NWCitizen News

Home Contents Info Correspondents ©1997 NWCitizen.com

Bhm City Council hearing on WWU NeighborhoodPlan

Posted - Tuesday, Feb 24, 1998

A packed Council Chamber started off the long awaited publichearing on the Western Washington University Neighborhood Plan. Aftera year of preliminaries and Planning Commission hearings, the plancame to Council. Below is running commentary of the meeting.(parenthesis are used for comments by the writer - John Servais. Thisarticle 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 beput on speakers. He set no limits on city staff or WWU staff.(Comment at end of hearing - Mr. Ryan did a masterful job ofconducting the hearing - all who wanted to got to speak. Longpresentations were saved for the March 23 continuation of themeeting. No one was cut off. Our compliments to Council president BobRyan.)

Pat Decker, city planning head, gave an overview. Besides plan,WWU will present their Master Plan. Why? She did not say. WWUsubmitted their own version of neighborhood plan, but it will not bediscussed tonight. WWU Institutional plan will be developed in thefuture. 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 thisagreement. However, Pat Decker said that there will be testimony onViking Union project. Why?? She did not say. There will be a March 19meeting before the Planning Commission on the Viking Unionrenovation. She anticipated that the hearing tonight is also on theMOA. 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 neighborhoodplans are regulatory plans. However, the WWU plan is only a firststep in developing these regulatory tools. Gregg said the planprovides recommendations and alternatives. Most are general. Itrecommends that once the Institutional Master Plan is completed, thata planned development process be used for future campus projects. TheMOA sets up a process for reviewing projects during the interimperiod. Gregg characterized the three projects in the MOA as alreadyunderway and that need to continue. Most significant is VUrenovation. It will require a review process. He spoke of how WWU ishaving a neighborhood "meeting". (Note - meeting, not a hearing. WWUmeetings are very carefully controlled public relations sessions. A"hearing" is a legally defined process that allows publictestimony.)

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

Grace Yuan, chair of WWU Trustees, led off. She had 4 othertrustees 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 mustdo things under state law - purchase land, etc. Talked on how the HECboard has driven their decisions. WWU expanding to 12,500 ftestudents. Need for additional space is for our kids is necessary. Shewent on to talk about the WWU Master Plan. (not under considerationtonight) Board intent was to allow comment before Trustees adoptedthe plan. Now there are additional steps. She said board "endorses"this process. (she did not say they feel it is the law) She closed bysaying she hoped all could work together.

Charlie Earl - WWU board member spoke. Spoke of workingcooperatively. Growth, traffic and parking as needs. Can be donewithout compromising neighborhoods around WWU. GMA is confusing andclouded. Siting of Universities cannot be compromised. (here is whereWWU says it can do what it wants) He said neighborhoods havebenefited from WWU expansion in the past.

Warren Gilbert - oldest board member from 1990 spoke. (this isproblem - none of Trustees date from before 1990, and so they havelittle knowledge of Western's values.) He told how board consideredall issues. How the Trustees heard from neighbors. How this plan isnot new. He emphasized how this plan - the master plan - has gonethrough the proper processes. (He did not say what the huge 15 blockacquisition area in Happy Valley would be used for.)

Karen Morse spoke. Western is "our neighborhood" she said. Aunique neighborhood. It has the same concerns as a village wouldhave. But different. She intends to continue with mandate to expandto 12,500 students - while maintaining quality of education. WWU hasan enormous positive influence - payroll and spending. Money. Shespoke of money. WWU spends money. She takes pride in WWU. Sheunderstands that WWU affects neighbors - and she assures us thatcooperation will "continue". Neighborhood plan lists all that WWU hasdone for city. She emphasized this. She went on about what WWU hasdone for the area. She talked of how much the public has helped formthe master plan. MOA - which is in draft form - allows WWU to proceedto move with important building projects. They are significantprojects. She talked of the south campus traffic task force. Talkedof how open the process is. Introduced the concept of advisory boardfor planning and growth. Regarding WWU's own version of theneighborhood plan, she emphasized 4 items.
1. Land owned by WWU that they want to develop but that is beyondboundary.
2. Parking. Wants recognition of WWU efforts. Delete language onparking requirements from plan.
3. Why was some info deleted from plan on WWU concerns forissues.
4. Vacate High Street.
She assured the council that she expects her administration to workclosely 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 andso it must not be of great interest to others)

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

Shane O'Day - President of students. Speaking as president. He"concurs" with the University. Student input at every step has beenavailable. Does not like micro management of WWU by city. Ie. #13 ofplan that addressed bicycle traffic. He suggested that WWU can handlethis without city interference. He spoke of other ideas. He said heliked a bus pass system to increase bus ridership. We can't slow upprocess 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 howwonderful WWU has been to her. WWU is her community. She lives inSkagit County. She needs a parking spot not more than 10 minutes fromher 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 forthis spot - and no guarantee that she will have a spot. Thus sheended her testimony.

Barbara Mathers-Schmidt - commented on traffic task force - threemeetings - 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 goodneighbor. Fewer beer bottles now than in years past. High street isan accident waiting to happen. He recommends that - by implication -that high street be vacated. He spoke also of how much money WWUspends in Bellingham.

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

Joel Litwin - first voice of dissent. Presented 2,700 signaturesopposed to present Viking Union renovation plans. Vendor's Rowdescription. It is a community as well as a business center. DespiteWWU administration assurances, 50 faculty and 75 staff members signedthis petition. Plans are being run through the channels withoutstudent input. Don't pass the MOA. It circumvents the state Growthmanagement Act.

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

Claud Hill- Spoke of 20th Street. New apartments between Douglasand 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 tocampus.

John Servais - Happy Valley resident spoke. I said that weneighbors love Western and treasure the campus. It is inappropriateto suggest we want WWU gone. We do want Western to work with us in agood faith manner - and Western has not done this. We want to helpWestern solve its problems and to grow - while our neighborhoods alsocontinue to be wonderful places to live. This can be done if we worktogether.

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

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

Tip Johnson - speaking for himself. Controversy and ill willsurrounding this issue. Plan is fatally flawed. It is becoming anunmanageable process. He will not be directly affected. But the WWUNeighborhood Plan has more attention than any other neighborhoodplan. Why? Because too much planning has been done, in some respects.But not with correct input. Will $150 million a year in spending beenough to buy off democracy? No private developer would be allowed todo this. Will more or less time be lost by tossing out this plan?Don't blame Happy Valley residents. If Mr. Earl thinks the legalissues 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 havenot been addressed.

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

Hugh Beatty. He noted this is first hearing Pres. Morse hasattended. Wishes she had attended earlier and learned what we areconcerned about. He is upset with WWU own little personal plan. Saiddon'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 wouldincorporate public participation only at city planning departmentdiscretion. However, it would eliminate many processes. He commentedon the exempt projects. Recommendation #28 deals with findingalternatives. This is a good clause. Parking lot in MOA will alsoimpact happy Valley. He says we should be dealing with the overallplans - not making exceptions.

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

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

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

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

Josh ??? - Said he is confused by all the issues. Due process isperhaps most important issue. It should be followed. Out of respectfor the community, WWU should follow due process. Western canprioritize its projects. In last two years, resentment has beenexpressed to him about the process.

Erin Corday - WWU alumni. Some have spoken about the VUrenovation. Vendors Row is also the VU Plaza. Every student groupbrings petitions there. It is a place for students to gather. Thisarea should not be destroyed. The VU lounge was closed a couple yearsago 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 adeveloper or an institution. The city should require the institutionto expand into other areas. Like downtown.

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


Home Contents Info Correspondents ©1997 NWCitizen.com