Sunnyland neighborhood asks for support

By On
• In Bellingham,

Guest writer Mike Rostron is Sunnyland Neighborhood Association Board Member and Sunnyland resident and home owner.

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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?”

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Comments by Readers

Michael McAuley

Mar 16, 2012

Mike, I was gonna play devil’s advocate to tease out something but then I got to this statement:  “Preservation of historic neighborhoods and homes must be paramount in Bellingham. Infill should be of secondary importance.”

I wholeheartedly disagree with that sentiment.  The entire purpose of our state’s GMA is to preserve ex-urban environments which, by design, *requires* infill.  Bottom line is that the urban areas must take on an expanding role to provide space for a growing population.

So here’s a devil’s advocation:  if Sunnyland doesn’t want them and the southside doesn’t want them and every other neighborhood who claim infill is OK but then says we don’t want ‘it’ - well where are folks suppose to build?

My neighborhood stepped up on this issue years ago. We asked the City to help the Lettered St’s rezone about 40% of the neighborhood to create a centralized pocket of detached, single family homes - essentially crafting a single panel in the urban quilt. 

The other part of the rezone solidified the non-municipal areas as dense infill portions.  This allowed us to craft a future neighborhood look that realizes an acceptance of change but let’s us lead the GMA infill goals. 

We may be the only neighborhood that can double our population without a single zoning change and yet it looks like we’ve been able to capture our character to keep it for the coming generations.

A few years ago, one neighborhood came out so strongly against a proposed, mixed-use development the developer gave up on the housing component and just did the light-industrial/commercial build-out. 

The builder’s plan provided for both but required a zoning change - so the neighborhood got the business impact but no-one lives there which is sad because the project is adjacent to a new city park.  This is poor infill policy. 

I just don’t see how B’ham can capture further residential needs - critical to protecting the non-urban landscapes in this county - if folks aren’t willing to work to actually make it happen.  I’d rather see more traffic in town than lose the trees on hills above town. 

Thoughts? 

And thanks for the dialog :-)

Mike McAuley

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Larry Horowitz

Mar 16, 2012

The primary issue raised by Mike Rostron’s thought-provoking article is: Should the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods be recognized and preserved?

In 1995, the WA state legislature amended the GMA to ensure that the preservation of existing single-family residential neighborhoods be preserved.  (SSB 5567)  As a result, RCW 36.70A.070(2) was modified to require Comprehensive Plans to include a housing element “ensuring the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods,” thereby elevating this aspect of the GMA to a requirement, rather than simply a goal.

When it comes to recognizing and preserving the vitality and character of neighborhoods, who better to listen to than those who already live there?

While I agree with my friend Mike McAuley that preserving ex-urban environments is one component of the GMA, it is certainly not “the entire purpose” of the Act.  Instead, the first section of the GMA (RCW 36.70A.010) identifies three threats posed by uncoordinated and unplanned growth:

1) The threat to the environment (urban and ex-urban);
2) The threat to sustainable economic development; and
3) The threat to the health, safety and high quality of life enjoyed by residents of this state (both urban and rural alike).

While infill may temporarily postpone sprawl, it is not a permanent solution.  Unless rural areas are specifically zoned to prevent sprawl, then sprawl is inevitable.  We cannot infill ad infinitum.  There is a limit to growth.  More importantly, there is a threshold beyond which the adverse impacts of population growth and infill overwhelm the health, safety and high quality of life enjoyed by residents of Bellingham, Whatcom County and WA state.

Further, decision makers have failed to distinguish between well-designed (good) infill and poorly designed (bad) infill.  Not all infill is created equal.  Bad infill creates nearly identical problems as sprawl, and swapping one for the other does little to advance the goals of the GMA.  Back in Feb 2009, I wrote about the characteristics of Infill, Sinfill and Sprawl (http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/infill-sinfill-sprawl).

Those of us who live here need not take a back seat to some stranger living in a strange place who may (or may not) choose to move here someday.  When they do move here, they’ll be happy to live in a place where the concerns of those who reside, pay taxes, vote, raise families, and take care of their neighborhoods HERE are paramount to the concerns of aliens living elsewhere.  We need not sacrifice our health, safety and high quality of life.  In fact, doing so violates the intent of the GMA.

 

 

 

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Michael McAuley

Mar 16, 2012

Larry!  “....it is certainly not “the entire purpose” of the Act…”

Yes it is.  :-)

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Michael McAuley

Mar 16, 2012

“....There is a limit to growth….”

No there isn’t.  :-)

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John Servais

Mar 17, 2012

My my, Mike, you certainly have no problem with taking an extreme position - and one I look forward to your trying to defend.  So, start citing chapter and verse to defend your position - and please do not put the onus on us.  Hard to prove a negative. 

Any law or code can be stated as implying something extreme.  There are those who say the US Constitution’s 1st amendment implies that all persons must have a religious belief, that all must belong to a church and must believe in god.  They say the 1st allows us to belong to any church, but it does not allow us to not practice religion.  Hard to argue against that as it is such an absurd and extremist view on a human right of belief. 

Mike, you also error in your generalizations.  To wit, “... the southside doesn’t want them…”.  Quite the blanket statement.  Care to retract or qualify before I rip that one up?  You brag of your neighborhood, but you seem to have a lack of knowledge of what others have done.  I can cite my neighborhood, on the southside and get in a pissing match with you, if you want.  I’m sure others can also cite statistics on their neighborhoods.

But looking at it that way is really a skewed and weird way to look at things.  I do not expect the Edgemoor neighborhood to suddenly add multi housing, nor corner grocery stores, nor office complexes.  I do not expect the Sunnyland neighborhood to throw their very fine residential neighborhood on a sword to humbly make way for Edelstein to create a future too high density ghetto in the middle of a single family neighborhood. 

Truth is, there is plenty of multi zoning in the Sunnyland neighborhood that can be developed.  But developers make all their money in getting land rezoned. The money is to get permits in hand - the actual development gives only an fair profit.  Developers like to find the property that can give a huge windfall.  Edelstein can build his high density residential complex in another part of Sunnyland already zoned multi residential.

