On Monday, City Council Votes “third and final” Approval of Waterfront Plan

Local activist calls on Bellingham City Council to table the unpopular waterfront plans and engage in meaningful public process

Local activist calls on Bellingham City Council to table the unpopular waterfront plans and engage in meaningful public process

Bellingham law requires a reconfirmation vote (known as the "third and final") before a prior vote (considered the "first and second") is considered final.  So the vote to approve the waterfront plan, the Planned Action Ordinance, and the transfer of publicly owned tidal lands is on the Monday agenda for the "third and final."  It is rather unusual to have a "third and final" vote so soon after the first vote, in this case after one week, rather than the more standard two weeks.

Some citizens, strongly opposed to the waterfront plan that was passed last week, would like to use the "third and final" vote this Monday as the final rallying cry to turn out the public.  Despite the odds, they hope they can convince the council to delay the final approval in order to consider important issues that may not have been properly vetted prior to last week's vote.  I am reprinting below the letter sent to the council by local attorney Terry Weschler, a well known coal terminal activist. She admits that she had not been following the waterfront issues in the past, but after hearing about signficant defects in procedure and substance, she became concerned.  Her letter is reprinted below.

December 7, 2013

 VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION TO:  ccmail@cob.org, JWeiss@cob.org, GKnutson@cob.org, CLehman@cob.org, SSnapp@cob.org, TBornemann@cob.org, MLilliquist@cob.org, SFleetwood@cob.org

 RE:          City Council Agenda Bill Nos.

                20207 (Petition to Vacate a Portion of G Street);

20208 (Amendment to Bellingham Comprehensive Plan and Land Use Development Code for the Waterfront District Subarea Plan); and

20210 (Amendment to Title 16 of Bellingham Municipal Code (BMC) to adopt Waterfront District Planned Action Ordinance re SEPA)

Dear Councilmembers:

                 This is to urge you to vote no on the referenced Bills under consideration at your December 9th meeting. If adopted, you will grant final approval on behalf of citizens of Bellingham of a Port development plan that does not represent the will of your constituents.

                 To date there has been much reference to “process,” but a review of the comments received by the Port and the City will reveal that the public has overwhelmingly rejected the current plan for many reasons, not the least of which are:

  • ·          It guts SEPA requirements for future development;
  • ·         The EIS on which the “plan” is based was piecemeal, obtuse, and devoid of adequate public input or study of environmental impacts on shorelines and local economies;
  • ·         The EIS on which the “plan” is based violates SEPA in that the No Action Alternative was not based on the status quo but assumed the existence of a nonexistent marina that itself has significant shoreline impacts requiring review;
  • ·         There has been no study or provisions for wildlife corridors and shoreline function;
  • ·         It does not require construction to meet maximum LEED standards;
  • ·         It does not require cleanup to the highest standards possible and has no provision at all to ensure no not loss through habitat restoration as anticipated 17 years ago by the Bellingham Bay Demonstration Pilot,[1] and adequate provision for mitigation of future development;
  • ·         There is too much emphasis on development that is commerce based (which could occur in the downtown area) and too little on the types of development the public overwhelmingly prefers which would make the waterfront a destination for residents and tourists;
  • ·         If Washington Department of Ecology approves changes to the Shoreline Master Program necessary for upzones of the log pond and Cornwall Beach sites, the plan would unnecessarily allow non-water oriented commercial development that is more appropriately sited other than on a limited and degraded shoreline of statewide significance;
  • ·         It transfers assets to the port without adequate compensation; and
  • ·         The City assumes economic liability without concomitant benefit received.

                The 2013 interlocal agreement, when compared to that approved in 2005 (and considered flawed at that time and subsequently), is vastly inferior in numerous respects, including but not limited to the following:

  •  ·         The 2005 interlocal agreement (IA) did not provide for the transfer of tidal lands from the City to the Port, but the 2013 IA does;
  • ·         The 2005 IA more clearly addressed identification and siting of historic resources, specific land uses and building sites, visitor moorage, etc.;
  • ·         The 2005 IA allowed building heights in excess of three stories where appropriate while the 2013 IA provides for building heights of 10-20 stories;
  • ·         The 2005 IA called for reduced, limited or eliminated setbacks while the 2013 waterfront plan provides for eliminated set backs;
  • ·         The 2005 IA required developer certainty in building permits while the 2013 IA ensures this through adoption of a planned action ordinance that vests developers and eliminates the public's right to update environmental standards;
  • ·         The themes of habitat restoration and environmental cleanup standards resonated throughout the 2005 IA and are downplayed in the 2013 version.

