On Loss of Trust, Broken Process, and Failed Commitments in Bellingham

Byy On
• In Bellingham,

There are several continuing and grave concerns regarding the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Ordinance update process that I initially wrote about last December in a piece entitled “City’s First Step to Rezone/Upzone Single Family Neighborhoods.”

Questions still remain: Has the city honored its prior commitments? Has the city complied with the terms of its contract with the neighborhoods? Moreover, has the city met the legal requirement – and the intent – of the Growth Management Act (GMA)? The chronology below indicates that the answer to each question is “NO.”

At a Sept. 7, 2017, work session, Assistant Planning Director Greg Aucutt promised the Planning Commission that his staff would present the commission’s recommendations to the Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission (MNAC), obtain their input, and then report that input back to the commission. But since the planning department staff did not meet with the neighborhood group as promised, none of that happened. Which left the commission without vital input from the neighborhoods to assist in their deliberations. (See exchange at the 0:40 second mark of the video at this link)

Then, at the Nov. 6, 2017, meeting of the City Council’s planning committee, Mayor Linville promised that staff would engage each neighborhood association in a dialogue, “prior to throwing something out there.” But staff has not met with every neighborhood, and the ordinance has already been drafted. In other words, staff is “throwing something out there” before meeting with each neighborhood association as Linville promised. (Her remarks are at the 1:34 mark of the video at this link)

The problems began at the earlier Sept. 7, 2017, Planning Commission work session, when commission members dramatically broadened the scope of the ADU Ordinance update: they recommended legalizing Detached Accessory Dwelling Units (DADUs) in ALL single family neighborhoods. By contrast, city staff’s recommendation was to adopt the Happy Valley pilot project and allow DADUs in single-family zoned areas “on a per neighborhood basis.” The “per neighborhood basis” process was first instituted when the Infill Housing Toolkit was adopted in 2009 and has never been changed. The commission’s decision is not only a rejection of staff’s recommendation, but a reversal of a longstanding process.

A second problem is that the public was not made aware of the extraordinary expansion from just one neighborhood to all neighborhoods. The public was not informed in the notice for the Sept. 7, 2017, work session. Nor were they made aware of this scope expansion when meeting materials for future work sessions were published. Nor was this extraordinary change mentioned when the notice of the public hearing was published, originally scheduled for Dec. 7, 2017. And, once again, this expansion of scope was not mentioned in the published notice to reschedule the public hearing to Jan. 25, 2018.

Finally, on Dec. 20, 2017, THREE-AND-A-HALF MONTHS after-the-fact, the change that would allow detached accessory dwellings in one neighborhood, but was quietly expanded to all neighborhoods, was mentioned when staff re-issued a notice for the Jan. 25, 2018, public hearing. Staff’s failure to notify the public of this significant expansion of scope for three and a-half months brings us to a third problem: violation of the GMA’s requirement for “early and continuous public participation.”

The public cannot be expected to participate, on an “early and continuous basis,” if they are not informed about the content of the proceedings for three-and-a-half months. Expecting the public to randomly attend a Planning Commission work session or watch it on BTV does not meet the GMA requirement for “broad dissemination of proposals.” (RCW 36.70A.140)

A recent public comment to the Planning Commission about engagement is telling:

“You can’t just have a work session where the public was allowed to attend and have that qualify as including all the stake holders. You can’t have a dialogue or even receive input on an issue by “Educating” the citizens as to your position on that issue. Having a dialogue requires listening; and listening requires that you do more than just hear words. You must understand the concerns and acknowledge them as well as work collaboratively to find solutions to those concerns. While this process takes time and effort it is the only way to avoid the sense of alienation and distrust that the city has created with some of the neighborhoods.”

In 2009, the City Council committed to a process for adding Infill Toolkit housing units to single family zoned areas. That process is being pushed into the city’s memory hole. The ordinance that implemented the city’s Infill Toolkit (Ordinance No 2009-08-047) includes two clauses that describe the extensive public process, negotiation, and consensus-building involved in adopting the city’s Toolkit legislation.