Now, some developments do not negatively impact existing residents - and then it is more of a question of permits and following the comprehensive plan.  But the idea that our city is fair game for unlimited growth within the existing borders is just a bunch of crap.  Thanks for the dialog - now show a bit more evidence than your opinion.

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Michael McAuley

Mar 17, 2012

Aw man!  Can’t I just jump in, stir the pot and run away?  Ur gonna make me work for this…..just as soon as I color Sheila’s hair.  BRB :-) 

I promise a thorough position. 


PS - she says, “Peace out trout.”

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Larry Horowitz

Mar 17, 2012

Mike M.,

From your comments, I can’t tell if you’re even serious.  (For example, are you really saying that our planet can comfortably accommodate 20 billion, 50 billion or even 100 billion people?).  While you’re preparing your response to John’s request to defend your extreme positions, you might consider reading:

THE LIMITS TO GROWTH: The 30-year update; and
FOR THE COMMON GOOD: Redirecting the economy towards community, the environment, and a sustainable future

Both are available through our library:
http://wcls.bibliocommons.com/item/show/771634044_the_limits_to_growth
http://wcls.bibliocommons.com/item/show/394893044_for_the_common_good

And while you’re at it, you might re-read the Legislative Findings for the GMA under RCW 36.70A.010 and SSB 5567 (“An act relating to the preservation of single-family neighborhoods”) to broaden your understanding of the need for growth management and what that entails.  (What good is preserving the ex-urban environment if the solution requires 90% of the population to live like sardines in an urban hell hole?)

Best,
Larry

 

 

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Michael McAuley

Mar 17, 2012

OK….long post follows. I’d rather chew this fat over a good lager :-)

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Michael McAuley

Mar 17, 2012

The reason I am less fearful of urban hell holes is 6000 years of city development has left us where we are now - which, locally, isn’t too shabby given the alternatives.  I wrote 103 pages on the history of how cities grow when I wrote my graduate thesis so I’ve done a little research on this.  OK, bona fides outta the way…

13 goals in the GMA.  Primary GMA reasoning is to preserve - exurbs, suburbs, cities.  More than half the goals provide for expansion/growth/econ development but nowhere is the GMA designed to maintain the status quo - hence the very name growth “management” act.

I used my own neighborhood as an example of a pro-active response to relevant growth in this part of the city, notwithstanding efforts elsewhere.  We developed an area of detached SF, an area of high density multi,  plenty of commercial opportunity, and continued public use.  We also formulated language in the neighborhood plan that encourages reconstruction of our oldest multi-family structures so they don’t jest get torn down instead of rebuilt/remodeled. 

The best cities will preserve a little and replace a little, not just try to preserve everything.  Efforts to maintain the status quo without change will literally force people outward away from the city.  There is a very good reason Ferndale and Lynden have grown.

Larry says,”...decision makers have failed to distinguish between well-designed (good) infill and poorly designed (bad) infill.”  I would argue that decision makers have done this.  Let’s take a look at the Sunset DoT property.  It fronts a significant arterial, it’s quite close to a WTA GoLine which support Transit Oriented Development, it can act as a visual and sound shield, etc.  The question I would have for opponents is how does this infill project not fit the majority of Smart Growth goals?

Smart Growth principles: 
1 Mix Land Uses
2 Take Advantage of Compact Building Design
3 Create Walkable Neighborhoods
4 Foster Distinctive, Attractive Communities with a Strong Sense of Place
5 Preserve Open Space, Farmland, Natural Beauty and Critical Environmental Areas
6Strengthen and Direct Development Towards Existing Communities
7 Provide a Variety of Transportation Choices
8 Make Development Decisions Predictable, Fair and Cost Effective
9 Encourage Community and Stakeholder Collaboration in Development Decisions

I’ve been a member of the Smart Growth Network since 2000.  I like this statement:  “The Network was formed in response to increasing community concerns about the need for new ways to grow that boost the economy, protect the environment, and enhance community vitality.”

I would encourage all who are interested in taking part in city growth discussions to become a member of this fantastic group.    http://www.smartgrowth.org/network.php

Furthering my devil’s advocacy I offer this statement by Justice Potter regarding obscenity: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced…(b)ut I know it when I see it…”  So, where some think Mr. Edelstein’s infill is just fine, others don’t.  Who’s correct?

And John, I do feel a bit justified in my modest criticism of the southside.  Whereas past generations of home builders have left the single family neighborhoods we enjoy today, when two new neighborhoods are suggested (Chuckanut Ridge and Padden Trails) they are both fought against.  Isn’t that a double standared, a little BANANAish?  It seems that infill of multi-family is fought, infill of single family is fought, I imagine some folks are wondering what can be built and where.  Which brings me back to my devil’s advocacy so well stated by Justice Potter.

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Larry Horowitz

Mar 17, 2012

My friend Dan Warner published an excellent article titled “POST-GROWTHISM: from Smart Growth to Sustainable Development” in the Sep 2006 issue of ‘Environmental Practice’.  Dan writes, “As a planning concept, Smart Growth leads to a dead end. Planners and environmental professionals must help communities work toward a different planning theory predicated on the truth that, at some juncture, growth must stop.”

In reality, smart growth is no more a permanent solution than infill.  Both merely delay the inevitable:  either recognize there is a limit to how many people can be comfortably accommodated or foul the nest beyond one’s ability to stand the stink.

Asserting that because Bellingham is not yet too stinky we should not be concerned about urban hell holes is a non-starter.  The point is to prevent Bellingham’s slippery slope to the underworld BEFORE we arrive, not when it’s too late.

Comparing the infill potential of the Lettered Streets neighborhood to Chuckanut Ridge or Padden Trails indicates a clear lack of understanding of why fellow ‘Hamsters oppose the poorly designed plans for these areas.  Geographically, the Lettered Streets neighborhood has little in common with these parcels.  Besides, aren’t you grossly overlooking Smart Growth principles 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9?  (Note that Mike Rostron’s article focuses on principle 9: Encourage Community and Stakeholder Collaboration in Development Decisions.)

