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Just What Bellingham Needs - Another Brewery - And Amid Single Family Homes

By On
• In Bellingham,

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).

About Dick Conoboy

Writer • 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

John Lesow

Feb 23, 2018


“Zoning with humanity removed” is an accurate description of the City and County attitude that pervades what is laughingly termed “planning”.

How else to explain the City’s support for the 475 condos on top of Chuckanut Ridge, completely dismissive of the unmitigated environmental and traffic impacts that would follow?

How else to explain the County’s approval of a Conditional Use permit to build (5) 50,000 watt radio towers in Point Roberts, despite the documented health and safety impacts on Canadian and American residents living nearby?

You need a new Mayor and a reconstituted Planning Commission and City Council.

Your City of Subdued Excitement needs a revolution.


David Donohue

Feb 23, 2018

Over on the Sunnyland neighborhood board, the neighbors are completely uninterested in maintenance and improvements to the neighborhood boundary, and instead chide the article for attempting to question the process around  the next place they desire to spend their money.    Sunnyland has become fat and indolent, and I am ashamed of them.


Mike Rostron

Feb 23, 2018

Unfortunately, since a flurry of real neighborhood participation some ten years ago during the DOT site fiasco, interest has waned, and a handful of dedicated Sunnyland Neighborhood Association regulars are no match for the Blitzkrieg of the combined forces of city hall, the mayor’s office, the planning department, and development interests.

Contrast that with the York Neighborhood Association or the Columbia neighborhood, which have been more organized and more successful in getting their message out. Sunnyland is becoming a demonstration of what the future holds for the old residential neighborhoods: less owner occupied housing, more impervious surfaces, and increasing congestion and noise.

Soon the entire city will be effectively a zoning free-for-all. With enough money, you’ll be able to build anything you want anywhere you want in Bellingham.  True freedom for the wealthy—the American Way!

We don’t need yards—everyone can go to the park, right? You say yards are better for pollinators and wild creatures? We don’t want ‘em in the city anyway—the pesky critters!

And finally; single family homes are a bad idea, because they gave citizens too much privacy and independence. Easier to control if you herd them all together.


Bill McCallum

Feb 23, 2018


John, how did you come by 475 condos for Chuckanut Ridge? To my knowledge, the intended number of units was always much larger.

In 1996, the proposed Chuckanut Ridge Planned Development was for 1,464 units on 101 acres to be completed in 2013. The first Greenway levy was passed in 1997, the city of Bellingham expressed an interest in purchasing the property but was not willing to pay the asking price of $20.7 million. In 2004, it was acquired by Greenbriar Northwest Associates and Horizon Bank and the development was known as Fairhaven Highlands, the proposal was for 739 housing units on 85 acres. Horizon Bank failed in 2010 and the property was forclosed in order to purchase it from Greenbrier Northwest. On 9/28/2011, the Bellingham City Council voted to spend $8,230,000 to purchase the Chuckanut Ridge/Fairhaven Highlands property. All except $500,000 will come from Greenway levy funds.


John Lesow

Feb 24, 2018

Bill, as you point out, the actual number of “housing units” was always in flux.

In the development game,  the first step is to buy land that is not zoned for your project. The second is to change the zoning.

Had it not been for the real estate meltdown of 2008 and the failure of Horizon Bank, there would have been intensive development of the “Hundred Acre Wood”.

 The rezoning and development of Chuckanut Ridge was always supported by the City, at least until Dan Pike was elected Mayor and started serious negotiations with the owners to buy the property using Greenways funds.  

Planners love growth.  Preservation of unique environmental assets is not their mandate.

Not if they want to keep their jobs.


Larry Horowitz

Feb 24, 2018

Bill, you wrote, “On 9/22/2011, the Bellingham City Council voted to spend $8,230,000 to purchase Chuckanut Ridge/Fairhaven Highlands.  All except $500,000 will come from Greenway levy funds.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but $3.3 million of the total purchase price is being repaid by the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District, which is a separate southside Bellingham tax district.  I don’t believe the claim that all but $500,000 of the purchase price is paid by Greenways is accurate.  

And, of course, the same southside residents paying tax to the Park District also paid taxes toward Greenways.


