Chuckanut Mountains and the Park District

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Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 3:16 pm  //  Guest writer

Dr. Robert Gibb presents this guest aticle.

I write as President of the Chuckanut Mountains Park District Advisory Committee.  The so-called Greenway endowment fund was proposed by the Beyond Greenway II proponents to accommodate fiscal situations such as occurred when the City Council was considering the purchase of the Chuckanut Ridge property. I was one of those proponents and it was suggested that the fund be developed over a period of years from 10% of the annual budget.  Why does it have to be suddenly repaid?

The stimulus for the proposed Park District is because the current administration and others, have been proposing the sale of 25 acres of the 100 Acre Woods to replace the 3.2 million taken from that fund.  Best Available Science and the State Department of Ecology will require 300 foot buffers around the Class I wetlands that are the vital, precious component of that property.  Those buffers will allow only 12 acres for development.  That acreage will be required for limited public access to the property.  Infrastructure costs and topographical restrictions make any housing development prohibitively expensive, even if funded with public funding support as occurs with housing developments.

In the history of Municipal Park Districts, none have exercised Eminent Domain or increased property taxes to the 75 cents per $1000 permitted.  Any MPD Commissioner suggesting such is committing political suicide.

The proposed Park District is the means of settling this 25 year old problem of preserving this ecological treasure and should be supported.

Barbara Perry  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 5:14 pm

Alex McLean //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 9:55 pm

Dear Alex:
Most people voting on the Parks initiative live within less than a mile to the Interurban trail that will take anyone to the mountain.  I live on the north edge of Happy Valley and condos are only a couple of blocks north within the voting area. In the past, I have hiked up to Pine and Cedar Lakes, both of which are further, but the salmon streams from Connelly and Padden Creeks are less than a 1/2 mile away from my home and the Interurban I am now planning to travel on my electric disability scooter is less than a mile away.  Both creeks are fed by the mountain.

You may not have the wonderful memories of walking through the forest.  I no longer walk but treasure the look out the window to see the mountain and recall those walks and life forms visited.  I suggest you get on your hiking boots. It is better than a day in class and more educational.

Barbara Perry, MA in Lit

Delaine Clizbe  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 8:35 pm

I finally had to pull out a map to get it straight in my head what the issue is with these “salmon streams”.  Padden Creek runs down the Northern border of the property.  The interurban trail lies in between the creek and the 100 acre wood.  Connelly Creek is on the North Side of of Old Fairhaven Parkway and joins into Padden Creek at about 24th.  While Padden Creek may be “fed by the mountain” from 24th street to Fairhaven, I’m not sure how the water from the mountain is jumping across Old Fairhaven Parkway to feed Connelly Creek.  Kind of a stretch.  And I"m pretty sure that runoff from the northern portion of the forest would have a hard time flowing across the interurban trail to get into Padden Creek.  And if Padden Creek is so sensitive, we really shouldn’t have a gravel covered trail running right beside it.

Furthermore, the other salmon stream in the area, Chuckanut Creek is across Old Samish Road from the Chuckanut Community Forest.  Proposed development on a very small portion of the forest has been suggested on the southern end.  So run off from that development is supposed to cross over Old Samish Road or Chuckanut Drive? 

So the “salmon stream” argument is a bit thin.

Now, I would love to have an actual trail system in the Chuckanut Community Forest that you would be able to drive your scooter on.  I have advocated for that from the beginning.  One of my biggest fears is that the Chuckanut Community Forest Steering Committee will work to limit trail access in the woods.  I think you are more at risk here than the salmon.  (notice Dr. Gibb says “limited public access”.  How limited?)

Delaine Clizbe, BS in Nutrition

Bill Geyer  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 9:33 pm

Dr Gibb, Thank you for your article.  Your application of the best available science states 12 acres of the site can be developed.  Surely you would support the Bellingham Comprehensive Plan goal for an average density of 6 residential units per acre.  This prevents sprawl.  And, 6 units per acre are much lower than the current 8.7 units per acre defined in the current zoning for Chuckanut Woods (Residential Multiple, 5,000 sq ft per unit). 

