Homeowner to city: Please buy me out

Padden Creek daylighting project strays far from city promises to homeowner that his property would remain intact.

Padden Creek daylighting project strays far from city promises to homeowner that his property would remain intact.

• Topics: Bellingham, Environment,

The city assured homeowner Richard Sullivan, 77, that their construction would not touch his property.  They have assured him of this for the past couple years as they planned the daylighting of Padden Creek and the construction of a bridge over the stream they will divert between Sullivan's home and Fairhaven Parkway. Specifically, project planner and stormwater manager for Bellingham Public Works, Bill Riley, assured Sullivan he could continue to use his driveway and home during construction and that the new creek would not interfere with his home.

Standing beside his house in the photo above is Richard Sullivan - Sully to all who know him in the Happy Valley Neighborhood.  More photos, below, show the construction site from different angles.  What cannot be shown are the minor earthquakes that have been occurring as heavy equipment opened a huge area within three feet of his home and approximately 14 feet onto his property. 

The city has been planning this project for 10 years, thinking they can squeeze a new Padden Creek between the parkway and Sullivan's home, plus put a bridge over the creek between his driveway and the parkway. At least that's what Riley assured Sullivan. At pre-construction meetings, many locals repeatedly expressed skepticism that Sullivan's home would not be impacted. Riley was disdainful of the concerns. The city signed contracts with Sullivan, paying him to use the alley easement running to within about 10 feet of his home, again, insisting they would not touch his property.  Over the summer, the crater got bigger, huge excavators parked along his driveway and Sullivan stopped using it.  His home has been buffeted with minor earthquakes for a couple of weeks now.  

As far back as two years ago, some of us in Happy Valley urged the city to buy Sullivan out and give themselves enough room to make a decent channel and embankment for the creek.  It seemed the city - in the person of Riley - wanted to cut corners and save costs.  Through the entire half mile of daylighting the creek, the narrowest part will be the culvert/bridge at 22nd Street, next to Sullivan's home.  The daylighting is supposedly designed to handle a "100 year flood" but the city's own study shows the bridge will not accommodate that - which means Sullivan's home will flood.  The rest of the creek appears able to handle the 100 year event.  

In response to Sullivan's complaint regarding the excavation of his property, Bill Riley suggested Sullivan sue Strider Construction, the company awarded the daylighting contract.  Sullivan pointed out that his contract was with the city, not Strider, and he assumed Strider was working under the city's direction. 

Richard Sullivan would like to be bought out so he can move. He has talked to the city about it and they are apparently considering it. Currently, they are assuring him they will completely restore the property, but have yet to put anything in writing. Ted Carlson, Public Works Director, refused to comment for this article. Until the mayor intervened, Riley was refusing Sullivan's phone calls.

Richard Sullivan has tried to accomodate the city.  In return, the city has deprived him of the use and enjoyment of his home this summer. Local residents questioned the city's claims that construction activity would not interfere with Sullivan's home and property. Now they question the city's calculations that the creek will not interfere with Sullivan's life and home in the future.

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Penny Tillson

Aug 26, 2015

Another victim of the old saw, “I’m from the government. I’m here to help you.”

Sorry to see this blight on what has been a delightful neighborhood project to follow. As we say at our house, “Imagine the fun of the workers, getting to build a river.”



John Blethen

Aug 26, 2015

Daylighting Padden Creek is a great project!  How often does a City get the chance to restore a creek.

That being said, I feel for Sully. He has been an active supporter of daylighting since the beginning of the process, now more than 25 years ago. I think that part of the problem is that some members of this team appear to view this project as about storm water rather than looking at it as an exciting storm water and habitat project.  Sully’s house should have been bought at the beginning of this project as it was clear from the drawings that it would be too close to the channel.  The City needs to buy his property for market value and through a “friendly condemnation” so that he has the time to relocate. His property needs to be reshaped to provide additional buffer from flooding for his neighbors and planted for the health of the Creek. Ditto for the house across the street that the City is considering for resale. This property needs to become a marsh buffer to protect downstream neighbors and provide a nurse location for young fish.  While the major Creek obstruction will become the culvert at 24th and while high water will be routed through the existing culvert. Climate change is affecting rainfall and many models suggest that we will have intense micro bursts of rain which could over load the Padden Creek system. This project is just part of what needs to happen in the Connolly Creek/ Padden Creek drainage. The Creek needs improved naturalization of its banks at many locations, added resting pools, increased holding capacity at the Connolly detention facility, and improved water regulation for fish and flooding at Padden Lake. Climate change many also make it the time to look at re-purposing and naturalizing the Padden Golf Course to help balance the Creek flow.

The City has a big job in front of them. One of the first actions is to buy Sully’s property for its market value.


Michael Lilliquist

Aug 26, 2015

My understanding is that the city did tentatively talk about buying Sully’s property before construction began, but that did not happen. Maybe Sully felt pressured to “stick it out.” I don’t know. It never came to the city council.

The city did buy out one property owner, and we certainly could have done so for another property owner. It always seemed risky to me, to think that the restoration work could take place so close to the house.

[One possible plan is to sell the acquired property once the project is completed, with a reduced lot size and at an appropriately lower value.]

My understanding is that the contractor messed up, and the city was quick to point it out—but too late for the homeowner. The damage is done, which is a real shame considering how cooperative and accommodating Sully has been. It’s hard to imagine how the construction workers did not realize their mistake—the house is right there, and the boundary was parked off with bright ribbons.

As far as city discussions to possibly buy out Mr. Sullivan—I have no personal knowledge. Actually, given state law, I probably could not talk about it in any detail, even if I did.


Alex McLean

Sep 05, 2015

This seems like a good contender for soliciting Greenway funds.

I’m not a fan of “raiding the cookie jar” for unallocated projects and petty emergencies—pool maintenance comes to mind—but it seems like helping Sullivan (and the City!) out of this conundrum would also dovetail with larger Greenway goals.

Either way, no matter the funding source, making a healthier creek and a better overall project seems the right path. The time to do it is now, not later, as prices and opportunities will forbid the option in the future.

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