Bill McCallum

Feb 25, 2018

Larry, my information was based on the September 2011 City Council vote. The Greenway III fund  was responsible for $3,908,000, the Greenway maintenance endowment fund loanded $3,400,000 to the Greenway III fund and $500,000 was transfered from the park impact fee fund.

The Chuckanut Community Forest Park District tax was brought to my attention yesterday. I am going to assume the tax will repay the Greenway maintenance endowment fund.



John Lesow

Feb 26, 2018

Bill, you’re missing the point in my earlier comment.   

To recap—Planners and Civic governments love growth.  And are willing to cave on zoning restrictions to satisfy their ideological fellow travelers in the development industry and allow development  in inappropriate places. Like Chuckanut Ridge.   Admit it—all cities in North America are run by liberals and developers.   Bellingham is no different.

Still, there are places in all cities that residential development is not appropriate.  Chuckanut Ridge is one. 

The City of Bellingham could temporarily address  it’s “housing crisis” by permitting development on Sehome Hill.  But that is not politically feasible.  Not yet, anyway.  But from a construction standpoint,  intensive development on Sehome Hill is logistically easier than on  Chuckanut Ridge. 

The City of Vancouver B.C.  could  temporarily address it’s housing/affordability problems by permitting condos on 100 acres in Stanley Park.   After all,  Stanley Park is close to the city (contiguous, in fact) and it covers 1,000 acres, most of it forested.  So what is the harm in using just one-tenth of Stanley Park for much needed housing?

Dick Conoboy’s characterization of Bellingham’s practice of  “Zoning with Humanity Removed” is spot on.   

Your city needs a revolution.  Getting a new Mayor that will appoint environmentally responsible folks to your recently-balanced but still growth-addicted Planning Commission would be a positive first step. 



Larry Horowitz

Feb 26, 2018

John, you and I have tried many times to overcome citizen apathy.

I get the sense that unless people can somehow personally profit from living within the region’s carrying capacity and not overshooting the limits to growth, then the Urban Growth Machine - consisting of those who profit from growth and the politicians who receive election contributions from them - will continue winning every battle in this war.

Unfortunately, the pain associated with observing the destruction of our planet’s life-sustaining ability is not sufficiently excruciating to overcome the Urban Growth Machine’s profit incentive.

So many of the problems we now experience are symptoms of our inability to accommodate more growth.

Why do we continue to listen to leaders and decision makers who claim that the solution is even more growth?


John Lesow

Feb 26, 2018


Well, you follow my lawyer’s advice from two decades ago.  “Choose your battles carefully”.   

Sometimes you win.

Chuckanut Ridge and the Point Roberts tower victory are two examples.  Few and far between, but worth fighting for…


Bill McCallum

Feb 26, 2018


The residents of Bellingham give me the impression they are very happy with the direction of the current mayor and City Council. The City Council has to confirm appointments to the Planning Commission.

In 2015, when the Mayor Kelli Linville ran for reelection she was unopposed. That year four City Council candidates also ran unopposed, three were incumbents.

In 2017, two City Council incumbents ran unopposed. In general election, the third incumbent received 74 percent of the vote and the fourth incumbent received 80 percent of the vote.

The residents of Ward 1 appear to be especially happy with the direction of city government. The last time there were two candidates for the Ward 1 position was 1995.

Lethargy prevails in Bellingham.


John Lesow

Feb 26, 2018


Yes, lethargy does prevail in Bellingham. 

And ignorance is bliss.  Maybe it’s the pot….

I still like Dick’s  “Zoning With Humanity Removed” best.

That really typifies the current situation in the City regarding Trend Management…er…excuse me, “Land Use Planning”



Ryan Knowlton

Feb 27, 2018

I think, saadly, you’re going to see that trend as the city grows. Homes turn to businesses. There will be people who do it for the business, and those that sell their home because they don’t like living among businesses to someone who will make one out of that home.  The “beer garden”, for whatever reason, is a booming business, go past the little brewery near Trader Joes and that place is always hopping.

Regarding the “residents” being happy with the government, of course they are. The majority are now all implants from richer places that bought 3 homes, rented 2,  stopped working, bought an Escalade with giant chrome wheels, and just drive around shopping and eating bon bons.   


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