A Vision for Fairhaven

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Thu, Feb 16, 2012, 3:38 pm  //  John Servais

The writer, standing in the center of the Historic Fairhaven District. Great photo by Mark Turner of Turner Photographics. See link below article to his website. Click photo for larger view.

This evening we on Bellingham's south side will finally have our chance to tell the Planning Department what we would like in the new Fairhaven Neighborhood Plan. I say 'finally' in reference to the five - 5 - years of maneuvering by the Planning Department to avoid any real participation by the public. Nothing like a new mayor to change things around. Tonight should be only the first of at least two or even three open meetings at the City Hall Council Chambers, at 6:30 p.m.

So I will speak and give my ideas and hopes - as will all others who wish to. For the very first time in the five years, this meeting with the public will be recorded and entered into the record. Then our professional planning staff will spend at least a couple weeks considering the ideas presented and make what changes they think best to the plan. Then, hopefully, they will bring this back to a second open meeting in March. What a concept! - just as the Growth Management Act and our city processes suggest for planning.

I've been enjoying Fairhaven since 1968, when I was attending Western on the GI Bill. So I knew the area in its funky times, I worked on the Northwest Passage alternative newspaper in the 1970s, watched as the district changed under Ken Imus', and shopped Village Books when they opened in 1980 across the street from the Picture Show movie theater. In 1995, I started my Fairhaven.com website, and in 2002 local business owners started supporting it and I have been promoting the historic commercial district since. So, there is my 'disclosure', my 'baggage'.

I've also known the folks in the small residential enclave since 1969 and have supported the wonderful rural character of their neighborhood. Indeed, for a short while in the 70s, I lived there.

I think any planning should preserve the unique character of this small 10 city block residential neighborhood. And development around it - by the Port, commercial property owners, or by the City - should mitigate intrusions of noise, light and traffic - and even visual intrusions if they be glaring. The residents are almost cutoff from anyone even being able to drive though their neighborhood on the way to anywhere else. There is not a single sidewalk, or curb, marked crosswalk, or white stripe on any road. There are maybe only half the normal number of street lights. Street drainage is mostly surface. It is a rural enclave with character homes and a relaxed feel to it. While this is a very small area compared to all other neighborhoods in Bellingham, the residents are vocal and very active in their desire to keep their small area this way.

But I also think planning should enable the commercial district to grow into what the founders envisioned and what is so natural for it to do. And it can be done without impacting and hurting the small residential area. You see - there is a deep wooded gorge between the residential and the commercial. Even now, you cannot see the tops of any commercial buildings from the residential area - except a bit when all the leaves are down. The trees hide the buildings. Buildings 60 to 75 feet or so can be built facing Harris Avenue and not even be seen from the residential area. Building heights should be lower near the the green gorge of Padden creek and the natural separator of residential from commercial.

I think the plan should look to enhance this natural green separator. Evergreen climax trees such as firs, hemlocks, and cedars should be planted in the green creek divider. 6th Street should be vacated to eliminate what could become a 'back door' for employees going to work in the future. The block of Larrabee Avenue from 6th to 4th should be turned into permanent greenway. Perhaps build a pedestrian bridge at about 8th Street connecting residential to commercial. The commercial district should commit to working with the residential area to enhance this natural greenway over the next 30 years. I am sure they will.

The commercial district should be allowed to develop into the regional business and visitor district that it naturally tends toward. We have the pieces or resources to be as unique and fun a place as Taos, Durango, Monterey, Moab, Annapolis or any number of other unique American places. The dozen historic buildings are the core resource. Being on a gentle hill expands the views; the transportation center, the cruise boats to the San Juan Islands, charter boats, the many restaurants, the access to outdoor sports such as hiking and bicycling Chuckanut Mountain - all contribute to Fairhaven being a draw for visitors from several states. Even now, Canadian shoppers who discover Fairhaven love it and compare it to Gas Town. The Fairhaven plan should allow the district to become the outstanding Tier 1 Urban Village that others pretend it is now - all while protecting the life style and ambience of the residential neighborhood across the green gorge.

There is no reason for conflict between a quiet residential neighborhood and a thriving commercial district. They can exist together. 

Related Links:

-> Turner Photographics in Fairhaven
-> The Fairhaven commercial district website

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