In conjunction with the adoption of the Infill Toolkit Ordinance, the city also published the Infill Housing Toolkit Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Sheet. This FAQ Sheet remained on the city’s website from the inception of the Infill Toolkit until just a few months ago when staff removed it. Item 3 of the FAQ Sheet documents the agreement regarding application of toolkit housing units in single-family zoned areas. This was a negotiated agreement between the city and the neighborhoods. It is a promise, a commitment, a contract that says “the Toolkit will not apply in single-family zoned areas.” The agreement specifies how Toolkit housing units could be added to an existing single-family zone. The negotiated process requires a proposal by the neighborhood association, a property owner, or a developer using a Type VI legislative rezone. Notably, legalizing Toolkit units in all single-family zoned areas based on a recommendation by the Planning Commission is NOT part of that negotiated process; which is the fourth problem in our current process.

Because DADUs are specifically listed as one of the nine Toolkit housing types, the above process also applies to the legalization of DADUs in single-family zones, i.e, they are prohibited. The commission’s recommendation to legalize DADUs in all single-family zoned areas citywide violates this contract, which first requires a proposal by the neighborhood association, property owner or developer. Only the Happy Valley Neighborhood Association submitted a proposal using the Type VI process. No other proposals were submitted.

In November of last year, I wrote to the planning director about his remark that since attached ADUs were already allowed, adding DADUs was only a change in bulk and dimension. According to him, it was not a city-wide change to single family zoning and not really a rezone. I said:

“With respect to your comments about DADUs changing only bulk and dimensional requirements is a red herring. The fact is that DADUs were included among the dwelling types placed in the ordinance by the city council under the rubric of the Infill Tool Kit. That makes DADUs a Tool Kit form that REQUIRES a Type VI process and not some verbal gymnastics that redefine by administrative fiat what was defined as being included by council many years ago but now proves inconvenient. …I am baffled that the city now seems ready to spend considerable political capital and force this action forward for a housing type you have described many times and in different venues as not being one that will solve the city’s housing problems. Is this worth trashing a social contract with the neighborhoods? I think not.

So, has the city acted in good faith? Honored its commitments? Complied with the terms of its contract with the neighborhoods? Met the legal requirement – and the intent – of the Growth Management Act (GMA) and their own Infill Toolkit agreements? Taken together, the four actions listed above serve to erode citizen trust in city government. The city should comply with all GMA requirements and honor each of these commitments, especially its contract with the neighborhoods to legalize Toolkit housing types, including DADUs, on a per-neighborhood basis.

[Note: This article is an edited version of a letter from the Bellingham Neighborhood Coalition to the Planning Commission. The original letter can be found here.}

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

Geoff Middaugh

Feb 01, 2018

Excellent comments.    My concerns aren’t about whether or not ADU’s are bad, or good, or whatever.  It all depends: where, how, what, and why and neighbors should have a voice.    Instead, we get to pilot DADUs for the entire city, with the decisions made by the Planning Dirctor, and no neigbhorhoods issues are to be addressed.    There’s a lot of agreement on owner occupancy, parking, setbacks, and heights, but these will be decided for the entire city, 12,234 lots (by the COB’s own estimate), and negative impacts aren’t a concern.   Major loss of trust!   


Dianne Foster

Feb 02, 2018

Thank-you Dick, for your (as usual) perceptive insights.   Some days it feels like we’re in an uphill battle against the development growth industry, and that the public only perceives this to be a limited issue of cute little backyard granny pads vs. the scrooges who don’t like them.   Taken as a whole,  all 4 pending ordinances would spell the end of neighborhood self-determination,  and the Ballardizing of Bellingham.   Especially the absentee-owned  houses in historic areas without covenances could be bulldozed to put 2 buildings per lot.   And the infill toolkit magically arrives….  voila, you have ugly growth,  just as bad as ugly sprawl,  but turned inward.  We might trust the city’s future  regulations if only they enforced the present ones.


Larry Horowitz

Feb 04, 2018

At the Feb. 1st planning commission work session, commissioner Iris Maute-Gibson moved to legalize DADUs in all single-family zoned areas citywide.  The motion passed 4-2 with Steve Crooks absent.  

Iris spoke at length about why neighborhood input and neighborhood planning should be abolished in favor of top-down, cookie-cutter, autocratic dictates.  While she didn’t use those words exactly, her meaning is clear.  It turns out that according to some political scientist (Iris?), neighborhoods cannot be trusted to do the right thing.  Really, doesn’t Happy Valley’s pilot project disprove that notion?

