The Bellingham Planning Commission (PC) is about to have four vacancies, out of a seven-member panel, that need to be filled by January 1st. (See PC Member Table at left) Leaving the commission, because of their term limits, are Phyllis McKee and Ali Taysi. Also leaving is Steve Crooks, who had originally filled a partial term because of a commissioner’s departure, and who is eligible for another four-year term but has indicated that he too will step down. I confirmed yesterday that MacKenzie Graham, appointed by the mayor just four months ago, has also abruptly resigned. One month ago, Mayor Fleetwood appointed Rose Lathrop to the commission to fill what was a remaining empty seat (noted as VACANT in red), vacated and never filled during the Linville administration. This is significant turmoil at a time when the city is considering changes in residential-multi zones and a redefinition of “family,” both of which have broad consequences in single-family zoned areas. The PC has also been called upon by the Director of Planning to effect an extraordinary review and to make recommendations on the CityView private dormitory project in the Puget Neighborhood. All of these issues will likely span into the new year, leaving the 2021 commission filled with novices.
The appointment of Graham a mere four months ago was met with considerable consternation from some members of the public since she ran the election campaign of the mayor’s opponent, April Barker. A main complaint, aside from her political views against the mayor, was that she has never participated in the least in planning activities. Virtually unknown, other than by her management of the Barker campaign, she was not active in any neighborhood associations, nor is there any mention of her in any Planning Commission proceedings over the last ten years. The pushback to her nomination to the commission was such that Mayor Fleetwood felt it necessary to defend his choice before the City Council. (View his remarks here at 1:09:00 on the video counter.) Although he did not specifically mention Graham, the message was clear to those aware of the opposition to her. For her to flit away a mere four months after the mayor’s laudatory remarks merits an explanation and, perhaps, an apology from Graham.
According to recent changes in the BMC 2.42.010 (regarding the Planning and Development Commission) with respect to the composition of the commission, the mayor is subject to some limitations:
“No more than three voting members of the commission may engage principally in the buying, selling, developing, construction of, or investment in real estate for profit as individuals or be members of any partnership, or officers or employees of any corporation, that engages principally in the buying, selling, developing, construction of, or investment in real estate for profit. This subsection also applies to professionals, consultants, and advisors for whom a majority of clients and customers engage principally in the buying, selling, developing, construction of, or investment in real estate for profit. The limitation of this subsection includes, but is not limited to: real estate investors (land and real property), realtors, real estate developers, development and environmental consultants, architects, appraisers, construction contractors, and landscapers. This limitation also applies to those who actively engaged in any of these activities or occupations within the last five years.”
The only person with any appreciable experience on the commission will be its current president, Mike Estes, appointed in 2017 and who falls into the non-developer categories in the code portion cited above. Scott Jones, appointed as of January 1st, is also not in the above categories. At least two of the upcoming appointments must therefore be made from “non-development” applicants. In any event, we will launch into 2021 with a commission substantially devoid of experience.