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CityView Pre-Application Neighborhood Meeting - Some Hot Moments

By On
• In Bellingham,

A group of already very perturbed neighbors arrived at the neighborhood meeting required in the pre-application stage of the development of CityView apartments located about 5 blocks east of the Lincoln Park and Ride lot. Morgan Bartlett, the developer, quickly realized what he was up against as he attempted to brief this project. (See my earlier article on this project: Another Attempt to Develop the Hawley Tract in the Puget Neighborhood)

He did not even get past the first briefing board when the deluge of questions began. The question of the evening was, “Is this being built for student housing?” Bartlett’s answer was that he had not yet decided. It went downhill from there. The building looked like a dorm, walked like a dorm and quacked like a dorm. It was, alas, a dorm. Quack! Most of the 50+ people present were veterans of the now defunct dormitory project called University Ridge who knew what to ask and were insistent and persistent.

Apparently anticipating the ire of the group, the city planning staff was out in force with Director of Planning Rick Sepler, Manager of Development Services Kurt Nabbelfeld, and Senior Planner Kathy Bell all in attendance.

Most notably, it appears that this will not be a Type III process that goes before the hearing examiner… unless the planning staff discovers, once the official application to build is received, that a variance of some sort would be needed to move forward. What this means is that the planning director will have approval authority as provided by city code and the Type I and II processes. There will be no hearing, only written comments, within a 14 calendar day window. When that comment period takes place depends on the developer’s submission of a complete package. The decision can be appealed but the appellants must be prepared to open their wallets. Money talks in Bellingham.

The developer will do the building construction and will operate the apartment complex after completion with a 24/7 management office. Quack! He has planned for 400 parking spaces to avoid the issue brought up last time about residents/guests parking in the neighborhood. Quack! Concern was expressed about the roof deck and attendant noise/partying. Again, sounds more like a dorm than a normal apartment building. Quack! He expects the traffic study to be done in the next few days. Many were concerned that the study was not done while WWU classes were in session. He could not answer the question about when the traffic survey was done. More to be seen. Quack!

There will be 136 three bedroom units (408 bedrooms total) of an A and B version. Each bedroom will have its own bathroom. Quack! Rates will be at market and likely about $2100 per apartment or $700 per bedroom (unfurnished). He expected the building to be ready late 2020 or in 2021. The more this looked like a student dorm, the more Bartlett declined to characterize it that way. Quack! Quack!

Many homeowners had concerns about the proximity of the building and parking lot on the west side to the homes on Nevada and Marionberry and about water runoff from the impervious surfaces to be created. The hill behind the proposed development (along Puget St.) is at 40% grade and the ground is a sieve. As far as city water delivery, one resident complained of already low water pressure and the eventual effect on overall water pressure. Bartlett agreed to re-look at his project with the neighbors concerns in mind, but after all, that is what the meeting was supposed to be about in the first place, according to city code. In reality, he doesn’t have to change a thing unless and until the city tells him to do so.

Unfortunately, this monolithic, 5-6 story edifice will be yet another ugly stick building, regardless that the developer calls it a “podium building.” These wretched buildings now proliferate throughout Bellingham adding insult to injury. (The “Stick”-ification of Bellingham)

Quality of life suffers, but with respect to the city code, like a bullet, it pays no mind. Imagine 400 students being plopped down a hundred feet from your residence. Not illegal but… City hall says “suck it up.” Got it?

You can add your comments or express your concerns about this project to Kathy Bell (at kbell@cob.org). She is the responsible planner and must ensure we get prompt notification of the developer’s final packet. Although another neighborhood meeting is not required, the developer seemed to agree to have one. But we shall see. Stay tuned.

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

Michael Chiavario

Jul 10, 2019

I am sure that you are right, Dick, that it is a student housing project. 

Aside from the issue of whether or not a student project should be built there, there are other issues that concern me:

-Did the builder attempt to work with the city or one of the local housing non-profits to find ways to include a significant percentage of affordable units?

-Did the city discourage the developer from paving over what could be community green space for parking in a location where the students have excellent acess to public transportation and don’t really need cars?

-Is the building to be constructed to any LEED or other energy standard?

-Will the building use non-fossil fuel HVAC systems?