                 Nearly a decade ago, the community hosted its own town hall meetings, or “environmental charrette,” summarized in the December 2003 and January 2004 issues of Whatcom Watch.[2] What emerged from that community conversation was the following conclusion:

[T]hey did not want the waterfront to become an area that was solely a paved commercial enterprise. Public access and habitat uses must be integrated into the planning of not only public land, but also private areas designated as residential or commercial. Multiple-use redevelopment and small-scale building could yield results beneficial to all interests if the healthy functioning of natural processes is used as the definitive baseline for planning.

                 What the City council anticipates approving Monday is the antithesis of the recommendations the City and Port received a decade ago from the public, and which has only been emphasized since then in a stream of written and oral comments. Those views have been described in detail by Wendy Harris, who has publicly published on issues pertaining to the waterfront, including but not limited to:

 ·         In Northwest Citizen

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/waterfront-eis-revised-without-public-process3?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/waterfront-pac-restricts-environmental-standards-and-public-input?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/coming-soon-to-the-waterfront-more-dioxin-and-toxic-waste1?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/waterfront-plans-fail-to-protect-historic-buildings?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/the-myth-of-waterfront-public-process1?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/city-moves-forward-with-asb-interim-trail-before-waterfront-plan-approval?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/public-hearing-on-amendment-to-the-bellingham-smp?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/waterfront-planning-before-city-council-and-port-commission?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/city-council-waterfront-work-sessions-begin1?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/wildlife-impacts-missing-in-cob-waterfront-district-eis?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/status-of-waterfront-analysis-for-plants-and-animals?search=&category=&author=4

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/treaty-rights-and-public-rights-ignored-in-overwater-walkway?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/cob-staff-manipulates-waterfront-planning-for-controversial-overwater-walkw?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/gloomy-fate-for-waterfront-wildlife?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/city-council-misled-on-waterfront-planning?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/city-and-port-ready-to-act-on-waterfront-plan?search=&category=&author=44

o        http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/waterfront-development-bonus-yet-another-bad-idea?search=&category=&author=44

·         In Whatcom Watch

o        Waterfront Development Requires Lummi Approval, http://www.whatcomwatch.org/php/WW_open.php?id=1430

o        Bellingham’s Dioxin Contaminated Mountain, http://www.whatcomwatch.org/php/WW_open.php?id=1521

o        The Myth of Waterfront Public Process, http://www.whatcomwatch.org/php/WW_open.php?id=1560

o        A Policy of Neglect: How Waterfront Plans Fail to Protect Bellingham Bay Wildlife, Part 1, http://www.whatcomwatch.org/php/WW_open.php?id=1585

o        A Policy of Neglect: How Waterfront Plans Fail to Protect Bellingham Bay Wildlife, Part 2, http://www.whatcomwatch.org/php/WW_open.php?id=1594,

          o        The Other Eight Million Dollar Park Project http://www.whatcomwatch.org/php/WW_open.php?id=1537

                Because I am new to the community and my activism was focused on the Gateway Pacific Terminal and not the waterfront plan, I have not followed nor researched the issues, and have relied on others to summarize them. My understanding is limited, but I trust members of the community who have more historical reference and understanding of the third and final actions before you now. I therefore incorporate by reference all information linked in this letter and formally introduce it into the record of this matter as issues for possible appeal.

                 I urge you to read the threads on the Whatcom Watch Facebook page, posted on December 3, 5, and 7, related to these issues. As of 10:45 a.m. Saturday, December 7, there are an astonishing 400 comments from dozens of community members that give you a sense of the issues of concern to the public, and the outrage felt by those who have looked closely at the proposals the Council will consider Monday.

                 Any cost associated with delay at this point is far outweighed by the costs associated with implementing a flawed development plan that will have repercussion for the local environment and economy for decades. Further, there is the real possibility your actions would be the subject of litigation.

                 For all the reasons stated above, I urge you to indefinitely table consideration of Agenda Bills 20207, 20208, and 20210, and any related funding, zoning, or other actions. It is time for real public process to begin (again) and for Bellingham’s citizens and elected officials to take the lead in defining the future for our waterfront.

                 Thank you very much for your time and consideration. Please accept an electronic signature as an original. If you have any questions, I can be reached at [information deleted for privacy].

Sincerely, Terry J. Wechsler

Related Links

About Wendy Harris

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2008

Comments by Readers

Alex McLean

Dec 07, 2013

This City Council has been pressured by Mayor Kelli Linville to hastily ram through an execrable plan based on some mythological deadline that entirely ignores the fact that, even if we had developers lined up, we have no money to invest in the clean-up or infrastructure that we would have to do—for the developers, and out of taxpayer’s wallets—first.

I find it ironic that this council acts as if the mayor won her office by some titanic wave of citizen support. No, actually, she only won by 151 votes. Former mayor Dan Pike, her competitor, lost by a mere three-tenths of a single percentage point. Not exactly a screaming mandate.