In favor of Iris’ motion were commissioners Garrett O’Brien, Ali Taysi, and Mike Estes.  Opposed were Lisa Anderson and Phyllis McKee.

Dick, perhaps your next article should be titled, “Why do Iris, Garrett, Ali, and Mike hate our neighborhoods?”


Kevin Covey

Feb 04, 2018

Hi Larry,

A dip into google scholar indicates that there is indeed a robust literature concerning the nature and motivation of local reaction to projects ranging from affordable housing developments, alternative energy facilities, and shelters/housing for disadvantaged or immigrant communities. 

I’ve included some links below; you might be heartened to know that one of the themes that comes out of these studies seems to be that people’s sense of attachment to place, and involvement in process, correlates with their response to the project.  That may also help explain why folks who are used to having their involvement coordinated via neighborhood associations are expressing a significant loss of trust in the traditional planning process, whereas people like me are more comfortable having these decisions made at the municipal level. 

Another point I’d make is that it is easy to attack those of us who are in favor of this planning change by saying that we don’t trust neighborhoods to do the right thing. I’d suggest that one reason that this issue is so hard to resolve is that we may in good faith disagree about what the ‘right thing to do’ actually is. 

I believe that Iris, Garrett, Ali and Mike love our neighborhoods, just as Lisa and Phyllis do—the difference in their votes probably has less to do with their feelings of love and hate vis a vis our neighborhoods, but rather in how they perceive the neighborhood’s best interest, and what actions will produce the best outcomes in service of those values. 



a few examples of papers investigating the divergence between communities attitudes towards projects globally vs. locally:

* Thirty years of North American wind energy acceptance research: what have we learned?

Key quote: “Issues of fairness, participation, and trust during the development process influence acceptance.”


* The Factors driving the Escalation of Community Opposition to Affordable Housing Development

Key quote: “Five factors are identified that escalated individual opposition campaigns in this case: public notification procedures; sense of injustice; prejudice; strong campaign leadership; and the involvement of politicians. “


* Assessing the Determinants of Renewable Electricity Acceptance Integrating Meta-Analysis Regression and a Local Comprehensive Survey

Key quote: “Empirical evidence shows that in many countries, consumers are willing to pay a significant amount to facilitate adoption of RE [renewable electricity]. By contrast, environmental externalities are often the cause of strong opposition to RE adoption if local communities are involved as stakeholders in wind, solar or biomass investment projects.”


* Do Objections Count? Estimating the Influence of residents on housing development assessment in Melbourne

Key quote: “It is found that objection numbers increase significantly with local socio-economic status and that, as applications receive more objections, elected representatives more often intervene. ... The paper argues that local contestation of housing, particularly from better-resourced groups, is highly adaptable to reforms seeking to overcome or rationalise it.”


Larry Horowitz

Feb 04, 2018

I’m not particularly impressed or swayed by any of the articles your Google Scholar search has unearthed.

And you don’t have to do much searching to understand how Iris, Garrett, Ali, and Mike feel about neighborhood input.  Simply attend a  PC work session (or watch the video).  I’ve been doing so for awhile (or at least I did until I could no longer stomach it).  Why do you think City Council voted unanimously in 2016 to change the makeup of the PC?

It’s laughable that anyone might conceive that Iris, Garrett, Ali, and Mike have a better idea than the neighborhoods themselves as to what’s best for them.  Even funnier is the idea that a one-size-fits-all, top-down, cookie-cutter, autocratic directive is best for any neighborhood.  Seriously, that’s what you think?  Or do just want to build a DADU in your yard without any neighborhood input?

More specifically, regarding the issue at hand, in 2009 the city entered into a binding agreement with the neighborhoods after an extensive education, participation, and negotiation process that resulted in consensus.  This process and consensus are evidenced by two Whereas Clauses in the 2009 Infill Toolkit ordinance itself and are examined in the Jan. 30, 2018, BNC comment letter to City Council and the planning commission.

The binding agreement is reproduced as Item 3 of the city’s Infill Housing Toolkit FAQ Sheet:

“The Toolkit will not apply in single-family zoned areas.  However, one or more Toolkit forms could be proposed by a neighborhood association or by a property owner or developer for addition to an existing single-family zone using a Type VI legislative rezone process.”

