A short time ago, I received the following from a resident of Sunnyland. It is another story of zoning laws that do little to protect our residents while favoring businesses.This time Bellingham is welcoming yet another brewery/restaurant (Sunnyland Beer Garden - click through photos above) when what we need are businesses that provide living wages and that do not pollute or otherwise become nuisances.
“Last year [Loren Demuth and Theresa Green] acquired the properties at 500 and 508 Carolina streets. This property is directly across the street from my house, and was formerly a moving and storage yard. This property is part of a block that sticks anomalously into the residential portion of the neighborhood. It is surrounded by owner-occupied homes on three sides. There are a couple of other businesses on that block that have, over the years, been pretty good neighbors. I watched that property for a long time, hoping it would come up for sale, and that the Kulshan Community Land Trust could buy it and build homes for people who couldn’t otherwise afford homes. Instead, there is yet another brewery planned for the site.
I received no notification from the city of this project, though I did receive notification for other projects farther away from my home. The city calls this a “type 1 administrative permit,” meaning they don’t have to notify the neighbors, nor account for changes in traffic, and therefore will not have to address any mitigations, such as new speed humps on Carolina and Virginia streets to slow down the ever-increasing numbers of vehicles that will be speeding along these roads to get to the beer hall. Likewise, the city has stripped away neighbors’ abilities to substantiate and address real concerns as competing uses crash together in our increasingly mixed-use neighborhoods.
The city planner in charge of the expansion of massive amounts of traffic into the lower residential Sunnyland neighborhood seems unconcerned. He doesn’t need to gather any data to assess the area, this is a “type 1 Administrative” action, and no neighbors will be able to use data collection to do anything at all about it. “See no neighbors hear no neighbors, speak to no neighbors.” Maybe we should put that on the new Bellingham logo.”
The city’s response to these neighbors heels strictly to the law as if stuck with super glue. This brewery/restaurant is a “permitted use”, AKA, the “tough shit clause” because you have not a shred of recourse. But there is more from the planners - false hope of risible mitigation:
“In these unique situations, our codes do require sensitivity to neighboring properties, in this case additional landscaping is required between the project site and your house as well as a 25’ setback between any new improvements and the property line along Grant St. Five new street trees and additional screening will be planted along Grant St and between some limited parking on Carolina St. Grant St serves both the industrial and residential zoning districts and may be used for either types of traffic.”
The response is absolutely lacking in any understanding (or “sensitivity” - the planner’s word) of what awaits these neighbors, the remedies for which are insufficient to the task and are of the kind that drive residents of this city to distraction. This is zoning with humanity removed. This is why many citizens have such a poor regard for the ability of the city to tend to their problems while bowing to commercial enterprise in search of a lousy buck. It also points out the uselessness of the Type I process where a broad number of totally divergent projects fall into a mish-mash requiring only administrative approval. This is in line with the city’s adoption of lean processes where more and more zoning decisions are taken out of the public process domain and placed under “administrative control” ostensibly to save time and money - that is staff time and business money. The citizens, our residents and home owners, get bupkis… or a brewery/restaurant.
Guaranteed, this brewery/restaurant will present a host of continuing issues with regard to parking, noise, and litter, none of which are susceptible to immediate remediation since there are insufficient resources to enforce these violations as they are committed. Nights and weekends are the worst as police attend to other, higher priority duties, parking enforcement personnel are not available and litter control is relaxing at home. Noise complaints, probably the most likely of nuisances here, cannot be resolved unless a police officer actually hears the noise and, we all know from sad experience, will not be available short of a major riot.
The residents will then face a death by a thousand cuts as nightly disturbances seep into their lives eliminating anything having to do with quiet enjoyment. This will be a “drip, drip, drip” process of families tortured by people who do not live in the neighborhood but treat it as if it was their living room and, at times, a toilet. A code complaint form is nothing more than a bureaucratic nostrum equivalent to warm milk and cookies… “take two and call me in the morning”.
The well being of the residents in their homes should be the number one priority for the city in an upfront process and not as an afterthought when it is too late to mitigate and the damage has been done. These residents deserve to be heard and to confront directly the planners and the brewery owner(s).