Using the Comp Plan density goal, your analysis establishes 72 housing units can be built in Chuckanut Ridge.  Using your assumptions, let’s turn to the economic results of your proposal.

A willing buyer in today’s market would purchase 12 acres based on the residual land value of the site (the value of the land without any improvements).  The equation:

Residual land value = Number of units permitted   x $Value of each unit

For 12 acres @ 6 units/acre and a modest value of $20,000/unit, your proposal creates:

6 x 12 x $20,000 = $1,440,000. 

With little effort, the City Council can pay off 45% of the existing $3,200,000 loan. 
That’s a great beginning. 

For the rest of the Chuckanut Woods site, the City owns development rights for 642 more units.  Even in a depressed market at a low value of $2,500 per unit, the City Council could sell the development rights for another $2,500 x 642 = $1,605,000. 

$1,440,000 + $1,605,000 = $3,045,000.

If the City Council sells the development rights over the next four years in a stronger market, the City will make up the final $155,000, and more.

Congratulations, you have solved the critical financial need for the City Council. 
There is no need for a new parks district.

-Bill Geyer, AICP

Alex McLean  //  Sat, Feb 02, 2013, 8:24 am

If we really wanted to protect salmon we would have thrown all our efforts toward saving Galbraith Mountain. During a fleetingly brief window, that 3,000+ acre logging tract, complete with its world-renowned mountain biking trails, was for sale for roughly $20 million. Mayor Dan Pike could not, in any conscientious or financial way, consider trying to save both properties so, instead, he pulled the trigger on Chuckanut Ridge. Greenways can, and has, purchased far more massive tracts than this meager sliver at far better prices. The City of Bellingham, last year, bought 320 acres in our watershed for $2.6 million.

Although none of these are apples-to-apples comparisons, my point is that we are being asked to pay a lot of cash for something that provides very little benefit to either the environment or to those people who are not already blessed enough to live next to this forest and its thousands of acres of adjoining parks, trails, protected forests, beach access, parks, more parks, and trails.

The salmon in Padden Creek will not be impacted by the development tract of our new re-purchase. Water would have to defy physics to access this creek.

$3.2 million, for an undefined amount of land, is a lot of money for not much benefit. The theoretical 25 acres that is bandied about needs to be tempered by reality: This property, this slice of City-owned Chuckanut Ridge, was NEVER EVER rezoned. While it could, theoretically, be more land for sale, proponents know that they can apply significant pressure on City Council—which views this property as radioactive—to allow for yurts and grass hutches if that is what they demand. With advances in Low Impact Development, or LID, there could be precisely zero net impact to salmon and, it should be noted, far less impact than any of the houses proponents live in currently which are part of these drainage basins.

I am not a developer, no matter how ardently proponents may wish otherwise, but I have to concede that Bill Geyer has offered some compelling math which, even if only partially correct, seems to imply there are other, less costly routes to reduce the zoning burden imposed on this property.

Either way, Happy Valley, the densest neighborhood in Bellingham, is being asked to pay. I still maintain that proponents effort to squirt housing here, to my ghetto, while asking us to pay for even more verdant green forests in the wealthiest neighborhoods in the county is unfair.

I strongly urge people to vote no and allow for a saner alternative that accounts for the amount of money we invest in this effort, getting proper zoning applied, and enforcing maximum standards for any development that might occur. Electing a junta of five commissioners, with massive and weird authority to play with our taxes and otherwise create mischief with our money, does not seem like a gamble worth taking for such a meager special interest cause.

