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
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)
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, 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. 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
· 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