The GMA was not designed to encourage growth, as you seem to imply.  It was enacted to prevent growth from destroying the high quality of life enjoyed by WA residents, much of which is derived from the state’s natural environment.  Had the state not experienced out-of-control growth, there would have been little need to adopt the GMA.  Even lawmakers recognized that too much population growth is a bad thing.  No one was complaining about too little population growth.

Smart Growth does lead to a literal DEAD end.  Rather than encourage those who are interested in the livability of our city to join a smart growth organization, perhaps it would be better if they considered what CASSE(1) has to say.  Steady State is much, much smarter than Smart Growth!

(1) CASSE – Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy: http://steadystate.org/

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John Servais

Mar 17, 2012

Mike - as you write, “... hence the very name growth “management” act.”  Yes, management, not anything goes.  You do not seem to know the numbers that apply to the Sunnyland issue.  And maybe ignorance is all that is in play here. 

At the same density as the surrounding blocks, the DOT area would take maybe 18 to 20 homes.  The neighborhood folks are, I am told, open to greater density, with maybe 28 or so “units” as developers and city planning people call homes.  But Edelstein is pushing for over 60 units and he will not even say how many - which leads to realizing he would like an even higher number.

So, are you saying Edelstein should have been allowed to develop 1,500 or more “units” in the Chuckanut Ridge area?  Where do you live?  I may know a developer who would like to build an apartment next door to you - perhaps on the sunny south side.

This may be fun and games to you Mike, and you may love a good debate, but it is not a game to the Sunnyland folks.  Their property values, future plans, children’s welfare, and right to enjoy their neighborhood are at stake.  What you are basically saying is zoning that designates single family neighborhoods should be ignored.  As an elected official and one of our county’s most powerful politicians, I would expect a bit more of a responsible approach from you. 

So, do you believe single family zoning has been made obsolete by the GMA?  And how do your fellow smart growth members feel about your views?  You sure you are in the right organization?  Unlimited infilling in residential neighborhoods?

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Michael McAuley

Mar 17, 2012

John says, “Where do you live?  I may know a developer who would like to build an apartment next door to you…”

LOL!  Can’t, we beat ‘em to the punch. I live in a lovely, single family area :-) 

BTW….I clearly don’t understand state economics.

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Michael McAuley

Mar 17, 2012

“What you are basically saying is zoning that designates single family neighborhoods should be ignored.”

Not at all.  What I am saying is that in order to adjust to the changes in population, which steady state economics can’t help us with right now because of our global economy, we must be willing to work out the best ways to change. 

I expect a robust debate. I expect tough decisions in which some folks win and some folks lose.  And, yes, zoning changes have made many people a great deal of money….that’s the freebie WE give away to landowners in order to trade for what we want. 

What we all want is a thriving economy that protects the people and the planet from undue harm.  Nobody ever promised an unchanging landscape and it would be the height of hypocrisy for a person living here in this time to say, “Enough! We’ve grown enough and we don’t want to grow more.” 

To be blunt, there are varying levels of infill and I have heard no end of people claiming to be in favor of infill until they find out it’s gonna be on their block. 

If I seemed flippant in earlier posts it’s because I was. 

The proposal, as Mike writes, is attempting to place some 60 odd units on the property using the Infill Toolkit….ummm….isn’t that what the Toolkit was so well vetted and designed to do?  Help infill “fit”? 

So, this forum seems to attract some pretty bright folks so help me out here.  If you think infill is a necessary evil, as I do, then weigh in.  Let us, let me know where it’s supposed to go.

Just so you know my position, let me be very, very clear:  I would rather live next to 60 units of well designed housing than continue losing farmland, forest and further degradation of this county.

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Mike Rostron

Mar 17, 2012

Michael: I’ll take some of the bait.
Our proposal for between 20 and 30 single family homes is infill by anyone’s definition, so we are not opposing infill in our neighborhood generally, or for this sub-area.  There are not any homes at all there at present, after all.  Let’s not loose sight of this critical fact.  Even 25 homes will add 40 or 50 cars to the traffic on Illinois and Sunset streets, and another 75 to 100 people.

All around the DOT site, including the other side of the street in the Cornwall Park neighborhood, is single family zoned as well.  All of the Sunnyland neighborhood south of Alabama is already zoned multifamily.  Are you suggesting the entire city (except of course Edgemoor) should be zoned multifamily?

Under existing zoning regulations every single home in the single family areas may legally construct an attached dwelling unit (ADU), and many in our neighborhood have already done so or are doing this.  There is tremendous potential for infill in Bellingham even if we just agree to build where it is desired (downtown especially comes to mind) and where it is already permissible.

Why should development corporations decide the look and population densities of existing neighborhoods rather than the homeowners themselves? 

Yes, some of us are in favor of steady state and policies that discourage rapid growth.  There is no reason we have to make Bellingham into another Seattle, Tacoma, or even Everett.  Some of us like medium sized cities.  Very slow growth or steady state would give us time to deal with many of the infrastructure issues we already face.  We are allowing planners and developers to set unreasonable population growth projections.  If we continue to encourage population growth here we will be facing even more burdensome costs for dealing with our water supply, sewer plant, street maintenance, police, fire, and other issues.  Time to slow the train down - take a step back, and think about what kind of city we want to leave our children and grandchildren.  Neighborhoods like Sunnyland, Columbia, Cornwall Park, York, Lettered Streets, etc. are precious and once we bulldoze those homes and build our Brave New City there is no going back.

Your last paragraph is a red herring as you well know.  Farm land is conserved when it is protected by legal restrictions. 

We have to get rid of the idea that we can build our way into prosperity.  It is absurd to think we have to have a huge construction segment going full speed full time here!  Maybe in China… 

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Larry Horowitz

Mar 18, 2012

Mike Rostron’s comment highlights three additional planning issues:

- Does Bellingham have adequate infill potential or are additional upzones needed?

- What is the nature of population growth projections?  If we build it, will they come?  If we don’t, will they go elsewhere?  Who are they?  Are we masters of our own destiny or victims of the past?

- Is McAuley’s assertion - that we must choose between living next to 60 units of housing or continue to lose farmland and forest - a red herring and a false dilemma?

