The bar for getting the city to consider rezone proposals [docketing] is set so low that if docketing were comparable to getting a driver's license, a dead drunk would easily pass the test. So it was last Thursday when the Planning Commission voted unanimously (with two absences) to recommend to the City Council to docket the rezone of the property at 801 Samish (lot just south [left] of area 8 on Samish Neighborhood Land Use map, above,) from Residential Single to Commercial Planned (non-retail). Our readers may remember my piece on an earlier attempt by the property owner and its representatives to docket this rezone without following the Type VI process required by the Bellingham Municipal Code (BMC). The council, upon receiving tremendous negative blowback from its venture into precipitous action that ignored the public, reversed its decision and asked the applicant to resubmit the rezone request under the docketing rules. You can read more about this folderol in my article entitled Planning Commission and Samish Neighbors Bypassed on Rezone Docketing. Material regarding this ill-advised rezone, including the current application and staff comments, can be found here at the city's website.
No matter that the City Council and city management are lamenting the prior creation of a patchwork of zoning throughout Bellingham, the Planning Commission blithely decided that consideration of yet another rezone of a single parcel in the middle of a residentially zoned neighborhood would be just hunky-dory. The acreage is owned by the Church of Christ which operates the church under a conditional use permit. The group interested in purchasing the property, Pacific Harbor Holding, LLC, is the legal rubric for a group psychology practice now located on Bellwether Way. Unfortunately for the group, medical offices are not a conditional use under the BMC in Single Family zoned areas, so the only path for legal use is to change the zoning to Commerical Planned. The actual application for rezone states Commercial Planned (non-retail). This designation was designed to attenuate criticism from the neighborhood by limiting the possible uses. The problem is that there is no guarantee, in spite of claims to the contrary by the psychology group, that they will be there in perpetuity. Their motives may be noble, but as is said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So once rezoned, the single family neighbors around the site could be confronted with a number of problematic uses to include... a recycling center! Ain't that just ducky?
For its part, the psychology group just loves the area. Trees, grass, single family homes, a church across the street, the Elks Club. What could be more idyllic and comforting? The problem is that the properties between the Elks Club and the Community Baptist Church opposite 801 Samish are also up for a spot rezone (Area 9 on Samish Neighborhood Land Use map above) from Commercial Planned (non-retail) to Commercial Planned that allows retail AND associated apartment buildings. Ironically, this possibility was disconcerting enough that an official of the Church of Christ (our seller of 801 Samish) came to an earlier neighborhood meeting on the rezone of these parcels out of concern that apartments and associated retail may be disturbing to his congregation and render difficult quiet contemplation. If these two rezones happen to be approved, the Community Baptist Church and the Elks Club (on either side of Area 9) will suddenly become much more interesting as potential commerical property than the present residential single designation of those parcels. The prospect of further commerical development by rezoning the Baptist church and the Elks property would likely make these parcels more valuable and exert pressure for these entities to sell their properties at an elevated price. Bye-bye idyll and comfort.
The City Council will be considering the docketing of 801 Samish at its 13 October meeting. Perhaps common sense will prevail and this rezone will be sent to the dust bin.