The April 2009 Staff Report on adopting the Infill Toolkit ordinance concludes with regard to applying the Toolkit in single-family zoned areas:

“Allowing the Infill Housing Toolkit to apply in all areas of the City would definitely improve the opportunities for infill in our community. However, all of these forms may not be appropriate in all parts of our neighborhoods. The City’s Comprehensive Plan clearly states as follows:

“FLU-1 – It is the City’s overall goal to preserve and protect the unique character and qualities of the existing neighborhoods. All policies, proposed development code and zoning changes should be reviewed with this goal in mind.

“Bellingham is built on the diversity of its 24 neighborhoods. By applying the Toolkit unilaterally across all of the residential areas, this implies that all the neighborhoods are the same and that all residential areas are appropriate for all infill housing types. This is not necessarily the case, and would apply a blanket approach rather than distinguishing which areas might be appropriate for certain infill forms.”

This is exactly the reason the city adopted the “per-neighborhood” basis approach for adding toolkit forms to single-family zoned areas.

And this is exactly the reason that Council should uphold its binding agreement with the neighborhoods and reject the planning commission’s recommendation to adopt the top-down, cookie-cutter approach of legalizing DADUs in all single-family zoned areas citywide.


Kevin Covey

Feb 04, 2018

Larry, I have been attending and watching the PC meetings, so I’m well informed on this issue. 

And I don’t think it is laughable that the commissioners value neighborhood input—they sat through more than three hours of it on the 25th, and referred back to it frequently during their Feb. 1st meeting.

And yes, I do think that there are reasons to believe that a city-wide land-use policy may be the best decision for the city’s residents.  Are traffic laws or criminal codes a ‘top-down, cookie cutter approach’?  We don’t ask neighborhood associations to set those policies, so it isn’t clear to me why we should treat land-use policies any differently.

I don’t plan to build a D-ADU on my property any time soon, and I doubt most of my neighbors will either, which is part of why I find the ‘destroying our neighborhoods’ rhetoric a bit overheated. But I think there are very good reasons why my neighbors may want to build a D-ADU, and there will be benefits to the neighborhood and city for allowing them to proceed, so I have concerns about giving absolute veto power to those with the time, energy and resources to vigorously attend neighborhood association meetings.


Larry Horowitz

Feb 04, 2018

1) If you are so well informed, then you already understand that Bellingham residents invested thousands of hours in 2008 and 2009 to attend a series of three community workshops, including Planning Academy II, Achieving Infill, and Enhancing Character, in addition to attending numerous public meetings.  These are described in the tenth Whereas Claus of the August 2009 ordinance that adopted the Infill Toolkit.

These residents worked with city staff to develop a consensus - a binding agreement - to only allow toolkit forms in single-family zones on a “per neighborhood” basis after a proposal is submitted by a neighborhood, property owner or developer and after undergoing a Type VI rezone process.

This binding agreement cannot be amended unilaterally by Iris, Garrett, Ali, and Mike, regardless of how much power they seem to believe they have.  Amendment of a binding agreement requires the approval of both parties - City Council and the neighborhoods.  The community comment letter against the PC’s recommendation signed by 427 community members is a clear indication that the neighborhoods don’t approve.  In addition to this letter, there are dozens of other letters and oral testimony against citywide legalization of DADUs.  By contrast, less than 100 people spoke or wrote in favor of the PC’s recommendation.

As detailed in my previous comment, the 2009 Staff Report clearly explains why the city chose the “per neighborhood” rather than “citywide” basis for adding toolkit forms to single-family neighborhoods.  Staff’s reasoning is substantially stronger than your argument that a citywide policy is best because “traffic laws” and “criminal codes” are also citywide.  In terms of the unique character, qualities, and diversity of Bellingham’s neighborhoods, you are comparing apples and oranges, and your argument falls flat.

2) Yes, commissioners sat through three hours of testimony on Jan. 25th because that is what is required of them.  And no, the commissioners did not consider all relevant testimony, both written and oral.  There are more than a dozen issues raised by the Bellingham Neighborhood Coalition (BNC) and myself that were never considered and responded to, as required by the Growth Management Act.  In particular, the PC never addressed the 2009 binding agreement and consensus referred to in the Infill Toolkit Ordinance and detailed in the Infill Housing Toolkit FAQ Sheet (item 3).