Christopher Grannis  //  Sat, Feb 02, 2013, 12:53 pm

The Chuckanut Community Forest is what is called a perched watershed. It is above the developed land all around it. The quality of the wetlands are due to the fact that there is no run off from developed areas in its watershed. Any development that creates runoff into the wetlands will degrade them and everything down stream including Padden Creek, Chuckanut Creek, and the Puget Sound. The central wetland drains to both Chuckanut Creek via hoag creek (in a culvert under Chuckanut Drive) and to Padden Creek. The Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency established to lead efforts to protect and restore Puget Sound and its diversity of life, determined one of its highest priorities is to preserve undeveloped watersheds like this one. Clean runoff into salmon streams is necessary to preserve the salmon, but not the only environmental reason to preserve the whole park.
This forest and some of the land around it together are a keystone habitat, an area large enough to sustain biodiversity that then sustains wild life throughout the corridors such as Padden Creek from salt water to Lake Padden and Connelly Creek. Dr John Mclaughlin, wildlife biologist and Huxley Professor, says the biodiversity of all Southwest Bellingham would collapse without this keystone remaining intact. There is also the issue of connectivity required by biodiversity to the Chuckanut Mountains and Chuckanut Bay. The conclusion of the Bellingham Wildlife and Habitat Assessment was that “the hundred acre wood should be preserved. Even if development occurred at six units per acre on the few acres along Chuckanut Drive that are not in the wetland watershed it would be a serious obstacle to connectivity. Those acres are also the most appropriate for human intensive park uses like mountain bike riding.
Residents of Happy Valley which is within walking distance will also be beneficiaries of preserving wildlife and the whole park. I agree with you that Galbraith Mountain should be preserved as well. I believe the Greenways Committee has its eyes on valuable Greenway areas for environmental protection and connectivity to Galbriath. If there is enough support for preserving the Chuckanut Community Forest it will bode well for generating even more support for preserving Galbraith Mountain. Don’t give up on it yet.
Have there ever been any development rights sold in Bellingham? I believe your assurance that money can be raised with development rights is pure fiction, but if it is possible I expect the Park District Commissioners would be happy to reduce the levy or it’s duration. Please do try to find any other funding so we can sunset the Park District asap.
The reality is that the only politically possible way to raise enough money besides the Park District is to sell the right to build very high density. The Choice is clear, Vote yes for the Park District or if the District fails there will likely be a huge high density development that will threaten this unique asset for the City of Bellingham.
Please vote yes.

Alex McLean  //  Sat, Feb 02, 2013, 8:25 pm

Hi Christopher. I categorically reject the notion, supplied frequently by Metropolitan Park District proponents, that support for preserving Chuckanut Community Forest will “bode well for generating even more support” for other, future efforts in and around this community (such as the Galbraith Mountain example I cited.)

On the contrary, many people have made the more obvious assessment that this special-interest district will effectively fracture this community’s 30-year collective effort to provide trails, parks, and open space for for EVERYONE. It would be hard to fathom how a resident in Edgemoore, having gleaned massive benefits from the three previous Greenways levies and their acquisitions, and having paid significant amounts into that fund (due to their elevated property values) would, after taxing themselves TWICE for the same property, eagerly do it again to help fund acquisitions that are not located directly in their backyards. This is the “I got mine, so to hell with you!” vector of speculation.

My central gripe with this MPD, bellowed often in these pages, is that it is unfairly trolling the wallets of Happy Valley, targeting its density to dilute the overall pain of this tax, and providing very little benefit to its residents who live up to three miles away from the deified forest. These folks, too, might suffer from either ballot fatigue or from outright disgust at having to puke up their money for the benefit of the wealthiest among us. This might be called the “To hell with you, I’ll never get mine!” argument for why voters in this District will look cross-eyed at new levies or, more likely, at a proliferation of competing MPDs jammed onto future ballots.

I am a full-bloom hippie and rarely hesitate to sign on to any effort to either protect the environment or provide us with more open space and trails. Still, 10 years from now, long after this proposal eclipses the $4 million mark (to account for the “approximately ten-percent (that) will be set aside to help pay for restoration and stewardship costs” cited in early MPD literature) I, too, might choke at the ballot box and blanch at the prospect of new taxes.

This doesn’t apply only to hippie stuff; who knows how the tax for low-income housing, recently approved by Bellingham residents, would have gone if this burden was crimping wallets and impacting individual’s decisions?