Infill Potential:
According to the City of Bellingham Land Supply Analysis in the city’s Comp Plan (1), there were 2,314 acres within the city and UGA planning areas available for residential development (“Developable Acres”).  At the time, the city had planned to use 891 of these acres for parks and another 170 acres for ‘other public & quasi-public facilities’, leaving 1,253 net acres for residential development.  But, a funny thing happened in 2008.  The city adopted a new Park Plan that drastically reduced the amount of parkland the city expected to purchase.  Unfortunately, the city has never added back these acres to its net supply of developable acres.  As a result, the city has hundreds of additional acres available for development that are not included in the land supply analysis, an increase in net available acres of as much as 30-40%.  I wrote about this in July and August 2008 (2). 

Conclusion - Bellingham has plenty of infill potential and has no need for additional upzones.  Note that these upzones themselves, which represent substantial hidden potential, are not considered in the city’s land supply analysis.


Population Growth Projections:
If you ever questioned whether the process of projecting population growth is gamed, you might consider visiting the WA Realtors website and reading land use attorney Sandy Mackie’s three-part series entitled “Land Use and You” (3).  Mackie writes, “The value of property is not inherent in the land itself, but rather in the use to which the land may be placed and the time it takes to first identify the scope of such uses, and then to achieve the necessary permits and development…  One of the first decisions to affect you is the local population allocation.  Population allocation is the lynchpin on which all other GMA planning is based.”

To further illustrate that population projections are gamed, ECONorthwest (the consultant hired by Whatcom County to provide population projection estimates) had this to say in its Dec 2006 ‘Foothills Subarea Population Forecast’:

“One final comment on forecasts: population forecasts are often viewed as ‘self-fulfilling prophecies.’ In many respects they are intended to be; local governments create land use, transportation, and infrastructure plans to accommodate the growth forecast. Those planning documents represent a series of policy decisions. Thus, how much population a local government (particularly cities) chooses to accommodate is also a policy decision. In short, the forecast and the plans based on the forecast represent the city’s future vision.”

I wrote about this issue in October 2008 (4).


False Dilemma:
My friend Mike McAuley implies that we have a choice: Either we accept the 60- (492-, 739-, etc.) unit development next door or we should plan to experience further farmland & forest loss and degradation of the county.

Really?  So if we do accept these poorly designed developments and associated adverse impacts, then that will guarantee the preservation of our farmland and forests?  And, if we refuse to accept these destructive projects, then we have guaranteed the destruction of farmland and forests?

What a crock of BS!  The only way to save farmland and forests is to establish zoning that will do so.  Smart Growth and infill projects may postpone the inevitable development of the thousands of vested lots in the county, but it won’t prevent that development.  Why bother?

Here’s a suggestion:  When the county finally gets its act together and passes legislation that permanently protects farmland and forests, get back to us, will ya?

(1) See Land Supply Analysis on page LU-16b @
http://www.cob.org/documents/planning/comprehensive-plan-code-amendments/comprehensive-plan/chapter-2-comp-plan.pdf

(2) The thousand acre dilemma: Part 1 and Part 1.5
http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/the-thousand-acre-dilemma-part-1
http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/the-thousand-acre-dilemma-part-15-now-is-the-time-to-solve-it

(3) Sandy Mackie’s “Land Use and You”
Part 1: http://www.warealtor.org/government/local-government-affairs/news/sandie_mackie1.asp
Part 2: http://www.warealtor.org/government/local-government-affairs/news/sandie_mackie.asp
Part 3: http://www.warealtor.org/government/local-government-affairs/news/sandie_mackie3.asp

(4) Population Projections: Victims of the past or Masters of our own destiny
http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/population-projections-victims-of-the-past-or-masters-of-our-own-destiny

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Michael McAuley

Mar 18, 2012

Excellent discussion gentlemen.  Thank you!

M

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Michelle Luke

Mar 18, 2012

Hello Gentlemen

I attended a forum last summer presented by the Association of Realtors. Growth projections, and trends were the basic topics. The data showed that except for the most youngest of demographics most people wanted to live in a single family dwelling. The Sunnyland Neighborhood article asks for support. I support neighborhoods that want development or redevelopment infill consistent with the existing neighborhood. At the risk of giving an opinion with such an esteemed group of veteran bloggers, I would hate to see another “Birchwood” style infill project in the Sunnyland neighborhood. I believe that preserving Bellingham as a desirable place to live, includes preserving it’s neighborhoods. Public participation is part of the process. When a neighborhood has REAL fingerprints on an important issue such as infill in their neighborhood the City and developers should see those fingerprints as a path to a successful project.

Michelle Luke

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Tip Johnson

Mar 18, 2012

Well, for those with an interest in how cities grow, consider this: In 150 or so years of building Bellingham, places like the 100 acre woods, Padden Creek gorge, Connelly Creek nature area, etc., were never developed.  Why is that? I doubt it was because everyone was waiting for some urban planning genius to come along and zone them for sufficient density. I expect folks just had better sense.

Gosh, people lived here for at least 12,000 years without paving over these wetland and nearshore areas.  They lived here for millennia and the trout and salmon did, too.  In a little over one century, we have fouled every urban stream and nearly decimated entire species of fish.  Talk about canaries in the coal mine.

For those who remember, Growth Management started out as a citizen initiative.  It’s purpose was to preserve neighborhoods and provide for relief from spiraling property taxes and infrastructure charges, like improvement districts. 

Locally, Bakerview exemplifies the motivations behind the initiative.  Folks moved out there to be in the country, many to live out their years on fixed retirement incomes.  Taxes went up and up as development creeped nearer.  Traffic increased and roads were improved, assessing each frontage foot of everyone’s property.  Utility service areas were extended and services added, and frontage feet assessed.  More services and better roads made land more attractive to development.  Upzones raised the value and taxes went up some more.  Pretty soon folks were forced to sell.  They hadn’t the financing for development or the income to stay.  Smart developers know that they can buy strategically and force assessments onto people that can’t afford them. This is most of the story of south Florida, Arizona, etc.

