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Sunnyland Deja Vu

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Guest writer Judith Green is a resident of the Sunnyland Neighborhood of Bellingham.

In March, 2012, Northwest Citizen published an article by guest writer Mike Rostron titled, Sunnyland Neighborhood Asks for Support. Not much has changed since then. We in the Sunnyland neighborhood are still “fighting city hall.” In my letter to the Planning Commission, I included many quotes from his article and the responses generated by it.

The neighborhood proposal for re-zoning the area known as the Department of Transportation (DOT) lot, initially submitted in December of 2008, will finally be considered by the City Council on July 21, 2014. The Bellingham planning department, has created their own competing plan as an alternative. They want to change the zoning in a single-family neighborhood to accommodate the Infill Toolkit, which the City Council approved for use only in neighborhoods zoned multi-family. They are recommending a Residential Multi (RM) Duplex rezone.

One of the problems with this designation is that the number of units is within a range, with a lower and upper limit. On the city website, their proposal lists 34* Maximum Primary Housing units, the lowest number in the range, with a possibility of 49 at the high end. What is not shown in this number is that within the housing types allowed, a carriage house can have an apartment above a garage and detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs), neither of which are counted in the total number of units. The recommendation states this would allow “…the property owner to design a development proposal that achieves the maximum density …” and that it would be a “… minimum acceptable alternative considering the enormous infill potential of the site.”

The Growth Management Act requires Comprehensive Plans to include a housing element “…ensuring the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods.” In their proposal, the planning department states that multi-family zoning is in keeping with neighborhood character. What? Are they kidding? Just saying it does not make it true. How does putting a multifamily development in a single-family area preserve neighborhood character? They have put forth an untruth in order to pretend to meet the requirements of the GMA. This disingenuous ploy/spin is an example of a city department that is out of control and lacks respect for the people they purport to represent.

The owner of the property is a development group known as Sunset Commons LLC, whose stakeholders are David Edelstein, Greg Hinton, and their spouses. They have planning consultant Bill Geyer representing their interests. They do not support the planning department’s current proposal for medium density. When they submitted their own plan it was for a high-density development. It has been suggested that SCLLC, in addition to higher density, doesn’t want to be restricted by any design standards that would be imposed by using the Infill Toolkit.

In August of 2008, the city hired a Seattle urban design firm to hold a Design Charrette and, adding insult to injury, spent our tax dollars to put forth a plan that reflected their vision of an infill opportunity. Mr. Edelstein participated in private meetings with the presenters, but the Sunnyland Neighborhood Association was not given the same opportunity. Nor was our proposal given the same attention to detail in the site and building graphics, with embellishments like foliage. Their vision was not acceptable to the neighborhood stakeholders or property owners.

I have a question for property rights proponents. Do developer’s rights trump those of the collective property owners in a neighborhood? We will lose value in our homes, which for many of us, represents the total of our life’s work and assets. Do we want to perpetuate the national precedent here in Bellingham, where the rich take from the middle class and become richer while the rest of us become poorer?

David Edelstein bought this piece of public land. New zoning for private use stipulates that the best use be determined by all stakeholders. The Sunnyland proposal, which was the result of participation by many people from the neighborhood, agreed to 28 houses. This is a higher density than the rest of the neighborhood and represents infill. As the developer, how much profit does Mr. Edelstein need? Isn’t the profit from 28 houses enough? Is it the neighborhood’s responsibility to take a negative financial and livability hit so he can realize his wildest profit expectations?

In addition, I understand he has not been building houses to sell, but builds them and keeps them as rentals. I don’t know what his intent is with the DOT property, but if he is given his way, upper Sunnyland could become home to high-density rental units. Maybe he wants to rezone it and sell it. What is clear is that he will not be living here, and is only concerned with his own profit.

I refer readers to an article published on NWCitizen’s website on July 26, 2012 by Larry Horowitz called, We Have Met the Enemy and {S}He Is…. The person he talks about in the article is still on the council. Hopefully, this person has considered the issues brought up in Larry’s article. Has {s}he grown enough these past two years to be willing to actually listen to the reasons Sunnyland doesn’t want to accommodate the proposed development supported by the developer and planning department? At a City Council meeting, I heard this person say that {s}he doesn’t “…understand why an owner can’t do what he wants with his own property.” The reason is, because he is just one owner, and the rest of us, who are also property owners, are affected by what he does.

It is well known that people want to live in single-family neighborhoods. Where is the wisdom of destroying an old Bellingham neighborhood to create a ghetto for, in the words of Larry Horowitz (in response to Mike Rostron’s article on NWC in March of 2012), “…some stranger … who may (or may not) choose to move here someday?” Who is looking out for the best interests of the people who live here? I thought that was the job of our elected representatives and the staff who work for them.

Please stand with the Sunnyland neighborhood, and voice your support for the fair, appropriate, and reasonable proposal to the City Council. Emails can be sent to ccmail@cob.org

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About Guest Writer

Citizen Journalist • Member since Jun 15, 2008

Guest Writer is for over 100 articles by individuals who are not writers or contributors. Their actual name and brief info is listed at the top or bottom of their articles.

Comments by Readers

Terry Wechsler

Jul 18, 2014

Thank you, Judith, for so thoughtfully and thoroughly explaining the residents’ position, and good luck!

