Pat McKee guest writes this. He is a resident of Sunnyland and was a leader in their seven year planning effort.
The future look of Bellingham's distinctive single family neighborhoods will soon be on display in Sub Area 8 of the Sunnyland Neighborhood. Sub Area 8 is located between Sunset Dr. and Illinois St, adjacent to the blue dome of St Sophia Church. The four acre area is commonly referred to as “the DOT site.”
The Bellingham Planning Department staff took extraordinary, unprecedented steps, so you can see what they're going to do to your neighborhood in the near future. The planning staff amended the infamous “Infill Toolkit Code” Chapter 20.28.020.A by simply adding the words “and in Area 8 of the Sunnyland Neighborhood.” For the first time, in a “residential single-detached” zoning area, all infill housing forms can now be constructed in Sub Area 8. Everything from courtyard apartment buildings, townhouses, triplexes, cottage houses, carriage houses, and detached ADU's are permitted. Normally, amending city code requires 30 days public notice, followed by Planning Commission and Bellingham City Council public hearings. Letters are sent and public testimony is recorded. None of the above was done in this case.
Mayor Linville and her staff are planning to insert tool kit housing forms into older center-city neighborhoods. The mayor no longer uses the term “infill housing.” The mayor and Council Committee Chairman Weiss are working on ways to locate “innovative housing” in areas where infrastructure, and transit are in place. Translated, that means the distinctive, older single family neighborhoods we know and love, will be in-filled.
In 2007, the Sunnyland Neighborhood Association (SNA) held large neighborhood meetings, distributed questionnaires, and conducted neighborhood surveys. There was a strong consensus in the neighborhood that Sub Area 8 should be rezoned similar to the surrounding single family zoned areas. SNA drew up an amendment and rezone proposal for Sub Area 8. The zoning was “Residential Single, Detached.” Density was described in dwelling units per square foot. Lot sizes were flexible. This was intended to make the most efficient use of the land available. SNA estimated that lot sizes would range from 3600sf. to 5000sf. Seven dwelling units per acre, or a total of 28 dwelling units would be permitted on the site. Craftsman-style home design standards were required. The plan offered a possible future option of two unit, owner occupied townhouses fronting on Sunset Dr. In 2008, Bellingham Planning Director Tim Steward stated that the SNA Sub Area 8 amendment and rezone proposal met all of his criteria, and he docketed the proposal for consideration by the City Council.
Ever since 2008, planning dept staff have wanted to use Sunnyland's Sub Area 8 as a stage on which to display infill housing forms. The SNA Sub Area 8 rezone plan was largely a traditional single family zoning proposal, and did not fit in with planning staff goals. City staff tried to discredit, and block the SNA proposal. From 2007 to 2014, the Bellingham Planning Department never scheduled a City Council public hearing for the SNA rezone proposal.The planning department pulled every trick in the book to block or delay the SNA proposal from consideration by the City Council. In February 2010, after waiting for two years on the city docket, the planning dept dropped the SNA proposal from the docket. SNA was given no notification or explanation. In July 2012, the City Council put the SNA proposal on the annual docket for the second time. The planning department delayed a City Council public hearing for two more years.
In July 2014, the City Council held a public hearing to consider the SNA DOT Site rezone proposal. At the hearing, planning staff submitted a completely new alternative rezone proposal for the council to consider. The City Council rejected the staff proposal, and referred the SNA proposal to the Council Planning Committee. The next Council Planning Committee meeting on August 4th was supposed to discuss the SNA rezone, but once again the planning department staff brought another alternative proposal. The planning department proposal permits townhouses, cottage houses, carriage houses, detached ADU's, and small detached houses. The plan allows 35 primary dwelling units. ADU's will likely bring the actual dwelling unit count to over 40 units. The zoning is “Residential-single-detached/mixed.” The use of the “mixed” qualifier permits attached housing like townhouses and leaves open the possibility for multi-family housing with future Sub Area 8 code changes. This time the council committee dropped the SNA proposal, and accepted the planning staff rezone proposal.
On August 11th, the full City Council approved a planning staff amendment and rezone of Sub Area 8 in Sunnyland by a 5-1 vote. The well paid, full time city staff made certain that the hundreds of hours of volunteer citizen work that went into Sunnyland's proposal was never considered by City Council.
YOU CAN'T FIGHT CITY HALL. YOU HAVE TO ELECT A CITY COUNCIL, WHO WILL FIGHT FOR YOU.