-Has there been any attempt to work with WWU or others to find funding to make the building architecturally more pleasing and durable for the long term?

 

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Dick Conoboy

Jul 11, 2019

Michael,

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions.  I will send them to planning and ask for an answer.  Unless something is specifically demanded by the code, I doubt if the city will get involved.

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Gaythia Weis

Jul 16, 2019
  I was as, some readers may remember, the President of the Puget Neighborhood Association at the time of the University Ridge proposal.
 
In my opinion, this student housing  site has serious geological problems.  That is due to the steepness of the slope and the presence of  outflow from a groundwater aquifer bearing layer.  This groundwater flows out on the surface  as springs on the adjacent property that is set aside as open space.  But it is just below the surface on much of the property in question.  
 
Which is, in my personal opinion, why last time the developer very carefully avoided digging test holes as deep as some of the planned footings and retaining walls were intended to be.  
 
So there are structural reasons to question the wisdom of a large heavy building on this steep site.
 
I believe it has been left vacant over the years for very good reasons.  Even though view property is highly valued.
 
Additionally, one needs to consider flooding and other downhill drainage issues if this water underlying this site is pumped and diverted.   It is not just a question of creating impervious surfaces that can’t absorb rainfall that occurs directly onto this site.   This site generates water originating as groundwater from uphill.  Flooding regularly occurred downhill, along Lincoln St by the mobile home park and along Lincoln Creek.  That was true even before the amount of subsequent development  that has now been built out  along Lincoln St.  I would think that the cumulative lack of absorption and wetlands would further impact those further downstream such as by Lincoln & York.
 
The land is (or at least was at the last time I saw it) home to many substantial trees, who serve to stabilize this slope and effectively deal with the water issues.  There is/was a small stream and an under-story of ferns and other growth demonstrating how damp this slope actually is. This natural area ought to be seen a valuable community resources and kept in its current state.  The property may not meet the technical definition of a wetlands, but it is still very wet.  It’s very sponginess is a big asset.
 
Zoning is a another big issue.  Poor planning has deprived Bellingham of much of the vibrancy that a college town ought to have.
 
I now live in Colorado.
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Dick Conoboy

Jul 17, 2019

The city has answered Michael Chiavario’s questions above:

-Did the builder attempt to work with the city or one of the local housing non-profits to find ways to include a significant percentage of affordable units? The city has not had any discussions with the developer regarding affordable housing and the city is not aware of any conversations the developer may have had with a local housing non-profit.

-Did the city discourage the developer from paving over what could be community green space for parking in a location where the students have excellent acess to public transportation and don’t really need cars? Prior to receiving the pre-application conference application, the city did not have any conversations with the developer regarding this project. Concerning the amount and location of parking, the city provided the developer the following comments in response to the city’s pre-application review of the proposal:

            Multifamily design standards:

Site Design

  1. Parking Location and Design – This standard does not appear to be met. While the parking lots are located at the sides, assuming Consolidation is the front for design purposes, the parking lots have not been broken up to minimize their mass or ease for pedestrian circulation; additional pathways connecting the parking areas to the walkways adjacent to the building are necessary to satisfy this standard. A final landscape plan will need to demonstrate how the parking lots will be screened from abutting and adjacent single-family residences.
  2. Landscape Design – Parking Areas. This provision is not met and the final landscape plan should incorporate landscape islands to separate every 8 parking stalls.

Building Design:

  1. Privacy - This provision requires additional analysis. Distance alone does not privacy. The proximity of the parking to the single-family residences and the height of the building could result in privacy issues that require further analysis how mitigation should be provided.

Summary (excerpt):

Parking should not be the dominate site feature and located in a manner that minimizes impacts to the single-family residences on Nevada Street.

-Is the building to be constructed to any LEED or other energy standard? The city is not aware of the developer’s plans for this.

-Will the building use non-fossil fuel HVAC systems? The city is not aware of the developer’s plans for this.

-Has there been any attempt to work with WWU or others to find funding to make the building architecturally more pleasing and durable for the long term? The city is not aware of a public funding source that could be used by a private developer for architectural purposes. The city’s pre-application review determined that the project will require modifications to comply with the city’s development regulations and design review standards.

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