An attorney for a working group* drawn from nearly 100 interested and affected residents from the Puget and Samish Neighborhoods has challenged the 176 unit density allocated to the 11.5 acre Tract F of the Hawley Property, where a local developer plans to build the CityView apartment/dormitory complex. Philip Buri of Buri Funston Mumford, PLLC in Bellingham, a local attorney representing this group of Bellingham citizens from Puget and Samish Neighborhoods, has submitted a letter to the city outlining substantial problems with the “phantom unit density” designations attributed to the tract on which local developer Morgan Bartlett of Madrona Bay Real Estate Investments wants to build CityView. [The full text of the letter and its 8 exhibits can be found here.]
Attorney Buri cuts to the chase:
“This is the story of how a caption on an unrecorded, unapproved lot layout drawing became a phantom density allowance. On November 15, 1993, Jepson and Associates produced a set of project plans for Exxel Development Company. (Exhibit H). [see link to 8 exhibits above] On page 7 of the plans, an undeveloped portion of the site, labeled “Area B,” noted a designation of 176 units. Neither the plans nor any accompanying documents explain where this number came from. It is the first mention of a density allocation, which reappears sporadically in plat maps that have never received public review, let alone approval.”
What follows are thirteen pages of analysis of the undefined and confusing density allocations to the Hawley Tract over the last several decades. City Hall was clearly asleep at the wheel over the period of the process of density determination in this case.
“For 25 years, what is now the Hawley Replat Tract F has been a conundrum for all involved, the property owner, developers, and especially the neighborhood. The phantom Unit Density of 176 has resulted in numerous efforts to develop a property beyond what is feasible. This is truly an example of trying to fit a square-peg in a round-hole. No matter how much you try to make the peg fit (height, length, geology, environment, neighborhood compatibility), it just doesn’t work.”
As of the publication of this article, the city has not received an updated and complete application for developing the site. The developer has requested several extensions to deadlines. The current extension (all are at the discretion of the planning director) is now to March 9th because, as I have been told by staff, the developer has made progress in demonstrating progress toward a final application. Nevertheless, the incertitude weighs heavily on the residents who live in proximity to this undeveloped parcel. The effect on home values is anyone’s guess, rendering home sales there hostage to the uncertainty.
Buri ends with:
“The Hawley Replat was a multi-year process that in the case of Tract F, is still a major issue for the community. The question of Unit Density has been a problem with this property, due to the size of the proposed developments, which have been completely out of character with the Comprehensive Plan, Puget Neighborhood Plan and surrounding residences. The Puget Neighborhood working group respectfully suggests it is time to start over, using the City’s own Infill Toolkit to bring all parties together, to move forward with development that fits and expands housing in the City of Bellingham.”
I personally suggest an alternative path. The city should send this issue back to the Planning Commission and the City Council in a Type VI legislative process that includes a thorough review of the record, public hearings, and a final determination on the appropriate density. Moreover, I wholeheartedly embrace the use of the more affordable Infill Tool Kit housing forms for transitional housing between single family and commercial zones.
*Full Disclosure - I am on the working group that engaged the attorney.