This agreement is referenced in BNC’s 10/3/17 letter,  BNC’s 1/17/18 letter, my 1/20/18 letter, and BNC’s 1/30/18 letter.  Not a whisper was heard from the PC about this issue during their 40-minute deliberation on Feb. 1 prior to voting to recommend citywide legalization of DADUs citywide.  

3) I have not used any “destroying our neighborhoods” rhetoric in my comment above, so I find your reference to it not worth responding to.  I never claimed that there are no benefits to DADUs in the appropriate location; however, there are also many locations where the adverse impacts far outweigh the benefits.  If you believe that DADUs are so wonderful, then you should have no problem convincing your neighbors, and you should not fear the neighborhood input that you so clearly want to preclude from the process.

That process does not require anyone to “vigorously attend neighborhood meetings,” as you claim.  As evidenced by the process utilized by the last York neighborhood rezone, the neighborhood associations can reach out to all residents in the neighborhood to solicit their input and vote.  The “veto power” rhetoric is nothing more than a strawman argument.

The bottom line is that we must honor the incredible investment of time and energy by residents and staff when the Infill Toolkit was adopted in 2009.  This investment procured the consensus needed for citizen buy-in and resulted in a binding agreement necessary for the toolkit to move forward.  We cannot arbitrarily and unilaterally void that investment of time and energy, the consensus achieved, and the binding agreement secured.  Doing so will further erode trust in city government at a time when that trust is so fragile.


Ron Judd

Feb 05, 2018

How much “... time, energy and resources” does it take to “vigorously attend” a monthly neighborhood association meeting? 


Dick Conoboy

Feb 05, 2018

 “Rigorously” perhaps?  Could have been that nasty machine correction.



Kevin Covey

Feb 06, 2018

Hi Ron,

I understand that the obstacles that can prevent participation in neighborhood association meetings aren’t massive, but they are present and systemic, and I think they do have an influence on those who are able to participate.

I think the standard scheduling for neighborhood association meetings is 7-9pm-ish, without childcare provided.  In practice, this means that the folks who are best positioned to attend are:

a) employed at 9-5ish jobs, or retired;

b) childless, an empty nester, or at bare minimum in a dual-parent household so that one parent can hold down the homefront (and hopefully represent both partner’s wishes), or have the financial resources to hire a babysitter;

c) similarly, lacks significant elder care responsibilities.

From my experience, it seems like this skews the crowd to be a bit older, and bit more financially secure, than is typical in many neighborhoods.  That in turn can be another disincentive for folks who don’t fit neatly into that existing demographic, who won’t really see themselves as a part of the community that shows up.

For those reasons, I think there is a good case to be made for favoring venues for lasting decisions like this where there are transparent mechanisms for people to submit written or electronic comment, and to monitor the proceedings electronically via archived videos, as our usual governmental bodies provide.  That can’t eliminate all the advantages and disadvantages to participation, but it hopefully levels the playing field some so that the full range of opinions and perspectives can influence the debate, and where the decision-makers have to operate with a high degree of transparency.

As for why I chose the word ‘vigorously’—I’m not sure I can give a good explanation for that one!  (routine/regularly/consistently would probably have been a better choice, I think)



Ron Judd

Feb 06, 2018

Hi Kevin,

From my perspective there are countless opportunities for one to participate in local government. Failure to do so and then griping about the result has become a national pastime.  Here’s a prediction: You could have neighborhood open-house style meetings around the clock, or even come to people’s doors, and the roster of people who choose to educate themselves on an issue and participate would be pretty darn similar. Suggesting that the opinions of those who do make the effort should be somehow discounted isn’t a very productive way to improve the non-participatory dynamic, is it?

As to the issue at large: I don’t have a blazing passion for the ADU issue one way or the other. But the point I hear being made here is that the city, by long past practice, has established the neighborhood council system as a way to collect feedback and guidance from the people. If that structure isn’t working, maybe it’s time to look at that in a systemic way. But it’s neither appropriate nor cool for the city to establish that contract with the people and then abandon it whenever it’s at cross purposes with council members’ own political agendas, IMO.

Also your analogy comparing land use policies to traffic laws is somewhat baffling. There are ample reasons to have standardized laws for public safety issues  and policies tailored to retain the character of unique places where people live .

 Having said that, I appreciate the discussion here. Anything that draws more people’s interest in decisions of this import is a good thing.



