Guest writers Byron Elmendorf and Paul Leuthold provide this jointly written article.
During our over 60 years working for City parks departments with over 30 years as the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Director, we have always been supportive of funding proposals for improving parks systems. However, the formation of Chuckanut Community Forest Park District is not a funding option we can support.
Paying off a political loan and promise is not the purpose for establishing a new independent junior taxing district such as the Park District. This forms another layer of government within Bellingham’s Southside neighborhoods. We already have citizen input with a City Parks Board and separate Greenway Committee. Unfortunately they were not involved with the property purchase and loan, or meaningfully consulted on the Park District proposal. The Chuckanut property which the City has acquired at over $8.2 million is the most expensive park land ever purchased. Yes, it is a special piece of property and the neighbors have fought for many years against any proposed housing development. The fact that the City did not have the funds to fully fund the acquisition has resulted in the outstanding $3.2 million 5 year loan from the Greenway Endowment Fund which the community tax payers had already supported.
We think this proposal sets poor public policy in developing special interest districts within our City. The location of community parks based upon the ability of a neighborhood to pay versus need is not a good community goal. The selected Southside precincts have always been supportive of past Park funding proposals. This issue might have a negative impact on future City wide park proposals or waterfront development support.
These are good folks supporting the Park District and they are trying to fix a complicated future problem. They have a concern that the City might sell a portion of this property for future community housing needs to pay the debt. Yet, City regulations would still protect the sensitive areas within the development. An issue against development in their backyard shouldn’t be a reason for such a funding mechanism like this Municipal Park District.
We encourage you to support your existing community-wide park system, not establish a new layer of government, by voting NO on the formation of the Chuckanut Park District.