So folks wanted relief and were marshaling the issue toward the ballot.  The state stepped in, in horror, and appealed to the citizens.  “What you have written won’t work.  It will end up in court and cost everyone tons of money.  We understand the problem.  Leave it to us and we will write a law that works.”  Which, of course, they didn’t.  Citizens stayed involved, but the building lobby dug in and what we got is, well, what we got.  No one can say with any authority that GMA is a well reasoned growth policy document.  It is the same kind of sausage that legislations generally extrude.

That said, why on earth would anyone even want to consider a growth policy that runs roughshod over the folks already in residence?  Is there some emerging new sense of manifest destiny that justifies destruction of lifestyle and culture?  We are admittedly good at that, but historically apply it only to folks with darker skin or flatter noses.  It’s absurd! It’s like saying, “To hell with the rainforest and the indigenes, there’s lumber in them thar hills.” I don’t think folks pay their taxes and elect representatives expecting to have no say in their future.  We are, after all and possibly above all, an experiment in self-determination.  That is what planning is, or should be about.

And rightfully so. Our infrastructure also constitutes an ideostructure (yep, I made that up when I was writing MY thesis), a code literally carved in stone - bricks, concrete, asphalt, wood - a code that shapes our behavior and defines our choices.  You can see the difference in my neighborhood, where some folks work in their gardens while at the 4-bedroom duplex complexes, others throw televisions and beer bottles off balconies, yelling into the wee hours until the cops come and shut their party down.

Infill might work, but merely rezoning a chunk of neighborhood land for maximum density doesn’t cut it.  That’s actually spot zoning and undesirable by any planning policy framework.  If every existing residential property added an ADU, we would have a huge increase in the quantity, diversity and affordability of housing stock.  It would be well supervised housing with every incentive to integrate with existing neighborhood character.  Downtown still has plenty of vacant buildings, especially upper floors. We have seen housing added and the revitalizing effect it has had on the CBD. Why go swinging hatchets in stable neighborhoods just to add a couple more units so some developer has a more profitable experience?

Finally, rezones are dangerous.  Density like that brings impacts.  25 units doesn’t add 25 to 50 cars.  They will add 150 to 250 trips per day.  Sure, transit oriented design is good, but how many trips will it really reduce?  Light, glare, noise, crime, trash all extend outward from intensified land use, creating undesirable margins that can drive people away, push adjoining properties into transitional uses and lead developers in a few years to say, “Geez, it’s already screwed up, why don’t we just finish it off?”  In Happy Valley, we have watched this dynamic played out time and again.  It’s not worth it.  Let developers build somewhere other than our stable residential areas and precious wetland resources.

 

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Michelle Luke

Mar 18, 2012

Tip, I think we mostly agree, are you supporting the Sunnyland Neighborhood?
If Mr. Roston is still reading, maybe he can let those of us know HOW to support his neighborhood.

Michelle Luke

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Michael McAuley

Mar 18, 2012

“The only way to save farmland and forests is to establish zoning that will do so.”

Now ur gettin it.  :-) 

In 2004, when my thesis was published on growth management in Whatcom County, approx. 72% of the county’s, non-urban future housing units were on 5 acre parcels and called rural.  Most places in the world consider those densities as suburban.

While the steady state economy may be the best and future financial situation the bottom line is we aren’t there yet, right?  Sorta like we aren’t giving up coal yet, either. Or shifting to all electric cars.  Just cuz we can and some of us want to doesn’t mean it’ll actually happen.

So in the the absence of the dictatorship required for those outcomes we must find the best alternatives. 

People will move here, sorry Larry, it’s a free country.  Someone built your house and you moved here just like me and everyone else.  We don’t live in an economic vacuum.

People will own property and not give a damn about the neighborhood character then build the minimum the law allows no matter how loudly we scream. They will do this because it’s legal.

And let me tell you this, cuz it’s gonna happen just like it has been repeatedly in this town: the more we fight all we do is push up costs so that when the thing is actually built the owner is so pissed at the neighborhood all the nice bits they could’ve done are pulled from the table and the project happens anyway. 

I like infill. I like infill for one simple reason and this came to me one day while training on our county roads - I used to race bicycles - if I can’t stop on the side of a road and take a leak without some neighbor seeing me do it then it’s not rural. 

And let me tell you there is nothing rural about western Whatcom County anymore.  That’s why I like infill.

If you want rural, let’s visit my old home in Lewis County. They know how to do rural. They also know how to do redneck, country boy, line dancing, four wheel drives and keggers at Hopper’s bon fire.  Now THAT’S rural.  :-)

The difference you will find among certain people in the environmental fields is that some of us have realized that in order to preserve those amazing, natural features near our cities, the ones that provide environmental services we all take for granted, then we have to give up something within our cities.  I’m willing to do that. 

I’m willing to give up huge yards and little traffic for smaller yards and apartment living because the alternative - and this is real people thanks to a little thing called the Constitution - is continued loss of our close-in non-urban landscapes.  That’s undeniable.

Someday, I will be priced out of a home here in town.  Someday I will be priced out of a home in the unincorporated areas.  That day will happen when zoning finally catches up with reality, which both Larry and Mike mention here, and the price of land for SF homes skyrockets, which it will. 

And I’m OK with that because I know that the land use protections we need to protect our non-urban landscapes is working.  That zoning is likely to make quite a few people very wealthy.  As I mentioned before, that’s the trade-off WE in the commons bestow on the land owners so WE in the commons can have the clean air, clean water, clean living WE want. 

BTW….Larry, I wouldn’t characterize any part of Whatcom County as an urban hell-hole and density alone wouldn’t be the cause anyway - that would be more relevant to the economy, which your steady state would take care of, it seems. 

All right, that’s it for me.  Let’s all get beers at the soon to expand Chuckanut or even better the new Elizabeth Station - both in my ‘hood.

:-)

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Larry Horowitz

Mar 18, 2012

Well, Mike M., I see that you like to make predictions:

1) “The more we fight, all we do is push up costs so that when the thing is actually built the owner is so pissed at the neighborhood all the nice bits they could’ve done are pulled from the table and the project happens anyway.”

