[Our Guest Writer is Liz Marshall, an environmentalist who started studying Mandarin before Nixon went to China. Worked for UNICEF including in the field, and many years for companies usually supporting engineering groups. Blogs at planetmanners.net]
The mid-rise apartment dormitory on North State Street in Bellingham called “Stateside” is near completion. It was previously referred to as “Western Edge,” and will be open for Fall 2021 occupancy. Built by Spectrum Development Solutions, LLC, it is another offsite project intended for Western Washington University students. (For info on other private dormitories, see below.) The Bellingham Herald explained it in their article Demo work begins... dated April 22, 2019. Spectrum took over the completed building at the south end of the complex some months ago. Going forward, many citizens will witness various impacts of this and other big, boxy developments—unless they are stopped.
Besides the density of approximately 513 occupants, the aesthetics are dismal. Depending on one's taste, the block may be reminiscent of large social housing blocks in the UK, remodeled NYC tenements, or some of the buildings described in Ugly or Beautiful? The Housing Blocks Communism Left Behind.
As explained in this 2019 Forbes article, there are reasons Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same. One of the breakthroughs that eased meeting fire code requirements for these types of buildings was the advancement in flame retardants. I am not a chemist, but flame retardants might still be harmful; see research in this area as exemplified by work at the Green Science Policy Institute.
The Stateside project is unfair to community members on several levels. The busy North State Street has been co-opted for two years. Businesses have been impacted. Residential deliveries and visitors have been impeded due to blocked roadways. The value of those already scarce plants and wildlife originally on the site and those existing in surrounding areas has been ignored. Original plans for landscaping in the center of the project vanished when construction got underway.
Neighboring residents’ rights to quiet enjoyment have been tested. Unit floors have shaken, sediment has intermittently come up through the pipes, hammering and other noisy activities such as concrete pumping, testing fire alarms, etc. have not always been confined to usual limits required by ordinance. Disruption was probably especially bad for school children. Imagine doing homework and homeschooling under such conditions, especially as compounded by pandemic restrictions.
It is all okay with Bellingham City Hall though because developers and the university are apparently given broad leeway. It is unfortunate that, as Erik Molvar says in a 2015 article Corporate Crimes Against Nature, “Our generation occupies a tipping point, during which humanity's choices will dictate a slide toward ecological ruin for the planet, or a new day when growing human prosperity is linked to the blossoming of a healthy environment.” One school of thought contends universities actually strive to produce graduates trained in how to legally circumvent environmental rules. Nationwide, there might even be a notion among college institutions, lawyers, engineers, the real estate industry, government agencies etc. that environmental acts were specifically written in order to provide loopholes.
Local parties can be enamored by worldwide developers, just as some federal agencies and others are captured by corporate interests. For example, the FCC has been captured by telecommunication companies, some physicians by Big Pharma, and the EPA by pesticide companies. My understanding, however, is that The Growth Management Act directs local governments to protect natural resources while providing for human population growth. Meanwhile the Bellingham Comprehensive Plan mandates that “Urban Villages” allow for expansion of job opportunities and housing such that people can work, shop, and recreate near where they live. Dormitories are more suited for placement on university grounds than in neighborhoods.
The signs have been up touting tours for a good while. According to hefty internet promotion via various URLs, such as livestateside.com, the Stateside building is perk-abundant with luxuries such as smart-tech laundry, car shares, roof-top lounging and barbecuing, and fitness equipment. Pets are also allowed. Since they have no yard of their own, dog owners from the Stateside project might be inclined to visit the only close-by private yard as well as the off-limits BNSF property and the city’s off-limits Critical Area. Hundreds of additional trespassing dog-walkers would worsen the already overwhelming visits by people and dogs from blocks north of Stateside. I imagine there will also be disturbances from skateboards in the cul-de-sac, excessive vehicle traffic in Stateside’s open-air garage and alley entrance (which is the South Bay Trail), beer parties and yelling, smoking and litter all around, and music blaring out open windows and from the rooftop.
Nearby, the wetland below the trestle can’t seem to catch a break.The thin strip of land below the trestle belongs to the city, while the private railway company owns most acreage below that. The wetland holds stormwater from Bellingham streets and filters it before it gets to Bellingham Bay. There are no built culverts. I call the natural areas between Wharf Street and East Laurel "Downyland" after the Downy woodpecker. Since the federal, Port of Bellingham, and City Hall projects along Whatcom Creek are extraordinary (see GPWest), many critters have been squeezed out of their shoreline habitat. Although disrespected by many organizations and individuals, Downyland is valuable for those birds and other wildlife displaced from what used to be the Whatcom Creek estuary. It is now a federal channel called Whatcom Waterway.
Whatever students do, there will be more than 500 of them. Whether they skateboard, cycle the South Bay Trail, use their wireless devices pinging 5G small cell antennas, dominate the trestle, run their car engines, or park legally or illegally, there will be crowds of them. From the developers and their associates’ perspective, there may be a profitable and redemptive side to their business here if As Occupancy Dwindles, College Dorms Go Beyond Students. It still won’t be good for nature and the future though.
As Naomi Klein says, "Our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction of humanity's use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it's not the laws of nature."