Ambling Unversity Development Group notified the planning department in a recent email that it will not pursue the University Ridge student dormitory project. This is a victory for the residents and homeowners of the Puget and Samish Neighborhoods whose quiet enjoyment of their properties would have been devastated by this ill-conceived plan to house over 500 students in the middle of a neighborhood of predominantly single-family homes. A substantial number of residents, aided by the legal resources available through Responsible Development, prevailed in a struggle for common sense development against a large, out-of-town corporation that had little regard for the effects of its proposal on the neighborhoods.
The 11.5 acre tract, owned by the Hawley Trust, is still availble but the city has not received any information regarding future plans for the parcel. All along, residents made it clear they were not against development of the land but that the proposed dormitory was totally out of character with its surroundings. Some argued the city ought to actively seek developers who would want to use the Infill Tool Kit in an area that is eminently suited to such housing forms and its more appropriate density.
The death blow to this project was probably dealt by the Bellingham Hearing Examiner who invoked the “rule of three” which states that no more than three unrelated persons can occupy a dwelling unit. [You can read more about this factor in my NWCitzen article of 31 Oct 13 entitled BMC Rule of Three Thwarts Plans.] Since the Ambling dormitory proposal called for over 100 four-bedroom dwelling units, Ambling faced the loss of income on more than 100 bedrooms and corresponding tenants unless a massive redesign of the buidlings was accomplished. Evidently, this factor produced a substanitally reduced income stream that was insufficient for the project to be economically viable.
Unfortunately, in fearful anticipation of this horrendous project actually being built, some nearby homeowners sold their homes and made unnecessary moves and job changes. Ambling owes these people an apology for the terrible disruption to their lives and their monetary losses.
In an email exchange I had earlier today with Bill Geyer, a planning consultant in Bellingham, he suggested the following in the aftermath of this near calamity: “...design preferences the neighborhood supports for the site to meet the current zoning density… and citywide, [a City] Council initiated review [of] BMC 20.08.020.C. “Rooming and Boarding House” to define specific zones this use is permitted. An easy text change would be to permit it only in the higher density zones (2500 sq ft per unit or less). This moots the issue of unlimited number of units as the development would occur in areas with adequate services (water, sewer, roads, transit).”
I agree with Bill that this Rooming and Boarding House ordinance was used in an inappropriate manner by the developer and, unfortunately, seconded by the city planning staff. For an explantaion of the density issues involved this this project, refer to the item at the asterisk (*) below.
Project development continues for two phases of student oriented apartment housing on Lincoln St. just south of the Fred Meyer complex. These complexes will likely house around 800-900 students. The developers are not related to the Ambling group.
*It is difficult to get a handle on the land use formula with this project since the developer seems to refer to both the number of units with respect to the plat allowances or the developers desires (variously 176 or 164) and to the number of bedrooms with respect to the “boarding house” use (576 or 527 according to the city’s webpage devoted to the project documents). The traffic and transportation analysis speaks to apartment units and calculates traffic use based on that number, while in other areas the applicant uses the number of bedrooms to justify the “boarding house” use (or vice-versa) and claims it could have asked for many more bedrooms – as if doing less were inherently commendable. It also appears that the 176 authorized units from the Hawley replat may never been specifically approved, except that the number 176 appeared on a plat during the replatting process. There seems to be oblique references to the 11.5 acres in question here (Tract F), but there is no indication as to how that number of units (176) was derived. (With the allowed 5,000 sq ft density applied to this 11.5 acres, one arrives at approximately 98/99 units.) But the developer wants to skirt these problematic numbers, which tend to be inconvenient, by contending that a “boarding house” allows for 250 sq. ft. per bedroom and that this is the factor for calculating the maximum density for this project. The 250 sq. ft. figure is not, I believe, a density factor but an occupancy standard. The absurdity of using the factor of 250 sq. ft. is manifest in that this factor would allow a maximum potential buildout of almost 2,000 bedrooms on about 5 acres (density of 400 persons per acre) which is the actual buildable portion of the 11.5 acres. Even now, the proposed density with this so-called “boarding house” is over 100 persons per acre, compared to the approximate 12 persons per acre density of the surrounding single family homes. Again, neighborhood character is ignored completely.” Source: Anatomy of a Development Part VI Hearing Examiner Date Set - A Broken Process, 26 Aug 13, NW Citizen.