The Annexation Games

By On

Guest writer Sandra Alfers and her husband moved into the Trickle Creek subdivision in 2008. Their property abuts the Department of Natural Resources Land mentioned in the article. The views expressed are her own, not those of the Trickle Creek Home Owners’ Association.

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Our neighborhood learned last fall that it is part of a proposed annexation into the city. We live right outside the city limits, a little district called Trickle Creek, and it’s easy to miss on your way into or out of town. All you see when you zoom by – if the traffic light on Sunset Dr. does not slow you down - are a few houses and two vacant lots bordering the entry to the development. Contrary to what you might believe, however, there are more than a just few houses hidden behind the greenbelt buffer along this stretch of the road: 75 homes, most of them owned, some rentals.

We moved here in 2008 and truly enjoy living in this community: neighbors know each other - not just by name - and like to engage in small and big talk as they walk their dogs; kids ride their bikes and play hopscotch; people are out and about after work or on weekends, often waving to those driving by. During the summer months, the cul-de-sac at the end of Trickle Creek Boulevard becomes the scene for impromptu and planned social gatherings for the young and old. Our neighbors each chipped in to buy a communal basketball hoop, which is there for everyone to use. It’s a close-knit neighborhood, a little slice of an affordable American dream!

The name Trickle Creek Boulevard seems to be a grand old name for a small road leading into our development. If you follow it all the way to the end, you will come to, yes, the basketball hoop, but also to DNR land. Our neighborhood borders two of three DNR parcels along Mt. Baker Highway; all in all, 29 houses directly share its green space. As of now, it’s a wonderful oasis in an ever-growing area. I could mention the bald eagles that like to make an appearance, the owls and coyotes that can be heard at night (not together, of course) or the hundreds of frogs on the wetlands around us that serenade us to sleep in the spring. But if I did, it would really almost sound too perfect. So alright, there is the noise factor of Mt. Baker Highway and the Hannegan Speedway in the summer, which puts a little damper on things.

The DNR land, by the way, was another reason we moved here. My husband and I thought that given the oil and gas pipelines in our proximity and the undisturbed stretch of trees and wetlands, development would be a long shot. Can you imagine my surprise when I read a few days ago in the Whatcom Council Planning and Development Committee minutes that Trickle Creek Boulevard is eventually meant to connect with East Bakerview Road? (Endnote 1) Luckily, the same minutes also state, that “Trickle Creek is a national example of how development should not happen around pipelines” because this area “is one of the densest pipeline areas in the county. There are four of them.” Ouch - I hope the owls don’t play with matches back there!

In 2009, Northwest Ecological Services, LCC prepared a “Development Feasibility Report for the Squalicum 40s Parcels #380316 384502, 380316 328464, 380316 200336, and 380316 072204” for two of our neighbors: the City of Bellingham Parks and Recreation and the Washington State Department of National Resources. The study came on the heels of the failed Dewey Valley annexation proposal in 2008 and explored, as its title indicates, the possibility of developing the DNR parcels because the city has an interest in acquiring the land from the DNR.

Trickle Creek as you might remember, was part of this failed annexation, and as I learned from our Dewey neighbors at a council meeting in 2008, I had no voice in supporting or opposing the annexation. Why? Because we had apparently moved to a “no protest” district. It took me a while to find the evidence hidden among the title papers when I got home, but I succeeded eventually. Ordinance 10725, dating back to 1996, “an ordinance relating to utility service extensions, pursuant to municipal code chapter 15.36 and providing for the annexation of King property off the Mt. Baker Highway, to the city's water and sewer service zone as extension no. 232 pursuant to certain terms and conditions more particularly described herein.” Under section 3, “Terms to be included within Contract,” it states: “1. At the time of obtaining a permit for connection to the sanitary sewer, the applicant must execute a no protest annexation agreement. This agreement shall run with the land and is therefore, binding on the applicant and its successors in interest in the property.” Aha, got it! I am no-protest, which means that by default my vote is cast as supporting the annexation. Too bad I cannot read and didn’t approach the title papers with the skills they require. But would we not have bought the home we really wanted because of this paragraph? (Endnote 2)

Remember the two vacant lots at the entry to Trickle Creek I mentioned at the outset? [see map and photo below]The owner and his family have intended to sell these two lots for a while but, alas, the sale has not yet materialized. Some of us in the neighborhood thought the land could not sell because of the economic downturn, but as it turns out these two lots are not connected to water or sewer. Sometime way back when the whole Trickle Creek development was conceived, water and sewer were not connected on these two lots. I am choosing the passive voice on purpose since it isn’t clear why the lots weren’t included (was it too expensive?) or if it was an oversight (if so, whose was it?). In 2011, the county denied the same owner permission to build a drive-through coffee shop, one of the concerns being that the proposal for a 5,000 sq.ft. structure - big coffee shop indeed - included a “paved parking lot on top of the Olympic pipeline.” (Endnote 3)