Wow, that sounds like a threat.  I don’t know about my fellow ‘Hamsters, but I don’t respond favorably to threats.  Rather than depend on the fickleness of developers, I’d much prefer to establish market-based impact fees that guarantee our neighborhoods’ levels of service will be preserved.  If we stop subsidizing developers, then we can pay for all the amenities those pissed-off developers may pull from the table.  There’s nothing like negotiating from a position of strength rather than a position of weakness, as you envision.


2) “People will move here.” 

Well, who can argue with that?  Of course, people will move here; but people will also move AWAY from here, and, sadly, people living here now will pass on.  (BTW, when we moved here we purchased an existing home from people who were moving away - as do the vast majority of those who move here.)

The question is not whether people will move here, but what level of ORGANIC, NET population growth would we experience if we were not using tax dollars to subsidize and manipulate population growth and promote our land cheaply like a pimp in Times Square?  If researchers Donella Meadows et. al. can be believed, then there are physical LIMITS TO GROWTH - and we are damn close to them.  Just ask Russia, Japan, and most eastern European countries what it’s like to forecast growth only to see your population decline. 

Here’s a prediction:  Those cities and counties that figure out how to survive financially without population growth are the ones that will succeed in the future. 

And here’s another:  Population growth will not continue forever… even in Whatcom County.  Why?  Because the planet’s resources and sinks (where we deposit our waste) can only support a certain population level, a level we are closely approaching if we haven’t already overshot it. 

Mike, I’ll leave you with something you might enjoy reading and may even cause you to smile.  Two articles published by Herman Daly’s “The Daly News” - one by Rob Dietz and the other by the ‘father of steady state economics’ himself, Herman Daly.  As Mr. Daly asks:

- Can the economy be too big in its physical dimensions relative to the ecosystem?

- Are the marginal costs of growth now larger than the marginal benefits?

“Mountebank Wins Nobel for Infinite Planet Theory”
“Opportunity Cost of Growth”
http://steadystate.org/wp-content/uploads/DalyNews_DalyVSMountebank_Packet.pdf

;-}

PS - Beer: when & where?

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Michelle Luke

Mar 18, 2012

Hello all
There are many great points, opinions and interpretations in this comment “thread” but from this point of view, this particular neighborhood is on the “front burner”. The City of Bellingham appears to be dismissing the immediate stakeholders in this project. If local government disenfranchises it’s citizens in decisions that directly affect them, what is the “community” for? Mr. Rostron is presenting a current issue which his community is facing now, it appears to me that the 80,000 ft. level of discussion going on here does nothing for this neighborhood issue. While I do not live in Bellingham, this “method” of governing is the same all over Whatcom County. I am curious, what do you think about THIS issue, in the here and now. What role do YOU think stakeholders have in the development and redevelopment of their neighborhoods and communities? Who are we planning for?
Michelle Luke

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David Onkels

Mar 18, 2012

Larry, You wrote, ” Here’s a suggestion:  When the county finally gets its act together and passes legislation that permanently protects farmland and forests, get back to us, will ya?”

If you would offer examples of land zoned AG or CF that has been converted to residential use, (By that I don’t mean R-10, of course. Much productive ag land is thus zoned.) I would love to see it. A possible exception would be the UGA areas around Lynden, which are presently zoned AG. If you have a better idea about how Lynden might grow, please offer me some advice.

Certainly you’re aware that the GMA, the original purpose of which was to reduce traffic congestion and to reduce low-density sprawling development, has completely failed to change development patterns in western Washington.

Perhaps we should scrap it and start over with an effective, workable statute.

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Michael McAuley

Mar 18, 2012

Been looking at Steady State Econ, would love comment here: 

http://mikeattheport.blogspot.com/2012/03/steady-state-economics-basics.html

So, my fellow readers. Let’s take this discussion out of the realm of belief and back into basic, legal reality. Mostly, I ask this as a starting point since it’s the basis that Mr. Edelstein will argue from.  My question follows. 

What right do the citizens have to dictate how another citizen will use their property if that use is permissable by law?

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Larry Horowitz

Mar 18, 2012

Michelle,

Thanks for re-focusing our attention to the matter at hand:  Mike Rostron’s request that City Council docket the Sunnyland Neighborhood Association’s (SNA) zoning proposal for the former DOT site, a proposal designed to preserve the character and quality of the Sunnyland neighborhood for future generations.

Without reservation, I fully support SNA’s request for docketing, and based on Tip Johnson’s comment, I suspect he does as well (though I do not presume to speak for Tip; that would be a mistake).

The 1995 amendment to the GMA designed to preserve the vitality and character of established single family neighborhoods (SSB 5567) makes it clear that such protection is a GMA requirement, not merely a goal.  In addition, GMA Planning Goal 11 (“Citizen participation and coordination”) advises cities and counties to “Encourage the involvement of citizens in the planning process and ensure coordination between communities and jurisdictions to reconcile conflicts.” RCW 36.70A.020(11)  Further, Smart Growth principle 9 confirms the need to “Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.”

Is it not obvious that the city should listen to what Sunnyland residents have to say and, unless Council has legitimate objections, should docket the SNA zoning proposal?

So, if it’s obvious that Council should docket the proposal, why haven’t they?  Is it possible Council’s objections are of the 80,000 ft variety, many of which Mike M. has been kind enough to identify in his comments?

Perhaps Councilmembers:

- Are not aware of the GMA requirement to preserve the vitality and character of established single family neighborhoods; or

- Don’t distinguish between good infill and bad infill; or

- Believe that infill will actually prevent sprawl rather than simply postpone it; or

- Don’t realize that Bellingham’s land supply is sufficient to accommodate its forecasted population growth, especially when the reduced parkland acres from the 2008 Park Plan are added back to the city’s net developable acres; or

- Have actually bought into the gaming of the population forecast and believe we must remain victims rather than masters of our destiny; or

- Actually believe the false dilemma asserted by Mike M:  that we must choose to infill ad infinitum regardless of the impairment to our quality of life in order to preserve farmland and forests.

To the extent Councilmembers rely on these objections (regardless of their invalidity) to deny SNA’s docket request, then discussing them here may actually help Mike Rostron and the Sunnyland Neighborhood in their quandary.  Of course, I have no idea why Council does what it does, so I could just as easily be wrong.

