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Bhm City Council hearing on WWU Neighborhood Plan

Posted - Tuesday, Feb 24, 1998

A packed Council Chamber started off the long awaited public hearing on the Western Washington University Neighborhood Plan. After a year of preliminaries and Planning Commission hearings, the plan came to Council. Below is running commentary of the meeting. (parenthesis are used for comments by the writer - John Servais. This article was typed during the meeting on a laptop.This is a raw, realtime, report.)

7:19 pm - Bob Ryan started right off saying time limits would be put on speakers. He set no limits on city staff or WWU staff. (Comment at end of hearing - Mr. Ryan did a masterful job of conducting the hearing - all who wanted to got to speak. Long presentations were saved for the March 23 continuation of the meeting. No one was cut off. Our compliments to Council president Bob Ryan.)

Pat Decker, city planning head, gave an overview. Besides plan, WWU will present their Master Plan. Why? She did not say. WWU submitted their own version of neighborhood plan, but it will not be discussed tonight. WWU Institutional plan will be developed in the future. A Memorandum of Agreement - MOA - needs Council "direction" on this. Recommend that the Council schedule a "workshop" for this. (Workshops do not include public comment.) She explained this agreement. However, Pat Decker said that there will be testimony on Viking Union project. Why?? She did not say. There will be a March 19 meeting before the Planning Commission on the Viking Union renovation. She anticipated that the hearing tonight is also on the MOA. So - she confused the issue as to what this hearing is about - plan and/or MOA and/or Viking Union.

7:28 pm - Gregg Aucutt gave overview of plan. Most neighborhood plans are regulatory plans. However, the WWU plan is only a first step in developing these regulatory tools. Gregg said the plan provides recommendations and alternatives. Most are general. It recommends that once the Institutional Master Plan is completed, that a planned development process be used for future campus projects. The MOA sets up a process for reviewing projects during the interim period. Gregg characterized the three projects in the MOA as already underway and that need to continue. Most significant is VU renovation. It will require a review process. He spoke of how WWU is having a neighborhood "meeting". (Note - meeting, not a hearing. WWU meetings are very carefully controlled public relations sessions. A "hearing" is a legally defined process that allows public testimony.)

7:35 - Opened public hearing. First is WWU. Bob Ryan suggested that those who want to speak at length hold their comments till the March 23 hearing. (This worked very well.)

Grace Yuan, chair of WWU Trustees, led off. She had 4 other trustees with her. Karen Morse, President of WWU was also present. (first meeting she has ever been to) Grace went on about state law - reading from a prepared statement. She emphasized how Trustees must do things under state law - purchase land, etc. Talked on how the HEC board has driven their decisions. WWU expanding to 12,500 fte students. Need for additional space is for our kids is necessary. She went on to talk about the WWU Master Plan. (not under consideration tonight) Board intent was to allow comment before Trustees adopted the plan. Now there are additional steps. She said board "endorses" this process. (she did not say they feel it is the law) She closed by saying she hoped all could work together.

Charlie Earl - WWU board member spoke. Spoke of working cooperatively. Growth, traffic and parking as needs. Can be done without compromising neighborhoods around WWU. GMA is confusing and clouded. Siting of Universities cannot be compromised. (here is where WWU says it can do what it wants) He said neighborhoods have benefited from WWU expansion in the past.

Warren Gilbert - oldest board member from 1990 spoke. (this is problem - none of Trustees date from before 1990, and so they have little knowledge of Western's values.) He told how board considered all issues. How the Trustees heard from neighbors. How this plan is not new. He emphasized how this plan - the master plan - has gone through the proper processes. (He did not say what the huge 15 block acquisition area in Happy Valley would be used for.)