Fast forward to fall 2014. In September, the lot owner along with another petitioner, introduced annexation plans, which included Trickle Creek, the DNR parcels, a piece of property on East Bakerview as well as parcels along Mt. Baker Highway up to Ross Road. This plan met with strong opposition from our Dewey neighbors during a public meeting. Thus, a second petition was created (minus the parcels along Mt. Baker/Ross Rd.), which just cleared the first hurdle in the annexation process. As with the first proposal, this one has active support from the DNR and the owner on East Bakerview. A representative from the DNR entertained questions at the second public meeting and stated their overall intentions at this point, which is to increase the value of their land. And, of course, connecting to water and sewer by means of annexation into the city will do just that.

This is all fair and square. People have the right to sell their land. Responsible urban planning has to happen, the city needs space to grow. I didn’t read my title papers. Someone did not connect water and sewer. I get it. But it is still disconcerting that two private owners and one government agency have more say in this process than 75 homeowners – just because of the no-protest agreement we inherited.

If annexation is successful, their land value will surely increase; our land value, however, will decrease. Several individuals have tried to make the argument that our property value would go up, but I can’t help but wonder how this will happen. Once the empty lots have sold, there will be an immediate impact, particularly to homeowners at the entry to Trickle Creek: more traffic, more cars parked down into Trickle Creek, more noise, and more dwellings in whatever shape or form. It seems only a matter of time until Trickle Creek Boulevard will finally live up to its name….and connect to E. Bakerview or some other road. Bye-bye hopscotch! Bye-bye basketball hoop!

You might have seen an earlier doomsday development plan for the area, including houses and roads on the DNR parcels, despite the four pipelines. (Endnote 4) While it seems that there are no current plans to develop the DNR land, this map provides a good overview of what could be possible. The proposal was circulated before, why not again? And when you check it out, take a look at yet another road in our neighborhood - Skylark Loop. A lovely name, but the loop is not yet a loop. Skylark Loop ends, yes, you have guessed correctly, at the boundary of the DNR lands.

Unfortunately, the existence of wetlands and a small growth forest will not protect our neighborhood from further development because the exchange of land has been in practice and will continue to be in practice. While water and sewer costs will go down if the annexation is approved, our tax burden, along with the added cost of stormwater, will most likely offset any advantage we may get in utility payments.

Finally, what I find particularly puzzling in all of this is that the supporters of this petition are attempting to collect our signatures in support of the annexation, even though they already have our official support by default. Actively pursuing our no-protest voice for self-interest, asking our community to express favor of annexation is, at the very least in my opinion, disingenuous. Have the games already started? It sure seems so. Too bad this is neither a game nor a movie; it’s a reality worth facing, and it’s time to get involved.

Endnote 1:
February 12, 2008. Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan policy 5N-3 discourages pipelines around urban growth areas.

Endnote 2:
The “Agreement for Utility Service Zone Extension” between the city of Bellingham and Deitrich Construction, L.L.C. from 2002 also contains a no-protest clause: “Point 4: Annexation - The Applicant (DEITRICH) understands that the city contemplates annexing the property served herein. Accordingly, it agrees that it will sign any and all notices, petitions and other documents requested at any time by the City leading to the annexation of the property to the City of Bellingham, and it will not oppose and will participate in any such annexation proceedings. In the event that annexation is by a method other than petition, the Applicant waives any protest of such annexation.”

Endnote 3:
April 12, 2011, Whatcom County Council Minutes.

Endnote 4:
This is an amendment to USZ 232 (1). A neighbor left a copy of this map on our porch before the first public meeting (it was apparently circulated throughout Trickle Creek). The copy states “This document was copied from a City of Bellingham ordinance amending previously approved ordinance # 10725, granting utility service extension no. 232.” While the ordinance is included in our title papers, the amendment and map are not.

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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 regular writers. Their actual name and brief info is listed at the top or bottom of their articles.

Comments by Readers

Delaine Clizbe

Jan 20, 2015

This is not the only example of the City of Bellingham withholding water service.  My in-laws are faced with the same scenario, except their lot is at the top of Yew Street Road and is surrounded by houses all hooked up to City water and a new subdivision going in not a block away from them.  When the COB decided that they will withhold water service as a means of controlling growth they set up for these types of problems.  My in-laws, at 90 years old, do not have the means to put a annexation proposal together.  They would just like to sell their land.  But who would buy a piece of land with no water?

This is an unfortunate situation.  The easiest solution would be for the COB to reverse their policy of not extending water service outside the City limits.  A hard policy like that causes problems.