Talk about irony. The Whatcom County Association of Realtors( WCAR) has awarded Wendy Scherrer its “Partner of the Year” award for all her hard work to effect a “pilot project” for the rezoning of the Happy Valley neighborhood. Wendy and a small group of her neighbors, embraced the YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) mantra that cities can build their way to affordability if only those pesky zoning laws are removed or altered.
Later, Iris Maute-Gibson of the Planning Commission upped the ante in a commission meeting Sept. 7, 2017. No need for a Happy Valley pilot project for Maute-Gibson. “I don’t believe that we should have zoning for detached accessory dwelling units (DADUs) be based on a by-neighborhood basis… Every part of the city needs to step up and take responsibility for creating more housing available in Bellingham.” After just six months on the commission, Maute-Gibson had decided it was time to “go boldly” and “boldly go,” she said repeatedly. Roughly translated this means she wants to rezone all single family neighborhoods into what is, in effect, all multi-family. No objections to this from the Happy Valley Pilot Project YIMBY crowd, including Scherrer, to Maute-Gibson’s total rezone proposal that is now part of the draft ADU ordinance. Why ask the neighborhoods what is good for them? We YIMBYs know better for the whole city.
It’s terribly disappointing and disconcerting to see a one-time environmental leader like Scherrer being sucked into the biggest pro-development maneuver we have ever seen in Bellingham. And shame on WCAR for using her. DADUs will do nothing for housing affordability or homelessness. They’re all about short term rentals (vacation rentals for tourists) and absentee landlords getting a new way to make more money from our neighborhoods. Realtors are the ones who own most of the rentals in this town and see the YIMBYs as heaven sent.
YIMBY is a national pro-growth, infill in every neighborhood, anti-single family zoning movement fueled by support from the development industry. Karen Narefsky writes in Jacobin:
“YIMBYs look to the free market to solve the housing crisis. But the profit motive is what caused the affordability crunch in the first place…YIMBYism is…based on an embrace of the speculative housing market. It assumes that the cause of the housing crisis is a dearth of supply, and that the market will address the crisis if restrictions are lifted.”
The development industry and local realtors, many of whom own the once-affordable single family housing stock as their own personal
investments, are pleased to now partner with one-time environmental activist Scherrer. It is just what they need to provide cover for their never-ending attempt to overfill the city. Acceptance of this award has sadly and clearly put Scherrer in the camp of the monied (YIMBY) interests with the attendant loss of credibility.
Unfortunately, she has led the most divisive anti-neighborhood movement this town has ever seen, dragging Happy Valley, the Planning Commission, and now the entire city down a path that will only line the pockets of developers, landlords, and others who profit from construction and real estate. But some push-back has begun.
Reports from the January 18 Happy Valley Neighborhood Association verify there is opposition to Scherrer and sidekick, Shannon Maris (a local house designer), who were confronted with questions from the audience about some of the glossed-over aspects of a Happy Valley pilot project on DADUs… like requirements for owner occupancy, tree cover loss and the amount of open space required per lot. Support seems to be weakening. Bobbi Vollendorff, long-time Happy Valley resident and association officer said,
“Wendy made a statement a couple of times about how nice it would be for people in the hood to use the equity in their homes to build these DADUs and then always have some rent money coming in. Shannon Maris [a local residential designer] said she knew the city was beginning to work on an updated DADU ordinance when she first suggested the pilot project to Wendy, so my thought that this was the starting point on this adventure was correct. Basically, no one in the neighborhood challenged either one of them. It got a little testy when Shannon relayed that up to 70 percent of a single family lot could be covered [with structures]. That was my opening about the tree canopy issue, which drew attention.”
Happy Valley led the city in a volunteer-based tree planting program that spanned over 20 years and has literally changed the landscape of the neighborhood. Once farmland, then bulldozed for high-density housing, and then replanted to bring tree canopy back into the neighborhood, Happy Valley is well known for its environmental mind-set, until now. At one point as Maris was being pinned down on the lot coverage issue and carbon footprint, Sherrer reportedly piped up and said, “Well, we can look around and find a place to plant more trees to compensate for those that get cut down.” So much for tree canopy and the green overlay amendment to the HVNA plan.
Some neighbors feel like Scherrer and Maris have ramrodded this DADU rezone of the neighborhood. Is it the brainchild of just two residents, one of whom is in the housing design business, and the other who has recently been awarded “Partner of the Year” by the realtor association?
Yes, a picture’s worth a thousand words: See how pleased the realtors are in the photo above. Mary Kay Robinson, former president of WCAR and Republican County Council candidate last year, and Perry Eskridge, WCAR Government Affairs attorney, have reason to smile. WCAR contributed in-kind services to the Happy Valley group that was pushing the YIMBY program for DADUs in the neighborhood’s single family zoned areas. What does this alliance represent? Why are the realtors so pleased with rezoning single family neighborhoods to fill-in backyards? Is it because their members own so many houses and will continue to profit from the rental market they control? Those were evidently not questions asked by the YIMBYs, but was that out of ignorance or by design?
Let me also remind you of a couple things about the WCAR representatives in the photo. Ms. Robinson, former president of WCAR, was the one who advised landlords to ignore the city ordinance on illegal rooming houses, writing in a comment thread on Bigger Pockets: “So for investment purposes - I see no legal reason that it (a house) cannot be rented out to 3 or more unrelated persons. If you see an opportunity for investment, go for it.” The realtor ethics office must have been closed that day.
And as for the attorney, Eskridge, he was the WCAR’s point man in their effort to defeat the city’s rental licensing and inspection ordinance. Which shows how little realtors worry about the health and safety of about half the city’s population—tenants. The realtors assured us that poor conditions in rentals was fiction or, at worst, confined to a few “bad apples.” Up to 50% of rental units subsequently failed initial inspection. Shocking! Additionally, WCAR is heavily behind the move for annexation of the Urban Growth Areas to expand land supply. They did not get their way on that issue with the City Council and now must push for rezoning to boost land supply for their enrichment. Are the realtors fueling this YIMBY group in Happy Valley? Sure looks like it.
[Note: The Planning Commission will hold a hearing on the topic of Accessory Dwelling Units on January 25 at 7pm in city council chambers.]