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The Wealth Of Real Estate Corporations Is Not Our Purpose For Being

Build-for-profit, incarceration-inspired housing is destroying our souls.

Build-for-profit, incarceration-inspired housing is destroying our souls.

• Topics: Bellingham,

[Guest Writer, Carol Follett, has lived and worked in Bellingham for 35+ years. She loves her home, neighborhood, and community and wants it to be a beautiful place to thrive in for many generations to come.]

Picture this:

Fresh air blows softly in the windows on you from the wide-open sky above as you wind around gently curving two lane roads with interesting and beautifully maintained, "natural" landscapes. When you do get a glimpse of a home tucked back from the road (on streets named Owl Lane or Deer Court) it offers a unique face, no two alike. You probably know many of the people who live there; they are neighbors you visit and who visit you. You pull in from the main, lightly traveled road, along a short drive to the garage, hardly distinguishable from the garden and the house. As you step out, you hear the chirping of birds and maybe the laughter of children playing in the tree encircled yard; any remnant tension from the day disappears as you inhale and exhale the fresh air of home. 

This is where the corporate heads of development and investment companies may live – not you.

Now picture this:

You keep your car windows closed to shut out the noise and dusty air as your vehicle inches down crowded streets with high rise buildings blocking the view of the sky; you can feel the weight and crush of your densely populated city. You pass row after row of boxy buildings with token trees struggling to flourish in this unnatural habitat. You pull into your underground parking garage and your eyes try to adjust to the dim light (or you disembark from a noisy and crowded bus) as you make your way to the stairs that lead to your small space, exactly like all the other small spaces in your building, engulfing you, every day, in an unrelieved sameness. You probably do not know many of the people who live there; they are too close to befriend—it is hard enough to get free of the daily sounds they make, heard through your shared walls. You go from the crowded outside to the compressed inside of your space; you cannot breathe a sigh of relief to be home.

This is what the development corporations design for you to live in. And they want you to pay dearly to live in this box! 

To me, the GMA (Growth Management Act) stands for Grossly Misaligned Accommodations: misaligned to our healthy need for variation, greenery, and a blend of society and a rest from society.

The "Engage Bellingham,”  meeting held on June 4 at Bellingham High School informed the public that we basically have no more zoning laws to protect our neighborhoods. The City of Bellingham gives us a choice between very built and very, very built. They call it high, medium, and low density (low density still means multi-family units). We are not given a choice for single residence neighborhoods. We are told that it is a "done deal;” which makes me think of other incidences when we were told that something was "a done deal." Most recently, the waste metal shredder forced on our neighbors by the bay was not as "done" a deal as implied. And an earlier "done deal," brought forward and backed by much more powerful folks than the shredders, was the attempt to pollute Cherry Point with a coal port. 

Between a “rock and a hard place”

As in so many situations today, there is very little discussion of alternatives: we are told we must build up and fill in. If we do not want to do these things, we are accused of taking away farmland, of being selfish and willing to abuse the environment. We are trapped between polarizing arguments. Yet real housing solutions must begin with the idea of healthy, happy homes for communities and children, which is not merely a nice idea to be wedged between the extremes of infill or sprawl.

First, Bellingham is not the only city in Whatcom County, and Whatcom County is not the only county with cities in Washington. All along the I-5 corridor we have small cities that can absorb a little growth at their edges without destroying farmland. Second, we must look to repurposing and improving the use of already built-on land to make decent living spaces, rather than with the current eye to maximize profits for real estate corporations. Third, there is little reason for people to move en mass to our region. If they wish to move here for the beauty we have, it is absurd to destroy it in the process of accommodating them. They cannot want to move here for jobs because we don’t, and are unlikely to, have many that pay decent wages. If there is no reason to move here, what is the need to build? 

Social Responsibility

The extinction of zoning laws made possible by the E2SHB 1110 will not help the unhoused. Currently, “As landlords, large corporate rental companies are associated with …. aggressive buying tactics that lock would-be homeowners out of the market.” So, who is actually profiting from replacing single family homes with duplexes and apartments?


One approach to infill is to better utilize existing built spaces. For example, the old Penney’s building downtown has been unused for most of the 35 years I have lived here. This space could become housing with lovely interior landscaping. Ugly spaces along the Guide Meridian could be replaced with charming, varied, single dwellings with shared green spaces. 

People and families need and deserve affordable housing. However, we do not need to build on every inch of green space and block the visible sky to provide this. This need is not an excuse to create prison-like housing for children to grow up in. 

