University Ridge Height Variance Hearing Postponed

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• In Bellingham, Planning, WWU,

The variance hearing for an exception to building height restrictions for the University Ridge student housing project has apparently been postponed, although such an amendment has not yet appeared on the city’s public notice site. The following appeared yesterday on the website of the Puget Neighborhood in which the development is located. “Mary Chaney, Past President of the PNA Board, received this message from Ron Jepson (local representative for the Ambling University Development Group): ‘Right now the Variance Hearing that had been scheduled for March 20th will be rescheduled to allow the owners to submit the various reports that are being prepared such as traffic and drainage for example.’“ This decision follows a March 1 column in NWCitizen (Troubling Implications of Variance Request) by Wendy Harris, in which she presented her letter to the city complaining about the implications of having the variance hearing prior to having a complete application for development of the site. Several days later, I also wrote to the mayor and the planning director with this message:

“I am writing to bring to your attention a problem with procedures concerning a variance request by Ambling University Development for a property at 4413 Consolidation Avenue, called University Ridge. This variance request should be rejected at this time and filed at a later date along with a complete development proposal.

Ambling Development Group arranged a neighborhood meeting on 3 Jan 2013 to discuss the development of an apartment complex for students only on 11 acres between Puget St. and Nevada St. Later communications from the representative of Ambling (Ronald P. Jepson and Associates) indicated that the developer was planning to submit a complete application to develop the property on or about 27 Feb 2013. On 17 Jan 2013, the developer submitted a Land Use Application for a height variance base on some preliminary plans for an arrangement of 4 five-story buildings. On 8 Feb 2013, the developer submitted a revised variance request based on a different arrangement of the 4 buildings while changing the wording of some of the justifications. A notice was posted on 15 February regarding a hearing on the variance scheduled for 20 Mar 2013. The due date for public comments was listed as 1 Mar 2013.

On 1 Mar 2013, I learned from Ronald L. Jepson and Associates that the developer was delaying the submission of its development proposal as the developer was making revisions to the site plan. The nature of these revisions was not disclosed by Jepson and Associates although they did indicate that they were discussing these revisions with the Planning Department staff. Also on 1 Mar 2013, I sent the following message to Mr. Jepson: “Since changes may be made to the site plan, is the variance request to be delayed? My assumption that any changes to the site plan would occasion an impact on the variance request.” I have not yet had a reply.

Since the public has no idea regarding the nature of the revisions to the development application being worked on at present by the developer in conjunction with the city planning staff AND the developer has used arguments to support its variance request apparently only from documents available to the public to date, the public has no idea if any of these future revisions will have an impact on the validity of the justifications for the variance. This is a quite highly questionable process (loophole) that should cease until such time as there is a complete application for development of the site. These piecemeal submissions are unacceptable and confusing to a public already distrustful of the planning process. I am calling on the Mayor and her staff to take immediate action to craft a comprehensible and cohesive process on this project…”

There is already ample confusion and haste in this planning process. Tight deadlines and the absence of critical information, as found in this case, do not allow neighborhoods to respond responsibly and completely. Developers of University Ridge were pushing hard for an approval for University Ridge since they want to open in time for the school year in September 2014. There are too many important issues with respect to this development for it to be given a lick and a promise in the review stages in order to meet artificial targets desired by developers.

About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Mar 12, 2013

I received this today from Ron Jepson, the representative of Ambling Development here in Bellingham.  “We are making some internal modifications due to both Staff and Community suggestions and felt that the Variance date that was set was too close.  Consequently, we asked for a later date in April to accommodate theses modifications.”  I imagine that the complaints from me and Wendy may have been a part of the “community suggestions.”  :-) Even so, the planning process should not depend on good will on any side.  These developments are serious business.  The area around the Lincoln Park-and-Ride site is already turning into a rental ghetto. We need solid home ownership to stabilize the neighborhood around this huge parking area.  Affordable housing in the way of Infill Tool Kit-type homes would be ideal for these 11 acres now known as University Ridge.  Since we have the Tool Kit, use it!

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