Larry Horowitz

Feb 06, 2018

Ron, thanks for your comment.  For the first time, I feel that someone actually appreciates the point I’ve been trying to make for awhile.

The neighborhood associations have been involved in neighborhood planning for decades. Prior to the Infill Toolkit being adopted in 2009, neighborhood residents invested hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in a series of community workshops arranged by the planning department.

The neighborhoods and the planning staff collaborated to develop a consensus for where toolkit housing forms could be used and how these forms could be added to single-family zoned areas.  This consensus formed the basis for the binding agreement between the city and the neighborhoods.  This binding agreement is documented as item 3 of the Infill Housing Toolkit FAQ Sheet and in several planning documents leading up to the adoption of the Toolkit.

Evidence that this binding agreement is being adhered to by both the city and the neighborhoods is provided by the recent process the Happy Valley Neighborhood Association followed to add detached ADUs to its single-family neighborhood through its proposal for a DADU Pilot Program.

We do not yet know if this contract is “at cross purposes with council members’ own political agendas” because council has not yet held any work sessions on the ADU ordinance update.  However, it is clear that the contract is at cross purposes with the political agendas of certain planning commission members, including Iris Maute-Gibson, Garrett O’Brien, Ali Taysi, and Mike Estes.

I agree that it is neither “appropriate” nor “cool” for the PC members to breach this contract, but that is what Iris, Garrett, Ali, and Mike have done.

Regarding the neighborhood associations’ ability to engage all members of the neighborhood, the York Neighborhood Association has proven that this can be done without the need to vigorously attend neighborhood meetings when the York Neighborhood rezone proposal was adopted by council several years ago.    The issue of attending neighborhood meetings, especially with so many available options to communicate with each other, is a strawman argument that carries no weight.

Again, Ron, thank you for confirming that it’s still possible to convey a message in a way that it is understood.  I was about to give up.


Kevin Covey

Feb 09, 2018

Hi Ron, & Larry,

Apologies for the lag time in responding—one of those weeks… 

RE: the traffic analogy—though it sounds like I may be the only one who finds it convincing, I confess that I don’t really see a difference between ceding authority on land use or traffic laws to neighborhood associations.  In both cases, it could be argued that those with first-hand experience of the situation are best positioned to oversee the rules of the road: in the case of land use, the argument is that residents know what kinds of structures and uses will work best, and similarly I could argue that I understand traffic patterns and conditions on my local streets the best, so should have a hand in deciding speed limits, decisions about right of way, etc. 

Now, in the case of traffic, I’m glad we don’t take that approach.  First, it could cause a lot of confusion to have traffic laws changing from neighborhood to neighborhood, and there could also be a conflict between what is ‘best’ on the small scales (ie, low speed limits and extensive traffic calming measures) and what makes for the common good (ie, a large scale system with consistent rules that mixes thoroughfares and side streets in a way that serves the entire community as well as possible). So city and state governments work to develop transportation plans, which are adjusted based on input from residents, but where residents don’t have a strict veto power over individual changes either.  That kind of system of balancing competing interests seems to work reasonably well for the transportation system, so I don’t see why decisions about how to use the land in between our houses for the common good should be made so differently from the land on which our houses sit (which is also a sign that I think, as others do, that part of the issue here is that land use policies suffer from some of the same conflicts between competing interests).

Anyway, as I said, I may be the only one conviced by that analogy, but that’s ok—ultimately, I think this discussion suggests that our thoughts on the process seem closely linked to our thoughts on the outcomes, and vice versa, so trying to completely disentangle them might be a lost cause.

Still, I mainly wanted to chime in to push back on the notions that:

a) Iris was uninformed, because there clearly is a strong body of work that supports her position, even if Larry disagrees with that position, and more importantly, 

b) that I strongly disagree with the characterization that people like me who are advocating for changes in our land-use policies ‘hate our neighborhoods’, or somehow possess political agendas that the other side somehow lacks. 

If I hated my neighborhood, I wouldn’t have spent the last two years going to our neighborhood association meetings, or following the planning commission’s work so that I can offer an informed opinion.  And doing so doesn’t somehow make me a political hack —or at least, if it does, I don’t understand why those on the other side wouldn’t be as well.

Long story short, I doubt we’re all ever going to agree on this, which is fine: folks are free to make up their minds as to what arguments are and aren’t convincing.  But hopefully hearing the unconvincing arguments from the source helps expose the issues and values that are leading folks to the positions that they have. Even more, hopefully it helps remind us that everyone involved thinks they are working in their community’s best interest, which is why the feelings are so passionately held.