Nonetheless, Linville quickly threw everything that the City had previously asked for in negotiations with the Port into the garbage can. She has given the Port a massive gift and, by sheer default, made them the primary taxing authority for all of Bellingham. All of the department heads, at Public Works and elsewhere, acknowledge that a fixation with dumping our civic cash into the waterfront will come at the cost of improved streets, deferred dreams for a new library, and a new $30 million invoice for building parks down on the waterfront which will automatically suck the energy away from all other street and parks efforts throughout this city. None of these things, it MUST be noted, at all impacts the developers—they are permanently absolved from any duty to pay for the streets or parks that their projects will rely upon and squat directly over. While several members of the public are thrilled that this mayor has cobbled together a balanced budget, few seemed to notice the $200 million kickback she has asked council to sign off on which will come directly out of our hides, to help developers, and will hobble us for decades to come.

City of Bellingham staff, doing their bleak assignments, gutted the vision of the original plan to meet the myopic view of the Port and the sort of development it wants to see installed on our waterfront. They “negotiated” a race to the bottom and designed the new template based on the Port’s projects at Squalicum Harbor while ignoring the stunning amount of vacant commercial space, the spore vaults, that that project has created.

It cannot be hurting Linville’s odds that she promptly threatened to delete Sustainable Connection’s funding from the budget, thus cowing the voice of one of this city’s most popular, recognizable, influential, respected and outright effective programs for advocating for green building standards.

It also cannot hurt that Linville has appointed four of the seven Planning and Development Commission members in the two years since her term began, including some who, not content to merely guide the plan from their position on that commission, dutifully show up to praise its virtues in the public comment period without noting who they are or what their oversize role has been.

Former mayor Dan Pike, whatever his shortcomings, had a mantra that is distinctly missing from the Linville administration’s repertoire of “Getting s#*t done, whatever the cost.”

Pike always referenced his actions based on the guiding philosophies of the “triple bottom line.” This meant that endeavors, including this Waterfront District plan, should strive to benefit the three supporting legs of Economic Prosperity, Social Responsibility, and Environmental Sustainability. Linville has been smart to avoid this lofty language. Her plan, clearly, cannot live up to it. One of the most telling elements of this plan, and the one I have fixated on lately, is the appallingly feeble language it uses to ensure green buildings. The buildings, obviously, overlap directly with every element of a triple bottom line assessment.

Given the change in zoning entitlements that have occurred in this plan since 2011, it’s status on the LEED registry is highly suspect. As any efforts toward green building have become watered-down and spineless references, so much so that the LEED logo has been plucked from the plan to avoid potential legal problems of misuse, there can be no assurances that we will actually get sustainably-designed and built structures on our waterfront. The plan always states “there is an opportunity for LEED ND status” yes, and that it “encourages” green building ... but there is a far likelier probability that it won’t happen at all. Every reference to green construction in this plan is totally voluntary, a mere suggestion. We have ceded all development regulations to the developer’s lowest baseline of merely meeting established International Building Code. Gassy proclamations for an “EcoDistrict,” likewise, will get blown into the gutter once a few powerful staff members of the Port of Bellingham decide who will win their juicy bids for development.

The fatal flaw, of several dozen mortal wounds in this plan, is that Bellingham gave the Port all of the development projects—the City gets to build the parks, yes, but the entirety of the built environment on our waterfront is now Port property. Since the Port is a commerce-driven entity and not at all interested in city-building as an artform or science, we might as well just ask GP to move its factory back from Argentina, re-install it, and call the cash dollop good enough.

So, the council meekly crumbles before our eyes, flaps its arms and jowls, voices its drippy regrets, and votes yes anyway. They are doing it for the mayor, for their “partners” at the Port of Bellingham, but they certainly aren’t doing it for the citizens who they represent.

This plan sickens and enrages me. It is a galactic rip-off and betrayal of everything that we had been told was going to happen down on our waterfront. It forecloses, permanently, every option that ensured the sort of development that we asked for and that, sensibly, we knew would attract the sort of good employers we want in our beautiful city. It is not good enough. Period.

I predict that the short-term memory of this council, and the one-term memory of this mayor, will create a blistering and bloody fight to the death that will promise this project sees not a single shovel of dirt moved or brick installed. They are negotiating with the wrong party right now. Ours, actually, are the voices that matter. We are the ones who will pay for it. We are the key investors.

If this council cannot remember how fun it was to fester through the debacle of Chuckanut Ridge, it’s abhorrent and crapulous zoning, then they have every opportunity to vote yes for this turd and replay the tape. I strongly suggest that they do otherwise.


Tip Johnson

Dec 08, 2013

Oh Alex, nail on the head you golldarn carpenter.  I couldn’t have, and never did say it better: Abhorrent and crapulous zoning! Sure, that’s not doing their job. Ho!

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