...]

2 comments, most recent 4 years ago

Don’t speak at tonight’s Districting Committee hearing

By Ralph SchwartzOn Apr 13, 2016

Let me start by saying I'm a big fan of public participation in politics. It's at the foundation of how government is supposed to work. And it does [...]

3 comments, most recent 4 years ago

Bellingham Planning tries to sneak one through

By John ServaisOn Apr 11, 2016

Eleven days - 11 days - for the public to comment on a huge neighborhood impacting building project. March 28 to April 11 - with 4 days being weekends. The Sunnyland folks are only [...]

11 comments, most recent 4 years ago

Voting guide for Whatcom Conservation District

By John ServaisOn Mar 16, 2016

NWCitizen is maintained by the generous donations of readers like you. Please support citizen journalism by donating $15, $45 or more: click here. Donations maintain and improve this site as a forum [...]

The state of citizen journalism is strong: Two receive deArmond awards

By Ralph SchwartzOn Mar 11, 2016

The third annual Paul deArmond Citizen Journalism award dinner on Feb. 12 in Bellingham was bigger than ever—a bigger venue, more guests, a higher bar tab and, most notably, not [...]

2 comments, most recent 4 years ago

Whatcom Conservation District Elections

By Guest WriterOn Aug 09, 2015

Barbara Perry guest writes this article. She came across the district election process, was appalled, and has researched in an effort to fully understand. - - - - Are all 47 [...]

1 comment, most recent 4 years ago

Whatcom County Council adds ballot measure

By John ServaisOn Jul 08, 2015

In a political move, the liberal Whatcom County Council last night voted 6-1 (Kremen against) to place a proposition on the November ballot that would create 5 legislative districts in the [...]

1 comment, most recent 4 years ago

Charter Commission Tricks

By John ServaisOn Jul 06, 2015

NWCitizen is maintained thanks to the generous donations of readers like you. Support citizen journalism by donating $10, $50 or $100 by clicking here. Reader donations allows us to improve and expand. Thank [...]

3 comments, most recent 5 years ago

A Perspective on Port Politics

By John ServaisOn Apr 04, 2015

A bit of perspective on this action by the Port of Bellingham, the entity that has just sold the finest portion of our waterfront for pennies on the dollar to [...]

3 comments, most recent 5 years ago

Port Gives Away Our Bellingham Waterfront

By John ServaisOn Apr 01, 2015

Update - Sat April 4 - the port has removed the video of the meeting and so the link at the end of this article no longer works. The port has [...]

32 comments, most recent 5 years ago

The Hidden Election

By Guest WriterOn Feb 02, 2015

Barbara Perry guest writes. She wrote about this in the December issue of Whatcom Watch. And last Wednesday's Cascadia Weekly also had an article. See links at bottom of [...]