With the appointment of Mike Estes to the seven member Bellingham Planning Commission at the last City Council meeting, and the pending appointment of Iris Maute-Gibson in April, the development industry lock on the membership is perceptibly lessened but not yet complete. Mike replaces Jeff Brown, a self-described long-term owner of multiple properties who has navigated land use issues and whose wife works for Northwest Ecological Services advising clients on wetland and shoreline permits for development. Iris will replace outgoing commissioner Tom Grinstad, a local architect whose seven year tenure ends on April 1st. Noteworthy also was the February 2016 appointment of Lisa Anderson, York Neighborhood Association Board member, who was approved by the council to replace realtor Cerise Noah who resigned.
Last year the City Council amended the ordinance on the city’s planning commission by limiting to three the number of members working in or associated with the development industry. Over three hundred citizens signed a letter to the council endorsing the change. Earlier attempts to demonstrate the development-heavy nature of the commission and to amend the ordinance were largely ignored by the council in 2014.
Mike and Iris were chosen from a field of 12 applicants, among whom eight were interviewed. The mayor described the twelve as a “diverse group of individuals with different backgrounds, including renters, business owners, a downtown resident and a WWU student.”
Mike works in the software development field and is a former chairman of the Whatcom Democrats. Iris made an unsuccessful bid several years ago to be appointed to the City Council to replace outgoing council member Cathy Lehman. She works as an Outreach and Development Coordinator for the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center.