Guest writer Mike Rostron is Sunnyland Neighborhood Association Board Member and Sunnyland resident and home owner.
The ongoing dispute over the proposed Lake Padden Trails upzone reminds us that this is not an isolated controversy, but just one more example of how developer desires often take precedence over neighborhood wishes in Bellingham, while the planning department colludes with development corporations, ignoring or demeaning the ideas and needs of other neighborhood property owners. The Sunnyland Neighborhood has been struggling for years to get our zoning proposal for the Department Of Transportation (D.O.T.) subarea docketed. See the Aug 2, 2011 article on NWCitizen.
Regarding neighborhood densities, zoning decisions, and the use of the “infill tool kit,” as the old saying goes: the devil is in the details. The most important detail to consider is where the infill should take place in each neighborhood. Neither the developers nor the city planning staff should be the only parties to make such decisions, yet this is what seems to be going on regarding the former D.O.T. site in Sunnyland. The Neighborhood Associations were formed to advise city leaders on just such issues, yet their recommendations are often ignored, belittled, and cast aside.
Certain members of the City Council and planning department have accused us of having a more limited comprehension of city development. In fact the reverse is the case. Our vision for our neighborhood, as well as the city of Bellingham, is one of responsible stewardship of the historic character and assets of existing neighborhoods, along with deliberate and well-considered infill in areas of the city which desire it. We urge those members of the council and planning department to walk the streets of the Sunnyland neighborhood and note the profusion of verdant yards and gardens, the large percentage of older and well-maintained homes, houses in the process of improvement, the children playing in the yards and quiet streets, and the semi-rural character of Sunnyland, especially north of Alabama street, nearest to the former D.O.T. site.
We would like to thank council members, Terry Bornemann, Gene Knutson, and Barry Buchanan, who voted at the June 6, 2011 city council meeting to support docketing the Sunnyland Neighborhood Association’s (SNA) proposal for permanent zoning consideration at the former D.O.T. site. Unfortunately, they were one vote short of a majority, and our proposal continues to languish. Meanwhile, the developers enjoy the support of the planning department in their opposition to our zoning proposal.
The directors of the SNA and residents of the Sunnyland neighborhood are not against responsible infill, and it has yet to become a dirty word. But if “infill” continues to be used as a euphemism for shoving undesired and ill-conceived development down the throat of residents in neighborhoods that do not desire it, or in areas within neighborhoods where it is inappropriate, rest assured the word, and the very concept of infill will become anathema to the citizens of Bellingham. If city leaders and planning department employees do not wish to fight a case-by-case battle with each new proposal brought by developers, they should start listening to, and supporting the wishes of, the residents and property owners in the neighborhoods they represent. Neighborhood leaders are motivated by a high code of ethics. They wish to preserve and enhance the neighborhoods where they live, and thereby preserve and augment the unique character of Bellingham in general. They see beyond mere profit or the latest development fads and fashions. Neighborhood residents' concerns should have priority. The developer is only one of many property owners and their wishes should have no more weight than any other property owner who might want to change zoning of their individual parcel to a higher density.
Preservation of historic neighborhoods and homes must be paramount in Bellingham. Infill should be of secondary importance. The rights and wishes of those who live here should come before the nebulous and projected rights of those who may or may not move here in the future, enticed by “build it and they will come” corporate marketing schemes. There are several areas of Bellingham that desire additional density, and those areas should be the test areas for the “infill tool kit” or similar proposals before they are even considered in neighborhoods with objections.
The citizens of Sunnyland neighborhood and the SNA board have made it clear these past several years that they do not wish the toolkit to be utilized at the former D.O.T. site, and that we favor development consistent with the current neighborhood character, that is, Single Family Medium Density. Our proposal would certainly qualify as “infill” as more than twenty housing units could be built where presently none exist!
The developers have yet to put forth a formal proposal, but have stated on many occasions they do not want a single family zoning designation for this site. They have produced a number of preliminary proposals, all calling for a multifamily zoning with sixty or more housing units of varying styles using various models from the infill toolkit.
The City Council should docket the SNA zoning proposal for the former D.OT. site at their earliest opportunity and support development of the site which reflects the wishes of the majority of neighborhood residents and property owners. The SNA and hundreds of Sunnyland residents participated in good faith through many hours, weeks, and months of meetings with the developers, the planning department, and city planning consultants; and after much consideration and discussion, came up with an appropriate proposal for the former D.O.T. site, which was subsequently docketed in 2007. Without further consideration, notice, or discussion with SNA or neighborhood residents, those hours of volunteer and paid city employee time were dismissed and our proposal was removed from consideration. It will finally be reconsidered again in April of 2012!
Citizens of Bellingham: Please help us preserve the character and quality of our neighborhood for future generations by urging the City Council to re-docket the proposal we worked so hard for.
City Council members: We respectfully request, once again, that you docket this proposal which should have never been removed from consideration in the first place.
We urge Bellingham voters to ask the following questions of those who profess to represent them:
*Do you support preserving the character of Bellingham’s various historic neighborhoods?”
*Will you stand with the citizens of Bellingham whose homes represent most of their net worth and lifetimes of labor, hopes, and dreams?”
*Are you willing to defend residents from the practices of developers out to make a profit regardless of the impact to city neighborhoods and residents?”