Updated - Monday eve, Nov 16, 10:40 p.m.
The public hearing for the proposed tax exemption is being left open for written comments until Dec 7, the date of the council meeting. The proposal almost passed, having a motion and second and the council about to vote for it, when Fairhaven resident, Pete Nygren, voiced a desire to speak and walked down to the podium. Council let him - as the public hearing was technically still open and only one person - a non-resident and part of the development industry - had spoken.
Nygren expressed his concerns, saying he had known nothing of this prior to Sunday and believed most of his neighbors also knew nothing of it. City Council President Gene Knudsen sharply replied that there had been 30 day notices, as are always given.
Council member Terry Borneman then spoke, asking that it be delayed. The others went along. Borneman probably spoke up because Nygren had phoned him earlier in the day and had been assured there would be no vote at the meeting this evening. This is a situation where one person, Pete Nygren, made a difference. His neighbors now have some breathing room to learn what this proposal might do to their neighborhood.
It will be interesting to see if and how the city informs residents of this Fairhaven neighborhood that they now have three weeks to submit written statements. There was no mention at the council meeting of how the residents might learn the facts of the proposal or what it could lead to in their neighborhood. The response to concerns was that this proposed tax exemption does not change the zoning, and so nothing really changes.
But if nothing changes, why is this being proposed? Unmentioned by anyone - council or staff - was the next measure on the council agenda, which passed quickly. It was an ordinance with tax incentives for infill in urban villages. It applied only to downtown and Old Town, Fairhaven was not included, but this now establishes an ordinance that other urban villages can easily attach to in the future.
The point is, urban villages are targeted for large apartments and condos to strongly increase population densities in the city. This is accomplished by not one, but multiple ordinances, each creating just a bit of a change. Donovan Avenue in Fairhaven has possibly been targeted for apartments by the city planning department. This tax incentive proposal is just one small step.
Now it is up to the residents of this quiet neighborhood to press city planning for answers, to discuss what they want, and to press council members for that desired result. Before December 7. Actually much sooner as the these things are prepared well ahead of council meetings.
First post on Sunday, Nov 15, at 6:30 p.m.
A review of the Bellingham City Council agenda for this Monday - Nov 16 - shows a public hearing and possible vote on extending tax credits for building apartments and multi-unit buildings in a quiet Fairhaven neighborhood. This is for a special area on Donovan Avenue. We've contacted a couple residents of the small neighborhood - including one property owner in the zone - and they knew nothing about this proposal.
This article is brief and its purpose is to alert residents of Fairhaven who may not know about this issue. We have links below to the city documents. The one home owner we spoke with was astonishsed they would not have been informed by the city of this change. The tax credits would give 12 year exemptions from many taxes if apartments are of a reduced rent for those below the average city income. Thus, they will be apartments subsidized by the city.
While the proposed tax credits will not impact existing zoning, it is another step in the process of increasing density in inner city areas. Already in the Fairhaven Neighborhood Plan of 2001, the area was brought under an Urban Village overlay - which allows more flexibility in how the city reviews and approves proposals for apartments. Thus, the question becomes: Is there a project being planned now? And what exactly is motivating this tax exemption overlay for this specific area at this time?
Residents can attend the City Council hearing and speak out, or ask questions, at the 7 p.m. hearing. However, the council agenda also calls for voting on the tax exemption, so this could already be a done deal. It has supposedly gone through staff review, a planning commission hearing, and further staff review.
Presently, this multi block area has a rural feel, even a bucolic ambience, where living is quieter and slower than most city neighborhoods. There are no curbs in the nine block area, nor a single sidewalk. The residents have long valued this quiet neighborhood. It is enclosed by natural buffers and street closings so there is no impact from neighborhing districts and it is very self contained.
The City Council agenda - see Presentation 3.
By clicking on agenda item #3, you can access the five documents for this proposal. Next is a link to one of them, the memorandum.
Planning staff memorandum to Mayor Kelli Linville endorsing the tax exemption area.