Update Thur, May 6: There were administrative mistakes at city hall that prevented the mayor from phoning Daniel back. Today Seth phoned Daniel.
This letter is posted with permission from Daniel Kirkpatrick. The mayor emailed back to Daniel on the 28th, “I would enjoy talking to you in person.” Since then, the mayor has not taken Daniel's calls nor called back. - John Servais
Seth Fleetwood, Mayor, City of Bellingham
28 April 2021
On Monday, April 26th, the Bellingham City Council approved a developer’s application to vacate the Douglas Avenue Right of Way (ROW) in order to add additional units to his project. I urge you to veto this street vacation.
In 1993 I worked with many of my neighbors in Happy Valley to build a trail on the Douglas Avenue ROW between 20th and 21st Streets. This was a “Make a Difference Day” project and was sanctioned by the City Parks Department. We had watched as numerous street ROWs were vacated in our area, resulting in increased density and reduced open space while enriching developers. Our goal was to use the ROW for its intended purpose: To make it easier for people to get around. A secondary goal was to preserve open space and limit density in one of the densest parts of the City.
In the summer of 2020 a developer approached the City seeking to vacate the very ROW upon which we had built our trail, by now in continuous use for a full generation. The application should have been denied outright: City ordinances prohibit the vacation of ROWs that are already in use for public transportation purposes. The City Hearing Examiner – for reasons I cannot fathom – accepted the developer’s premise that the ROW was not in use, without apparent due diligence. After all, the City’s own trail map has shown our Douglas Avenue trail since at least 1996 – see the circled area on the attached scan. Nonetheless the Hearing Examiner approved the vacation request.
Last December, when word got out about the Hearing Examiner’s ill-advised recommendation, the City Council was deluged with input from neighbors decrying this vacation request. The City Council consequently punted the matter back to the Hearing Examiner. Upon a second review, the Hearing Examiner made no recommendation on the vacation request, again for reasons I cannot fathom. It was particularly striking for her to comment that, while some of the City’s requirements on vacating streets were not met, others were – as if the laws on the books were to be applied only as advantageous to a predetermined outcome.
Well, this week the City Council – again to the great dismay of myself and others in Happy Valley – approved the ROW vacation request. It is alarming to get the sense that the City of Bellingham is disregarding citizens’ concerns, while also treating its own statutes as relative.
You alone can correct this disturbing situation via a mayoral veto. I ask that you review this case and take courageous action. It’s not just Happy Valley residents who are watching. Anyone who has worked to improve their neighborhood, on their own time and with limited City support, has a stake in seeing the City of Bellingham stand in support of its citizens – especially when a developer wants to maximize profit at the expense of the public good.
On behalf of those of us in Happy Valley and throughout the City, please veto the Douglas Avenue ROW vacation. Thank you.
Daniel Kirkpatrick, 1132 19th Street, Bellingham WA 98225