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Mike Rostron

Jul 18, 2014

One of the problems with the process in Bellingham is that zoning decisions, rather than being based on intelligent evaluation of the history, desires, and needs of the neighborhoods and the city overall, are developer-driven. The planning department does not serve its citizens, but the developers, who are only motivated by profit and don’t have to live with the results. Several years ago when the Sunnyland Neighborhood Association (SNA) was attempting to get our proposal docketed and it was rejected, we actually observed the previous head of the planning department (good riddance!) and the developer back-slapping (literally, not figuratively) each other in city hall after the vote against us! This process has taken up years and hundreds of hours of volunteer time by local residents, yet the city still refuses to evaluate our well thought-out proposal on its own merits, but must (illegally according to city code) put forth a planning department counter-proposal.

The neighborhood associations have an ethical and legal obligation to involve themselves in the planning process (although the current city administration would love to declaw us as they already have MNAC). We have participated in good faith, and have been opposed, ignored, or stomped down at every turn, but don’t think we are about to shut up and roll over or sacrifice our still pleasant and verdant neighborhood to the short-sighted greed-motivated developers who would “pick the low fruit” (a direct quote from the prospective developer of the DOT site) and leave us with the negative results of their ill-concieved third-rate architectural exercises.

Please support us. Your neighborhood will be next!

Mike Rostron, SNA Board Representative

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Mark Hall

Jul 18, 2014

I attended the planning meetings a couple of years back and was struck by the developer’s attitude towards existing homeowners, he seemed dismissive and upset with our concerns and not willing to listen whatsoever. That may not be the way he really felt, but it was my impression as well as other I spoke to afterwards.  Last time the whole mess was shelved, as the economy tanked, and he must have decided to bid his time.
    We haven’t moved. Our desire for quiet streets where our families are safe, and homes we know are in a pleasant neighborhood…, this has not changed.  We bought these homes for that reason, and now these people would just brush us off and dismiss our point of view.
    A few of the politicians may have changed, and perhaps the developer has… but I doubt that. The rich don’t get richer by concerning themselves with normal people’s lives. They may think they’re normal, but it’s not normal to trash your neighbor’s homes. It’s sad that so many worship money when what really counts is people.
    I’ve sent my thoughts in for inclusion in the planning council’s agenda, just to get it on record, and encourage others to do the same. It might be spitting into the wind for all the good it’ll do, but you’ve got to push back against greedy behavior, or it’ll take you for all you’re worth. And I think our neighborhood is worth fighting for, I plan on showing up at the Monday meeting.  I’d like to see just what OUR elected representatives have to say about this.   
    I for one am getting tired of the obfuscation used during this process and suspicious of motives in the Planning Department. The design charrette’s drawings looked like a good fit for the area to me, but I didn’t see any developer spending the money necessary to make it look like it did in the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think they save that level of foresight and planning for the homes they actually plan to live in themselves. Why waste all that good money on rentals?  The Planning Department and the politicians had better keep existing homeowner’s needs and rights in mind, and give our wishes for a decent future as much weight as they seem to give the developers desires.  Mark E. Hall

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Patrick McKee

Jul 19, 2014

The Sunnyland Neighborhood Plan Amendment for Sub Area 8, proposed by the Sunnyland Neighborhood Association (SNA) meets, or exceeds all amendment criteria in BMC 20.20.040.B, and rezone criteria in BMC 20.19.030.

The SNA proposal encourages infill housing development on land which remains vacant in otherwise built-up areas.(HP-20) The proposal changes an area zoned for low density into a medium density area, keeping existing character intact, and promotes development “in a manner consistent with the neighborhood’s existing character, building style, height, density, and development pattern”.(LU27) The proposal meets density targets for Single Family Residential, Medium Density areas.(6-12 units per acre), (LU-126) The proposal far exceeds the new housing units estimated for Sunnyland in Comp Plan Table LU-16c. The proposal requires that only small and smaller size single family houses be constructed. This will, hopefully, result in affordable housing. Attached ADUs are permitted, and the proposal offers the possibility of “attached” owner occupied, single family town houses along Sunset Dr.(HG-1)

The SNA Proposal is an innovative, forward looking plan. Density is described in “dwelling units per square foot”, prior to any dedication of land for public public purposes. This is intended to provide flexibility, and efficiency in lot design. After Area 8 is improved with roads and sidewalks, defined lots may range from 3600sf to 5000sf.

No staff time, or expense will be needed to create the proposed Sub Area 8 design overlay district. Design standards for single family detached homes will be borrowed from BMC 20.28.060,and BMC20.28.070. The designed standards will be placed in the Special Regulations column of the Sunnyland Zoning Table.

The SNA Proposal currently permits only single family detached homes. However, the proposal foresees the creation of a “Attached” Residential Single, Use Qualifier. If this code change is enacted, the SNA proposal would allow attached single family homes only along Sunset Dr. This provision will be noted in the Prerequisite Condition column of the zoning table.

I hope City Council members will give this long worked on, well thought out proposal a fair hearing.

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Henry Bledowski

Jul 21, 2014

Thank you Judith for reaching back so far in time to make this amendment proposal, and the reasons why Sunnyland created this proposal, available to the newcomers. To many of us it is already second nature because we have been living the process for 6 years.
The point I want to stress is that the COB Planning Department has managed to piggyback their “modified version of SNA amendment” onto our docketed proposal while it is nothing of the sort. The SNA proposal is for single family homes. The planning department proposal is multi-family and their verbiage suggests that they may use multi housing forms along with single family homes. The fact is that if the planning department proposal is instituted, the developer is not required to build ANY single family homes. Single-family is merely a suggestion.

Given that the planning department proposal is so contrary to the SNA proposal, I can see no way anyone can call it a modified version. The planning department proposal is a stand alone and has never gone before the city council to get docketed for a hearing. It does not legally deserve to be considered during the July 21st city council hearing.

Hank Bledowski

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