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Larry Horowitz

Mar 18, 2012

Mr. Onkels,

I have absolutely no idea if any land zoned AG or CF has been converted to residential use, and I don’t believe that has any relevance.

If you are asserting that you can guarantee the preservation of the county’s farmland and forests forever and ever (Amen!), then please do so.  That’s what we’re looking for.

Absent that guarantee, none of us will be satisfied that an adequate supply of farmland and forests will be preserved… permanently (and not just until the population forecast can be gamed again).

A certain amount of sprawl (i.e., the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development) is essentially guaranteed by the thousands of already vested lots in the county.  We may be able to postpone the inevitable sprawl, but we cannot prevent it.  What we can prevent is sprawl beyond these already vested lots.  Who has the political will to do that?

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Larry Horowitz

Mar 18, 2012

Mike M.,

The question you pose (“What right do the citizens have to dictate how another citizen will use their property if that use is permissible by law?”) is not relevant to Mr. Edelstein’s argument.

Mr. Edelstein has no legal right to obtain a free upzone to 60 units.  Isn’t that the issue surrounding SNA’s docket request?  In fact, SNA is recommending a smaller upzone that Mr. Edelstein also has no legal right to obtain. 

What legal rights does Mr. Edelstein have that the SNA is trying to dictate?

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Mike Rostron

Mar 19, 2012

Exactly. The developer did not buy any particular zoning designation.  The temporary zoning would allow two homes to be built at present.  The Sunnyland Neighborhood Association is advocating infill at this sub area with an addition of well over 20 additional homes.  We have been criticized by some residents for advocating too many new homes for the site.

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Michael McAuley

Mar 19, 2012

The property was purchased with the risk taken that it could be upzoned thus improving the financial outcome for the buyer.  It was not, apparently, purchased with vested rights for the proposal.

The proposed land use is legal, however. 

And that’s the question: the owner has a legal right to request the rezone. So what rights do people who do not own the property have in regards to the legal uses? 

In a nutshell, how far does a your standing go?  Do your rights extend beyond your property line when it’s not an issue facing the commons? 

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Larry Horowitz

Mar 19, 2012

The community’s legal standing in this situation is codified under Section 20.19 of the Bellingham Municipal Code which governs rezones.  If the rezone does not meet the criteria of BMC 20.19.030, then citizens have a legal basis to oppose the rezone.  Also see Bill Geyer’s article regarding the Padden Trails rezone @ http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/padden-trails-provides-infill.

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Michael McAuley

Mar 19, 2012

Here’s the criteria.  How does it not fit?  There are wiggle words in this list. 

20.19.030 Criteria
A.  The City may approve or approve with modifications an application for a rezone of property if:
(1)  It is consistent with the comprehensive plan or corresponds to a concurrent comprehensive plan
amendment application; 
(2)  It will not adversely affect the public health, safety or general welfare;
(3)  It is in the best interests of the residents of Bellingham; 
(4) The subject property is suitable for development in general conformance with zoning standards under
the proposed zoning district;
(5) Adequate public facilities and services are, or would be, available to serve the development allowed by
the proposed zone;
(6)  It will not be materially detrimental to uses or property in the immediate vicinity of the subject property;
and
(7)  It is appropriate because either:
a.  Conditions in the immediate vicinity have changed sufficiently since the property was classified under
the current zoning that a rezone is in the public interest; or
b.  The rezone will correct a zone classification or zone boundary that was   inappropriate when
established; or
c.  The rezone will implement the policies of the comprehensive plan.

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Larry Horowitz

Mar 19, 2012

Your initial question simply asked about the rights of the community.  I answered your question and provided the statutory basis for the community’s rights.

Now you are asking a totally different question.  Since I’m not an expert on this property, I’ll defer to Mike Rostron and the Sunnyland Neighborhood.  I suspect Mike will point to items 2, 3, and 6.  (BTW, note the word “and” at the end of item 6.  All of these criteria must be met in order for the rezone to be approved.  Failure to meet any one of them justifies a rejection of the rezone application.)

While it’s true there are “wiggle words” in the list, we paid staff good money to draft this language.  If we’re not happy with this language, perhaps we should pay staff to change it.  You cannot blame the community for the amount of wiggle in the words.

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Michael McAuley

Mar 19, 2012

Naw Larry, still on the same question.

SNA asserts standing on behalf of the citizens. OK. 

You point out their standing is codified in BMC 20.19.030. OK.

So the burden here is on the SNA to use the wiggle words in their favor. 

Criterion 2 is a health and safety issue.  Tough to prove that this project would decrease health, safety or general welfare. 

Criterion 3 would be my point of argument but it’s “wiggly.”  Who are the residents?  Criterion 6 says ‘immediate vicinity.  SNA says it’s the neighbors nearby.  Notification req’s say it’s a 500ft radius.  Some would argue it’s any resident in the city.

Criterion 6 would be really tough to prove as well, the keyword is ‘materially.”

So we’ve established ‘standing.’ At least precedent would suggest so. 

SNA’s arguments can’t be based on simple, broad statements about GMA, etc.  The owner is going to argue point by point, word by word how the project fits. 

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Michael McAuley

Mar 19, 2012

From History Link dot org. 

On April 1, 1990, the last day of a special legislative session, the state House and Senate give final approval to Washington’s Growth Management Act (GMA). The law, which Governor Booth Gardner (b. 1936) signs three weeks later (after vetoing some provisions), is part of a growth management “revolution” triggered by voter frustration over the effects of rapidly increasing development, especially in King County and the surrounding central Puget Sound area. The GMA—including additional provisions enacted in 1991 (and revisions and amendments almost every subsequent year)—transforms land-use regulation in Washington. It requires the state’s largest and fastest growing counties to conduct comprehensive land-use and transportation planning, to concentrate new growth in compact “urban growth areas,” and to protect natural resources and environmentally critical areas.

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Larry Horowitz

Mar 19, 2012

Mike,

I’m no fortune teller, so I have no idea how the DOT rezone process will play out.  However, I do know that we’ve gotten way off track in terms of the proposal by Mike Rostron and the SNA (a proposal that actually calls for what many in the neighborhood consider a generous upzone for the DOT property).

