Affordable Housing Arrives At Bellingham’s Waterfront?

Ugly and expensive. That is what we have brought to the Waterfront.

Ugly and expensive. That is what we have brought to the Waterfront.

After years of anticipation, Bellingham's prayers have been answered: affordable housing at the Waterfront. Not.

I was drawn to the “good news” site by an advertisement in a local newspaper. There may have been some earlier press on the Phase A offering on these places that I had not seen. They are not yet built but more are now offered during a second phase, Phase B, during which you can reserve a unit for purchase for a mere $2,500. According to Zillow, the condos in three separate buildings are going in the $500K for a one bedroom unit, to prices in the $750K price range for larger units of 1,500 sq. ft.

This from the Zillow advertising on these hot units:

“The Waterfront Living condos are now taking reservations! All units offer a luxury experience, high-end finishes, gorgeous views of Bellingham Bay & the San Juan Islands & a lifestyle that most will envy. These condos are a short walk to the beach, restaurants & our stunning interurban trail system. This is the only true Waterfront Living condos in Bellingham, reserve yours today! The unit starts at base-price & increases upon sq ft, location, bed/bath, etc. Specs & finishes are not complete.”

Hot condos! Get your hot condos here! Going fast! Hot condos for sale! I wonder if the sales office resembles a hot dog cart.  

Beach? OK, if you mean the gray scree dumped near the artistic “Acid Ball” leftover from the previous outfit that left us with a site poisoned with who-knows-what. (Actually we know and it aint' good.)  

And there is more, those advertised views!

“Following the completion of Waypoint Park, the next project is the construction of three condo buildings by the water to create a community between Downtown and the bay.  Enjoy waking up to your panoramic sunrise and picturesque water views.”

Sure, if the ASB lagoon and dancing barges along with working boats and such craft are your vision of a bayside marina view. I'll sleep in, if you don't mind. Wake me up when the community forms. 

It seems nowadays that what is built in Bellingham (although we are not the only victim city) is utterly without esthetic merit. In a previous article, I have called this The Stickification of Bellingham. Although these “luxury” condos on the Waterfront might be made of some more sturdy stuff (¿Quién sabe?) with doodads galore,  the visual impression leaves much to be desired - might I declare charitably. Alas, even ugly will not protect residents from the liquifaction that will occur at the Waterfront with the next big earthquake. They had better attach some lifeboats under the balconies. Better yet, they can just buy and repurpose one of those now useless Carnival Cruise liners and dock it there. Five thousand instant units, an indoor mall, 600 restaurants, a casino, a pool (without gray scree) and 50 massage tables. Not to mention the life boats, each with onboard Starbucks.  

A recent article in Current Affairs magazine provides a list of descriptives, most of which apply to what I have dubbed the Aardvark School of Architecture. As stated in the Current Affairs piece “When Is the Revolution in Architecture Coming?” by Nathan J. Robinson, “The cities we build are not wondrous.” How can they be when the mantra is put-'em-up-and-pack-'em-in-and-charge-the-max-while-cities-tax? Cities now are no longer looking to preserve wonder unless it is the citizens wondering how utterly awful the new stuff is. Here is Robinson's list. 

    “Drab     Stark     Monolithic     Asymmetric     Brutal     Unfriendly     Humorless     Grating     Boring     Minimalist     Arbitrary     Lifeless     Like you’d see anywhere (placeless)     Disharmonious with nature     Disconnected from history/culture"

Our town wins the awful prize with perhaps the exception of asymmetric. How does anything being planned or built at the Waterfront have the slightest relationship to wishes that Hamsters expressed shortly after I arrived here two decades ago? The city and port gave it all up cheap to Harcourt. You see, the marketeers will take care of what the citizens are incapable of understanding. It ain't about beauty. It is all about money.  

Gone Forever.  Bulldozed For Bucks

Want a good, recent example? Consider the homes on Billy Frank, Jr. Street that were torn down about a month ago. Although not historic in designation, historic nonetheless. Homes that might be sold at relatively affordable prices as fixer-uppers for families with limited income have been bulldozed for an apartment building whose rents are market-set and will likely be filled with students since the shining university on the hill has not built any meaningful dormitory  space since the early 1970s ("WWU Dormitory Construction Plans Woefully Inadequate").  

So we build fast and ugly as if growth has no limits and people no longer see. From my article “The Great Deceleration” written over four years ago:

“But all we see around us is a push for more, more and again more. It can be managed, we are told. In Washington state there is an absurdly titled Growth Management Act. As if growth is still something to be managed. Not only can it not be managed, it must be reversed. How about a Washington State Degrowth Management Act?”

Unfortunately, we are still talking about how to accommodate growth. We shrug. Should we grow up or out? But there is another choice and that is not to grow or at the very, very, very least, to talk about it and what we might do. But we are not even talking about it. We are obeying. It is, after all, the reasonable thing to do.  Baaaah!

About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

George Dyson

Apr 27, 2021
Over more than two decades, and a series of City and Port administrations, vision meeting after meeting after design charrette after public hearing was convened, including the blue-ribbon, nationally-renowned pro-bono Regional Urban Design Assistance Team, with uncounted hours of paid and unpaid public and private input, parallelled by planning work sessions that went on for years. Many of these meetings opened with a statement to the effect of “We don’t know what we are going to do with this incredible site and unprecedented opportunity—that may take us years to figure out—but we know what we are *not* going to do: build big-box condos at the water’s edge.” And after all that (and hundreds of millions in public investment, subsidies, and assumed liabilities) what did we get?
This wasn’t just argued by open green-spacers; it was argued by hardened economists and urban planners warning against a resulting de-valuation of the entire site (and our surrounding downtown).

