Guest writer Dan Remsen writes for the group favoring the Park District on Bellingham's south side.
There is a beautiful forested hillside visible from most anywhere in the southwest corner of Bellingham. For more than two decades it has been repeatedly threatened with development. And, repeatedly, neighbors around it have risen to defend and preserve the ecological treasure that it is. As Chuckanut Ridge, Hundred Acre Wood, or just “the woods” it is well known, and a great number of people who live around this beautiful, mature forest and the wetlands nestled inside feel very passionately about their future.
Between now and February 12th, voters who live nearest what we now call the Chuckanut Community Forest will have the opportunity to secure it as a city park forever.
In the fall of 2011, with the property finally available for purchase, our City Council voted to purchase it using a combination of Greenways III southside acquisition funds, southside Park Impact Fees, and a $3.2 million inter-fund loan from the Greenways III maintenance endowment. The city has been clear that the loan must be repaid or a significant portion of the property would need to be sold to do so.
A group of southside residents organized to develop a plan to repay the loan and save ALL of the property. After exploring numerous financing options, we felt that the only feasible way to do it in a timely fashion was to form a Metropolitan Park District (MPD). We just couldn’t kick this can down the road and risk losing this community asset.
The proposed MPD is called the Chuckanut Community Forest District (CCFD). The District encompasses the area west of I-5 and south of the Western campus or, the South, Fairhaven, Edgemoor, and most of the Happy Valley and South Hill neighborhoods. This past summer, needing 1100 petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, we collected almost 1700. Support, not surprisingly, was abundant and enthusiastic.
The ballot proposition proposes that the district be created for the purpose of levying a property tax, only inside the district, of $28/$100,000 assessed value for 10 years, or $70/year for a $250,000 house. This would pay off the loan and enable full and permanent protection of this park.
MPDs have existed at various times around the state since 1907. It is a great democratic tool written into Washington state law that has enabled communities to choose to band together to achieve their common parks and open space goals. Some have built pools, some recreation centers, and some have developed parks. In North Bend, the Si View MPD has seen deep voter support each time they have come back to the voters. Surely they have earned community trust and built support to achieve that. That is the record of every MPD we researched. They are grassroots democracy and community self-determination at their best and a model I believe in.
I think we can do as well here. As a homeowner and as a candidate to serve as a district commissioner, I am committed to seeing to it that this MPD performs exactly as described in the petition, on the ballot and on our website (ChuckanutCommunityForest.com). Myself, 5 other commission candidates, a hundred or more volunteers, and our many, many endorsers and donors, who have worked for years seeking the preservation of this property, now believe we are almost there. But, we need your support, too.
What this boils down to is a simple choice. If you think this land should be sold and built on, then vote no. But, if we value our beautiful setting, if we want this land preserved as a city park, if we as a community would rather leave to the future an ecological treasure than a subdivision, then now is the time to act on those values. Please vote yes for the forest, vote yes for parks and healthy recreation, vote yes for wetlands and the salmon they support. Please Vote Yes for the Chuckanut Community Forest District.