Mike and the SNA have not asked the city to rule on a potential rezone.  They have simply asked the city to docket their zoning proposal for the DOT subarea so the dialogue can begin, a request they clearly have the right to make.

Are you suggesting that the city should deny SNA’s request to docket their proposal?

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Michael McAuley

Mar 19, 2012

Sorry Larry…I realized I didn’t respond to your questions.  Here goes :-)

“Mr. Edelstein has no legal right to obtain a free upzone to 60 units.”

  Correct, but he does have the right to request it. And I would point out that whenever WE, through our governing processes, grant an upzone WE bestow an incredible gift to the landowner. We do that in exchange for protection of exurban land. 

“Isn’t that the issue surrounding SNA’s docket request?” 

No.  The SNA request is an effort by the neighborhood to rezone land they do not own.  When the LSNA did this we had to show a preponderance of landowner support, I assume the SNA is doing the same. 

“In fact, SNA is recommending a smaller upzone that Mr. Edelstein also has no legal right to obtain.” 

Actually, the SNA is asking to assert their own infill desire over another person’s property.  Both parties are legally asking for upzone, just different densities.

“What legal rights does Mr. Edelstein have that the SNA is trying to dictate?”

The owner has the right to request an upzone within the bounds of the law, which it would seem he is doing. 

If you think about what I am not saying you will understand what it is that I am saying.  ;-)

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Michael McAuley

Mar 19, 2012

Mike R writes:  “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 ...”

Is the landowner now reneging on the agreements made during that process? 

Did the original plan for 2007 include 20 units?  In the paragraph above the one I copied here you said the developer never agreed to single family zoning nor did they lay out exact unit numbers.

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Elizabeth Jennings

Mar 19, 2012

Thank you all for an informative and civil conversation! As a neighbor and homeowner on the Sunnyland Lower West Side, I’ve followed this proposed project for several years, and I helped facilitate the SNA’s first year of planning and discussion about the DOT site (2006/07?).  I think I probably frustrated many on both sides of the issue, because I honestly can’t see it as either/or single family/multiple family, density/character, or other us-vs.-them solutions. I also participated in the first Neighborhood Planning Academy and advised the development of the Code & Character framework that evolved into the Infill Toolkit. I’m no expert, but I care about my neighborhood, the community, and protecting our county from sprawl. A few thoughts on the conversation so far:

- Yes, COB Council should docket the Sunnyland proposal. Do I agree with everything in it? I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness SNA put into the proposal, but no, I would not advocate for the entire approach of the SNA. However, formally docketing a rezone opens up the public process where the public can engage in dialogue and in reframing it to meet the most interests possible. We have to start somewhere, and (very importantly) it shows good faith on part of the city to start with a proposal from the people already living in the area.

- I stepped away from the process in part because I personally got frustrated that folks on both sides of the issue were defending positions rather than looking for ways to meet multiple interests. For example, when I was involved in neighborhood discussions, one of the interests I heard expressed over and over was the desire to preserve the character of the neighborhood, and another was to “do our part” to protect the county from sprawl. Those are both interests, not positions. A position is that only single-family zoning will preserve character. I beg to differ. Down here on the Sunnyland Lower West Side, we have multi-family housing (duplex zoning), and much of it you would never know is multi, because it blends so well into the ‘hood. There are 100-year-old homes (such as mine) that were split into duplexes, and there are many newer ADUs, carriage houses, etc. It’s a fun, funky, historic, walkable, friendly mix of renters and owners. So, we already have proven that we can have successful infill, density, multifamily zoning AND character in Sunnyland. (Just not above Alabama? Hmmm.) The Infill Toolkit provides a framework for neighborhoods to achieve both infill and preserve character. That said, I very well understand some neighbors’ hesitancy to take the city at its word re. design guidelines, as there are many examples of horrible design in lovely neighborhoods. So my question is: What does the city need to do to build and demonstrate trust in our new tools?

- My hope is that the rhetoric on both sides could be toned down so we could get to how to best meet the interests of all involved. I understand why there is distrust on the part of some, because in the past developers’ interests have trumped community members’ interests. But I’d like to think that we’re all smart and caring enough to come up with an approach that preserves neighborhood character, adds value to the community (my particular interest is affordable housing), and allows the developers to make a buck, which is after all their business. Note I’m not asking for “compromise.” I’m asking for interests on both sides to be met. I personally don’t feel the current empty, dirty, ugly and underutilized DOT site is meeting anyone’s interests.

- So what’s missing for my Pollyannaish hopes and dreams for my neighborhood to be realized? Trust. SNA has a proposal that’s a good place to start a conversation. The city has the Infill Toolkit as a framework to better ensure the interests of neighbors can be met in preserving character now than in the past. So perhaps the question for City Planning and council is: How can you build the trust that is necessary for us to move forward in meeting multiple interests?

Best regards,
Liz

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Mike Rostron

Mar 19, 2012

thank you Elizabeth.
Here is a very simple answer.  Start by docketing the SNA proposal. Then let the discussion commence.  It harms nobody, and the only reason it has not been docketed is because of opposition by the planning department and the owner.  Very simply, if I decided I wanted to upzone my property to build a 4-plex, thus impacting my neighbor’s home values and quality of life I would expect to hear some objections!  Under the latest Supreme Court definitions a corporation (including property development corporations) is a “person” with the same legal rights as anyone.  Okay, that “person” owns that piece of property and they wish to have it zoned differently that the surrounding property.  Let the discussion take place in the light of day, in the city council chambers and not in the private rooms or the offices of the planning department.  After all, we live here and have to deal with the results;  the developer does not and can retreat to the privacy of his bucolic lodgings when all is said and done.

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Michelle Luke

Mar 19, 2012

Hello All

I checked with the COB clerk today, anyone can speak to the City Council during open session next Mon. the 26th at 7:00 for 3 min. on any topic including the Sunnyland Neighborhood issue. Hope to see you there, {your neighborhood could be next}
Michelle Luke

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