Dick Conoboy

Apr 27, 2021


Thanks.  I guess we always get what we don’t ask for - to twist an oft quoted phrase.



Doug Karlberg

Apr 28, 2021

In 2004, the long gone Port Commissioners provided a plan to the public for their comment.

Inherent in the plan was to sell the GP land for high dollar, and pay back the public for their huge investment. It was flawed plan from the beginning, but current Commissioner inherited this plan and have some obligation to fufil the promise to the public to pay them back for the tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds invested. If I recall correctly there is in excess of $80,000,000 in local, county, Port, state, and federal taxpayers funds invested into this site, and the largest cleanup is still yet to be even begun. This is the 37 acre lagoon full of toxic sludge. More on this below.

When the Port put this land our for development bids, there really was only one bidder; Harcourt. Only one bidder was the first sign of a failed plan. Previous Port employees made public statements that there were as many as fifty qualified bidders. The public was grossly mislead. Were they intentionally mislead? Doesn’t really matter now, does it?

Don’t blame current Commissioners for this.  Blame the retired Commissioners and retired Port employees for this tragically flawed plan.

This is expensive land, and because the Port promised the public to sell the land and recoup the public investment, this will never be land for affordable housing, unless you tell the public that you may break the promise to pay the public back. Who in their right mind would propose affordable housing for expensive waterfront land.

Bellingham is surrounded by lots of cheap land. No not cheap land. AFFORDABLE land. You cannot logically get to affordable housing by starting with expensive land.

The view land at the port will end up in luxury condos and view offices and restaurants. Really no way around it, and still recoup the public’s investment. The non-view property will be more affordable, but still not cheap. The promise to recoup the public’s investment and honoring this promise will drive the cost of living on this property, no logical way around this, unless the port wants to break the promise to the taxpayer. I would not recomend doing this without the taxpaying public’s permission.

As to spending money to beautify the view from these condo’s, I think we have invested enough for these luxury condos.

The luxury condo owners can look out their windows and see average people with jobs working. No tears from me on this view. The wealthy who can afford these condos will have benifitted enough from the public investment in this property. Time for working folks to benifit also, by keeping family wage producing property out of the hands of condiminium developers.

The gorilla yet to come is the 37 acre ASB pond. It has to be cleaned up, and let’s hope this property stays in the good paying jobs category.

This Commission inherited a cluster f**k. Previously the Port had been fighting with the public, fighting with their Executive Director, fighting amonst the Commissioners themselves, fighting with staff, fighting with the City, and fighting with the Tribes.

Finally we got a Commission that listens. Installed cameras, evening meetings, and actually has gotten better public participation. These Commissioners have restarted a respectful relationship with the Tribes. Best of all, these three Commissioners have four years of experiance under their belts, and ............. they actually get along with eachother.

To get through the next four years, we don’t need rookies, nor do we need the Republican or Democratic party’s controlling the port, bringing partisan acrimony to the port. The Port is well balanced, everyone has a voice, but no group has control. Our Port is getting things done, and we need this to navigate the challenges the next four years.

Please consider joining me in re-electing Commissioner Ken Bell and Commissioner Michael Shepard.

This is not the time to train rookies.


Sam Crawford

Apr 28, 2021

Affordable Housing as a concept in our area is Dead On Arrival.

We are in an unprecedented inflationary economy right now (not just in real estate, but in everything) that is the big story of 2021, while the media takes a pass because they’re told inflation is only around 2% (absurd).

The gap between the haves and the have-nots will increase at an historic rate even further with Biden’s proposals tonight.

But heck, let’s increase the grocery clerks’ wages by 4 bucks an hour. That’ll solve the problem.


Liz Marshall

Apr 30, 2021

I really admire NorthwestCitizen coverage of these topics, and the comments by readers. I went to look at the site on Billy Frank, Jr. Street yesterday. Here is a photo:



Dick Conoboy

Apr 30, 2021


Thanks for the tour d’horizon on the port while skillfully morphing into a support statement for a port candidate!   But back to the question.  We keep on, even now, being led down paths that do not help us but hurt us.  Money is glorified.  Ugly is presented as an achievement.  Consideration of people as human beings usually ends up as secondary despite the rhetoric.

As for affordable housing, you cannot get there by depending on market forces.


Dick Conoboy

Apr 30, 2021


Agreed.  Anyone who accepts and depends upon the inflation, CPI or GDP numbers as representing reality is in trouble from the start.

As for what people earn per hour, you probably remember what I wrote several years ago in my articles on the minimum wage and affordable housing.  The Flip Side of Affordability

I have also come to recognize that some small businesses would not be viable under certain minimum wage floors. So that must enter the equation.


Dick Conoboy

Apr 30, 2021


Thanks for the portrait of the abomination.

One of the crowning irionies of this assault on this neighborhood is that the LLC involved in the desecration is named Billy Frank Properties LLC, run by Mike Hays also of Hammer Properties whose FOR RENT signs proliferate in areas near the university.  As my mother would have said:  “...of all the gall!”



Dianne Foster

Apr 30, 2021


We must have been thinking in synchrony,  as I wrote the same phrase about BFJ street and Mike Hays. (they don’t call him “the Hammer” for nothing,  as his previous renters told me about his abusive responses to their requests for help with standing water and mold in their basement living quarters;  I vote Hammer as Slumlord of the Year).     Saint Billy Frank Jr must be rolling in his grave at the misuse of his name for this criminal act in my neighborhood.   Hmm….where are those sign-collectors when you need them anyway?


Dianne Foster

Apr 30, 2021

As to “affordable housing” on the waterfront -    I wonder if the rich people who buy those condos will be warned about the poisons they will be living on;   at least there should be some informed consent.

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