People do not exist to make real-estate corporations wealthy. That is not our purpose for being. One part of our Constitution that always resonates with me is in the Preamble, it states our right to the pursuit of happiness. We cannot pursue happiness while living in crowded, jail-like conditions. Do not let them convince you that living in and with nature is a luxury; it is a necessity and should be included in our building codes and requirements. Let’s push to make this issue another of Bellingham’s infamous “done deals.”

Comments by Readers

Mike Rostron

Jun 11, 2024

Unfortunately the city leaders have mostly given the neighborhood associations nothing but lip service, unless they get organized enough to threaten legal action. The associaltions were rendered powerless while I was on the Sunnyland board years ago.  I recall too that we were personally attacked and threatened with legal action if we didn’t bend the knee to the developers.                                                    I would add that out in north county many homes are empty most of the year. Thousands of homes are being built or planned in Birch Bay, which has no post office, no schools, and no significant shopping centers. Most of the roads up here have no shoulders, let alone bike lanes. Walking or trying to ride a bike is not for the faint of heart. Many of the homes and condos are 2nd, 3rd or 4th homes of wealthy folks who spend a few weeks here playing golf and boating, then fly off to their other places when the wet weather comes. They do provide some jobs for yard care and maintenence workers, but not enough to make up for the added traffic and other adverse effects. Some, but not all of this influx is being driven by population pressure from Canada, but most is a direct result of easy permitting that allows developers to do as they wish here without real public input, and without paying anywhere near their fair share of the real costs of rapid, poorly regulated developement.


Tip Johnson

Jun 11, 2024


The first nhood based comp plan was adopted around 1980, estabishing the nhoods as planning units for the city. More than forty years of nhood driven revisions and updates have promised to protect and enhance nhood integrity. Forty years of promises, actual representations to home investors, now flushed down the toilet with the stroke of a pen on a flurry of state imposed housing bills.  Ironically, the architects of that first plan envisioned a Mayors Advisory Board, initially appointed by the mayor, but meant to transition to appointments by the nhood associations for advising the mayor on plan updates. This never happened. Instead, a slow erosion of the councils authority to condition projects translated into greater discretionary power in the planning department.  Zoning tables and prerequisite conditions were taken out of the nhood plans and inevitably the language that supported and encouraged folks putting down roots and building community became a thin veneer of optional ‘shoulds’ and ‘mays’ while the ‘shalls’ piled deeper and deeper to the advantage of the cut’n'run business model. 

Cities were right there urging lawmakers on for these bills, as it would finally mean an end to the charade of public participation and self determination. The current building and development paradigm does little to nothing toward building community but a lot for municipalities maximizing returns on infrastructural investments and service provision.  Interestingly, that’s our money they’re investing. 


Larry Horowitz

Jun 11, 2024

Carol, thank you for re-directing our attention to the ongoing destruction of Bellingham’s quality of life – if not our souls. I agree that enhancing the financial position of those who profit from growth is not our “purpose for being.” At the same time, much of the blame must be placed at the feet of Bellingham’s past and current leadership and the staff of the city’s planning department. Like most cities, Bellingham has experienced regulatory capture, and the planning department has been co-opted by the growth industrial complex.

I have been writing about Bellingham’s growing pains (and failure to cure them) on Northwest Citizen since 2008. Nothing has improved since then, and virtually everything is worse now.  Like Mike Rostron, whose comment I agree with (and many others), I have participated on (and even formed a few) citizen-led groups to address these issues. I am currently serving as president of Responsible Development - a 501c3 public charity formed in 2005 to preserve the Chuckanut Ridge / Hundred Acre Wood property - that is sponsoring the Protect Mud Bay Cliffs organization to minimize the adverse impacts of a proposed subdivision on the cliffs overlooking the North Chuckanut Bay estuarine wetlands. 

Although we’ve won a few battles, we’re clearly losing the war.

In an ideal world, those of us who live here would commit to organizing to preserve Bellingham’s livability and quality of life. If we did, we should adopt Eben Fodor’s BETTER NOT BIGGER playbook designed to “Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community.” The growth industrial complex has deep and powerful tentacles. If we fail to organize, we’ll only have ourselves to blame when Bellingham has become just another “undesirable hell hole” people are moving here to escape.

Links to:

BETTER NOT BIGGER on Eben Fodor’s website


Regulatory Capture (Wikipedia)

Eben Fodor 2 minute video (YouTube)


Dick Conoboy

Jun 12, 2024

“Boxed in: life inside the ‘coffin cubicles’ of Hong Kong – in pictures. Coffin cubicles in Hong Kong.” Photographs: Benny Lam/SoCo

Is this where we are heading? 

I was born in 1943 when there were 2.5 billion people on this earth.  The count now is over 8 billion.  That might tell us something.




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