Karen Morse spoke. Western is "our neighborhood" she said. A unique neighborhood. It has the same concerns as a village would have. But different. She intends to continue with mandate to expand to 12,500 students - while maintaining quality of education. WWU has an enormous positive influence - payroll and spending. Money. She spoke of money. WWU spends money. She takes pride in WWU. She understands that WWU affects neighbors - and she assures us that cooperation will "continue". Neighborhood plan lists all that WWU has done for city. She emphasized this. She went on about what WWU has done for the area. She talked of how much the public has helped form the master plan. MOA - which is in draft form - allows WWU to proceed to move with important building projects. They are significant projects. She talked of the south campus traffic task force. Talked of how open the process is. Introduced the concept of advisory board for planning and growth. Regarding WWU's own version of the neighborhood plan, she emphasized 4 items.
1. Land owned by WWU that they want to develop but that is beyond boundary.
2. Parking. Wants recognition of WWU efforts. Delete language on parking requirements from plan.
3. Why was some info deleted from plan on WWU concerns for issues.
4. Vacate High Street.
She assured the council that she expects her administration to work closely with city staff and neighbors.

Bob Ryan urged us to not repeat what someone else has said. (funny - later they then say that only one person spoke about some item and so it must not be of great interest to others)

Rick Haggen - one of owners of Haggens Foods spoke. He spoke of traffic problems in the 1950s when he was a kid. Spoke of how fine the university is. Bell rang for three minute time limit and Ryan allowed him to continue. He spoke as if neighbors were against WWU existence. Continued on how great a place it is. He thinks it is important that we do the right thing and that WWU is a benefit to us all. (Rick sounds like he is bucking for next open Trustee position. He also was obviously warning the council that the money powers of Bellingham want the plan approved.)

Shane O'Day - President of students. Speaking as president. He "concurs" with the University. Student input at every step has been available. Does not like micro management of WWU by city. Ie. #13 of plan that addressed bicycle traffic. He suggested that WWU can handle this without city interference. He spoke of other ideas. He said he liked a bus pass system to increase bus ridership. We can't slow up process or "tie up the hands of the university."

April Markowitz - couldn't understand her. Poor sound system. Talked of campus support for the plan.

Karen Perry - president of staff employees at WWU. Spoke of how wonderful WWU has been to her. WWU is her community. She lives in Skagit County. She needs a parking spot not more than 10 minutes from her office. A Science building is now in her old parking lot. (sigh. such a personal tale of woe) Now she has to park on a hillside spot. The snow caused problems. She pays several hundred dollars a year for this spot - and no guarantee that she will have a spot. Thus she ended her testimony.

Barbara Mathers-Schmidt - commented on traffic task force - three meetings - most if not all members of task force like this process. This fits with recommendation #5 of WWU Neighborhood plan.

Bob Monahan - retired from Geography Department. WWU is a good neighbor. Fewer beer bottles now than in years past. High street is an accident waiting to happen. He recommends that - by implication - that high street be vacated. He spoke also of how much money WWU spends in Bellingham.

Ron Riggins - spoke of living in Bellingham. Our well being is linked to the viability of Western. He has been there 21 years. He was on Master plan committee. He wanted to point out four items: 1. It is not appropriate to suggest that campus is turning south - it already has. 2. WWU will grow. Useless to debate this. Therefore, accommodate growth. 3. Residents of WWU are good people who desire to be fair. Always listening. 4. Opposing views are natural aspects of change.

Joel Litwin - first voice of dissent. Presented 2,700 signatures opposed to present Viking Union renovation plans. Vendor's Row description. It is a community as well as a business center. Despite WWU administration assurances, 50 faculty and 75 staff members signed this petition. Plans are being run through the channels without student input. Don't pass the MOA. It circumvents the state Growth management Act.

8:34 pm - Louise Bjornson told of meetings on VU later this week.

Claud Hill- Spoke of 20th Street. New apartments between Douglas and Taylor. This is a problem. He lives on Knox.

Tim McHugh - spoke of viking union. He is a part time vendor, alumni and citizen. He agrees with all who have spoken.

Rick Gordon - WTA director of development. Spoke of bus needs to campus.

John Servais - Happy Valley resident spoke. I said that we neighbors love Western and treasure the campus. It is inappropriate to suggest we want WWU gone. We do want Western to work with us in a good faith manner - and Western has not done this. We want to help Western solve its problems and to grow - while our neighborhoods also continue to be wonderful places to live. This can be done if we work together.