Larry Horowitz

Feb 09, 2018

1. Comparing traffic laws to DADUs is like comparing apples and oranges because: (1) traffic laws are designed to address public safety for residents and non-residents alike and require a vantage point larger than a single neighborhood; and (2) DADUs impact neighborhood vitality and character, both of which are protected by State Senate Bill (SSB) 5567 and RCW 36.70A.070(2).   Public safety goals are very different from neighborhood vitality and character.   Neighborhoods don’t have the technical knowledge needed to plan for traffic safety.  But, as Planning Director Rick Sepler wrote in terms of preserving the “unique sense of place” of Bellingham’s neighborhoods, “No one knows a community as well as the people who live and work there.”  While neighborhood residents are not qualified to design traffic systems, they are uniquely qualified to protect neighborhood vitality and character.

Moreover, Bellingham City Council did not hold a series of traffic workshops with community members or work collaboratively to develop consensus and enter into a binding agreement over traffic-related issues.  Conversely, with regard to the city’s Infill Toolkit housing forms, of which DADUs are one, the city held 3 planning workshops and held numerous meetings to inform the neighborhoods, develop consensus and enter into an agreement regarding how these forms would be added to single-family zoned areas.

Apples.  And.  Oranges.

2.  Regarding your “push back” on the notion that Iris was uninformed, who made that claim?  My point is that Iris cannot unilaterally overturn a binding agreement between the city and the neighborhoods dating back to 2009.

3. Regarding your assertion that “people like you” hate our neighborhoods, again, I did not make that claim.  I asserted that the four planning commissioners who voted to recommend that the city violate an agreement with the neighborhoods that provides for their input on how toolkit housing forms are allowed in single-family zones indicates how they feel about those neighborhoods.  That feeling ain’t mutual love and respect. No one has claimed that Kevin Covey hates his neighborhood.  I have no idea where you got that from.

4.  In my mind, the primary issue is not whether DADUs are good or bad.   As I’ve written many times, most recently in my Jan. 20, 2018, comment letter:

“The benefits of DADUs must be weighed against the probable and significant adverse impacts these DADUs will impose. These benefits and adverse impacts will be different in each neighborhood, on each block, and in every backyard. They must be carefully evaluated contextually based on the location where they will be placed.

“The Planning Commission, and many who have submitted comment letters, act as if DADUs are the same no matter where located. Clearly, this is not the case. That is why City Council wisely made the decision to allow DADUs – and all toolkit housing forms – to be added to single-family zoned areas on per neighborhood basis rather than citywide.

The issue at hand is not whether DADUs are good or bad. In some places, the benefits will outweigh the adverse impacts. In others, the adverse impacts will outweigh the benefits. Neither the Planning Commission nor City Council is in a position to consider where DADUs will be beneficial and where they will be detrimental. That detailed evaluation is best performed by the neighborhood residents and their associations. This is the promise the City made in 2009.”


Kevin Covey

Feb 09, 2018

Hi Larry,

Again, I think we disagree—my point is precisely that land use policy *does* require a vantage point larger than a single neighborhood, as the land use policies that neighborhoods make will have significant effects on city residents outside those neighborhoods.  I understand you disagree, which is why I think you find the analogy unconvincing; that underlying difference in how we envision the common good is why we end up coming to different opinions on the best policy and process.

I may have misinterpreted the intent of your initial mention of Iris’ explanation for why this policy should be applied in a city-wide fashion.  It seemed like you were questioning if there was any evidence that localities will offer differing levels of support to policies when they are presented in the abstract vs. a more local implementation.

I also understand that you didn’t direct the ‘hate our neighborhoods’ line at me directly, but since I do support a city-wide implementation on the grounds of both content and process, I don’t see why it wouldn’t apply to me either.  I know you believe that the existing policies serve as a contract between the city and neighborhoods that precludes deviations from the policy or approach that led to it, but I’m not convinced.  My reading of the 2009 policy is that it did set up a system whereby neighborhood associations would submit a request if they wanted to enable D-ADUs to be constructed in their neighborhoods, and I think the city is upholding that policy, which is why the happy valley proposal is currently under consideration.  That doesn’t preclude a change in the underlying policy regarding if future applications should still be necessary, though, which is why the planning commission is considering a city-wide implementation after taking several years of comment on the issue. 