Either way, both of us have to concede that we are speculating on the unknown—I have heard others in the community, for example, who feel left out because they cannot, due to their precinct location, participate in this MPD and its tax. As amazing as Bellingham is, I really do want to harbor your enthusiasm for the foresight and fortitude of voters who, up to this point, have resoundingly supported taxing themselves for parks and trails. (Note to commissioners: Please, please, immediately provide for a donation box! And, unlike Responsible Development’s 501c.3, make sure to shovel that money directly into repayment of the Greenways endowment fund loan and not, as appears to be the case now, toward more glossy campaign fliers and yard-signs for future elections.)

Lastly, I rebuke proponents notion that this is “the only way.”

What is wrong with selling enough land to repay HALF the loan and, given five years, committing to a frenzied fund-raising effort for the remaining HALF? The City Council, deeply embarrassed by the abject failure of their Infill Toolkit efforts and tired of rejecting the proposals of mega-developers, would likely embrace any effort to provide a viable model for green building on this tract. Given the earth-quivering force of the lobby who found this property’s zoning grotesque—which still includes me—I think that a solid design taskforce could hammer out planning logistics without too much grief and, perhaps, even a bit of enthusiasm for showing us (and developers) the route toward more sustainable neighborhoods.

Proponents will never sign onto this idea, unfortunately, since they are utterly committed to keeping virtually every twig and lump of fungus in this forest intact. Among my baseline contentions is that, for $4 million, we could do a hell of a lot more in this community. I’m all for taking a breath, calmly voting no on this MPD, and looking for more equitable, realistic, and rational alternatives than this Zero Development proposal.

Bill Geyer  //  Sun, Feb 03, 2013, 8:04 am

Yes, thousands of TDR’s have sold in Whatcom County and Bellingham.  The most prolific buyer has been the City of Bellingham.  They own about 800 from Lake Whatcom watershed purchases.  Putting TDR’s to use within the City and its UGA remains a problem due to city code deficiencies.  The accredited (AICP) planners at City Hall are well equipped to write workable code. The problem lies with Council’s reluctance to adopt policies supporting proper use of TDR’s.

For example, BMC 18.32.050 on cluster subdivision density bonus: + Link
Too many yabutz - “yeah, we approve but you must do this”.  Council could remedy the problem with a policy permitting TDR’s in all Residential Multi zones, no other conditions attached.  It would implement our infill goal.  TDR’s would immediately become workable and their market value would increase.  This is an obvious step for Council to improve the value of TDR’s for Chuckanut Woods they could sell within 4 years. 

This is one of many options to funding other than a parks district tax.  Dr. Gibb documents 12 acres of the site can be developed, and the estimated cash from a land sale is above. Variations on this theme exist.  All can happen without forming a parks district. 

Vote NO on Proposition 1, then you and I together with others will walk into City Hall to present options to the Council.

Delaine Clizbe  //  Sun, Feb 03, 2013, 1:45 pm

So where do you live?  What effect does your house have on the creeks?  Oh never mind.  Just looked up your address.  You have every right to be concerned.  The proposed area to be sold and developed is in your back yard.  So you get to live there but others don’t.  hmmmmmmm?  I think you better move your house quick!  You are disrupting the flow of wildlife and your runoff is polluting Chuckanut Creek:)

Thank you for providing a segway to discussing how this little MPD could easily morph into a financing mechanism for Galbraith Mountain.  Not far fetched at all folks as it would only take 25 votes from the area to be annexed to get it on the ballot.  And since the Chuckanut Community Forest Steering Committee insisted that the MPD be run by a 5 commissioner board which is needed to operate across county lines, it really is a no brainer that this could happen.  Greenways trails connecting to Galbraith?  But Galbraith is not public land.  How will it become public land? Oh just a little additional tax onto the MPD. 


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Wed, May 13, 2015, 4:30 pm  //  John Servais

Updated | Ski to Sea race does not need to race through sensitive Chuckanut Community Forest Park for special mountain bike leg. City did not renege.

10 comments; last on May 15, 2015

County proposes free pass for vacation rentals

Sun, Apr 26, 2015, 1:05 pm  //  Guest writer

Tani Sutley writes a second article on the increasing number of vacation rentals - and the County Council bill to let them expand dramatically.

4 comments; last on May 02, 2015


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