Paul de Armond. He spoke of legal requirements. Dissected shortcomings. Council is in danger of biting poisoned fruit. GMA is being violated. Cited letter from a Mrs. Smith. He will finish his remarks at the March 23 hearing. (Paul is a researcher and will probably have much to say at the March meeting.)

Charlie Casey. Spoke of last fall a realtor approached him for the University to buy his property up on Indian Terrace. All other owners on street were interested in selling. He was told city was reluctant to rezone. It seemed a logical place to expand - to the North. He said he felt willing to move. He wanted to make the council aware of his feelings. He thinks Western has been a good neighbor.

Tip Johnson - speaking for himself. Controversy and ill will surrounding this issue. Plan is fatally flawed. It is becoming an unmanageable process. He will not be directly affected. But the WWU Neighborhood Plan has more attention than any other neighborhood plan. Why? Because too much planning has been done, in some respects. But not with correct input. Will $150 million a year in spending be enough to buy off democracy? No private developer would be allowed to do this. Will more or less time be lost by tossing out this plan? Don't blame Happy Valley residents. If Mr. Earl thinks the legal issues are clouded, then perhaps he will soon learn if he is correct. He stated that he has a list of 11 legal flaws of the plan that have not been addressed.

Barbara Defretus (sp?)- North Garden Inn. Proud of University in her back yard. She has university visitors stay at her Bed & Breakfast. She also owns 16 apartments which she rents out to students.

Hugh Beatty. He noted this is first hearing Pres. Morse has attended. Wishes she had attended earlier and learned what we are concerned about. He is upset with WWU own little personal plan. Said don't sign MOA.

Dunham Gooding - spoke of MOA - he only saw this over the weekend. Concerned if document is legal. Second concern is that it would incorporate public participation only at city planning department discretion. However, it would eliminate many processes. He commented on the exempt projects. Recommendation #28 deals with finding alternatives. This is a good clause. Parking lot in MOA will also impact happy Valley. He says we should be dealing with the overall plans - not making exceptions.

Theresa Fagin - a student. Supports Vendors Row. Students are poor. Marriott food is tasteless and expensive. Good food at good prices are available at Vendor's Row. Upset that student fees ($2 million) are being used to help build union. Shane O'Day told her that her voice no longer counted as he as president would decide.

Joe Deeney - who lives on 21st. He was surprised at addendums to package. Parking. University has 3,400 parking spaces today. If the University needs more parking then why not bond issues or fees that will pay for this. He would like to see the planning commission address this issue. Realignment of 21st will eliminate his house. He would not be the most impacted. He would come out OK. But, the neighborhood would be split. WWU keeps pushing for this. But no study has shown this needs to be done. Traffic plans should be looked at for impacts. WWU Task Force is perhaps just a nice process but rigged. Is the tail wagging the dog? Is WWU telling the city what to do?

9:24 pm - those who had not signed up had a chance to speak.

Roy Pierce - of Donovan Street. With ridges on each side of campus, the only area for expansion is to the south. Are there other methods of controlling traffic and noise that WWU could implement? They are considering banning bicycles from campus core - which certainly discourages using bikes.

Josh ??? - Said he is confused by all the issues. Due process is perhaps most important issue. It should be followed. Out of respect for the community, WWU should follow due process. Western can prioritize its projects. In last two years, resentment has been expressed to him about the process.

Erin Corday - WWU alumni. Some have spoken about the VU renovation. Vendors Row is also the VU Plaza. Every student group brings petitions there. It is a place for students to gather. This area should not be destroyed. The VU lounge was closed a couple years ago because it was too popular.

John Frazier - One point to make. Western's need for expansion. Our neighborhood such as happy Valley should not be a target for a developer or an institution. The city should require the institution to expand into other areas. Like downtown.

9:35 pm hearing ended. It will continue at the city council meeting on Monday, March 23.


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