I know you disagree, and choose to interpret a WHEREAS clause describing the process that led to the 2009 policy as a binding legal contract that means the policy can only be updated with the positive assent of neighborhood bodies. That seems implausible to me, though, and if I’m wrong and it is that cut and dry, than presumably any policy change that does happen will be quickly overturned on a legal basis.  To me, it seems more plausible that there is no explicit or implicit contract, and that it is completely proper to have a civic conversation that considers if our neighborhoods and city would be best served by a new process and outcome. 

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that you won’t find that convincing, and that’s ok! But that is the position I hold, and it seems substantively similar to the positions of the commissioners whose motivations you are questioning, so it isn’t obvious to me why I shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush… 



Larry Horowitz

Feb 09, 2018

1) Yes, with regard to the “per neighborhood” vs. “citywide” approach, we do disagree.  Time and time again, city officials highlight that it is Bellingham’s unique neighborhoods, rather than a “cookie-cutter collection of spaces,” that makes Bellingham a “memorable community.”   The planning commission is recommending an autocratic, top-down, cookie-cutter, citywide directive.  How does that preserve the unique sense of place that each neighborhood contributes towards Bellingham’s memorable places?

When the Toolkit was adopted in 2009, staff prepared a report dated April 16, 2009, which states:

“Allowing the Infill Housing Toolkit to apply in all areas of the City would definitely improve the opportunities for infill in our community. However, all of these forms may not be appropriate in all parts of our neighborhoods. The City’s Comprehensive Plan clearly states as follows:

“FLU-1 – It is the City’s overall goal to preserve and protect the unique character and qualities of the existing neighborhoods. All policies, proposed development code and zoning changes should be reviewed with this goal in mind.

Bellingham is built on the diversity of its 24 neighborhoods. By applying the Toolkit unilaterally across all of the residential areas, this implies that all the neighborhoods are the same and that all residential areas are appropriate for all infill housing types. This is not necessarily the case, and would apply a blanket approach rather than distinguishing which areas might be appropriate for certain infill forms.”

This “per neighborhood” approach is the one that was adopted and is the approach that underlies the consensus and binding agreement between the city and the neighborhoods.  This per neighborhood approach is in direct opposition to the citywide approach you are promoting.

2) I never claimed that binding agreements and contracts cannot be amended, but they cannot be amended unilaterally by one party.  Doing so presents a legal, moral and ethical dilemma.  The issue at hand is trust in city government.  

The 2009 adoption of the Infill Toolkit involved a lengthy and time-consuming education and negotiation process that culminated in consensus and a binding agreement.  If the city chooses to violate that agreement, how likely is it that the community will trust the city going forward?  Citizens should not be forced to sue the city to uphold these agreements, promises, and commitments, which are not put in place with expiration dates. 

The city should not renege on its promise, commitment, and agreement.  So, yes, honoring this promise and commitment does “preclude a change in the underlying policy” if done so unilaterally as the planning commission has recommended.

3) I won’t comment on your presumption that you are being “tarred with the same brush” other than to say that it’s unfair and inappropriate to put words in another person’s mouth.


Jon Humphrey

Feb 14, 2018

On the issue of trust, I refer you to the most recent article that I posted here on my fiber efforts. Although we have some excellent, hardworking people at the COB, right now their leadership has basically started a dumpster fire. Even as they continue to burn and undermine the interests of the bottom 92% of us, they still focus on protecting the very wealthy. This is why I personally see no real difference between the parties. The Democrats sure do talk a good game in relation to social justice, etc. but when push comes to shove they are just as dirty as the Republicans that they always talk trash about. https://nwcitizen.com/entry/cob-broadband-back-to-the-80s It’s pretty obvious to me that this government has no real party alliegance or alliegance to its populous. We need almost total replacement of the high end officials. No one working on any issue has any trust in this government right now. 


Dick Conoboy

Feb 14, 2018


I agree.  You might want to read the following article by Paul Street who speaks to the issues you raised on a national level but whose effect trickle down (interesting that the most miserable of effects do trickle down) to the states and municipalities such as our own.  This is a long read but well worth it.  We the People, Trumped by Constitution and Capitalsim.

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