Former Park Directors Against Park District Proposal

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Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 12:36 pm  //  Guest writer

Guest writers Byron Elmendorf and Paul Leuthold provide this jointly written article.  


During our over  60 years working for City parks departments with over 30 years as the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Director, we have always been supportive of funding proposals for improving parks systems.  However, the formation of Chuckanut Community Forest Park District is not a funding option we can support.

Paying off a political loan and promise is not the purpose for establishing a new independent junior taxing district such as the Park District.  This forms another layer of government within Bellingham’s Southside neighborhoods.  We already have citizen input with a City Parks Board and separate Greenway Committee.  Unfortunately they were not involved with the property purchase and loan, or meaningfully consulted on the Park District proposal. The Chuckanut property which the City has acquired at over $8.2 million is the most expensive park land ever purchased.  Yes, it is a special piece of property and the neighbors have fought for many years against any proposed housing development.  The fact that the City did not have the funds to fully fund the acquisition has resulted in the outstanding $3.2 million 5 year loan from the Greenway Endowment Fund which the community tax payers had already supported.  

We think this proposal sets poor public policy in developing special interest districts within our City.  The location of community parks based upon the ability of a neighborhood to pay versus need is not a good community goal.  The selected Southside precincts have always been supportive of past Park funding proposals.  This issue might have a negative impact on future City wide park proposals or waterfront development support. 

These are good folks supporting the Park District and they are trying to fix a complicated future problem.  They have a concern that the City might sell a portion of this property for future community housing needs to pay the debt.  Yet, City regulations would still protect the sensitive areas within the development.  An issue against development in their backyard shouldn’t be a reason for such a funding mechanism like this Municipal Park District.  

We encourage you to support your existing community-wide park system, not establish a new layer of government, by voting NO on the formation of the Chuckanut Park District.

Dan Pike  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 1:16 pm

Since before the City purchased Chuckanut Ridge, many have expressed the belief that the City should not use either additional parks funds, nor place a reliance on future Greeways levies as means with which to pay off the $3.2 million balance of the loan the Council provided, from the Greenways Endowment Fund.  (To be clear, the Greenways Fund is being repaid at the same interest rate as the City would have garnered through its normal approach of investment of the funds in a mix of bonds and other investment instruments.) Another approach recently advocated is the sale of transferred development rights from the site.  Unfortunately, in nearly two decades of attempting to establish a workable TDR program, no working program has ever been established—but now it will magically happen within the next three or four years.

The only workable approaches these folks have been open to are repayment through outside funding—i.e., from non-City sources—or selling off part of the property.  Fundraising for any public purpose is extremely difficult in the current economic environment, and is likely to remain so for some time to come.  The Campaign for the Arts to help with the new museum did not meet original expectations, and is now plagued by unfulfilled pledges, years later.  Another ‘fundraising’ approach is using the Metropolitan Parks District creation to tax ourselves—those of us living in the vicinity of Chuckanut Ridge—to fund the shortfall.  Absent that, the only solution left is selling off enough of the property to pay off the balance.

I have no doubt the latter approach would work.  One developer even approached me when I was in the process of negotiating the purchase from Washington Federal, to see if I would sell him approximately the part mentioned; I declined.  I am not a big fan of backdoor deals, and I also believe this is an integral piece of the overall parcel.

The choice at this point seems pretty clear:  if you think all the property should be preserved, vote yes for the MPD.  If you are comfortable with a significant part of it being sold, and you are against ensuring preservation of the entirety of the property, vote no.

Frank James  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 3:08 pm

It is not surprising that people with centralized power and control would not want to share that power or think that community control or participation democratically is not a good idea.

But why would Bellingham be so special that it could not tolerate a Park District, even one of very limited scope, when Park Districts work very, very well in 80 other places in our state?

It would seem better to listen too the community rather than tell the community what it should want.

The other issue is that development on this parcel will mean significant traffic congestion and a significant increase in the taxes everyone pays for the infra structure. I hesitate to mention the study by Eben Foder that one of our former parks directors responded to very unprofessionally, but what it showed was that the cost of this type of development to all the rest of us is very substantial, likely more than the cost of paying for the land in this case.

This Park District makes sense and the more those that live outside the district tell us that we can not have it the more community members that do will be committed to completion of this long worked toward goal.

Why not listen to the very community that has been very, very supportive of parks and Greenways for years rather than telling them what they need and what is good for them?

Vote in favor of your Park District to preserve the integrity of the Chuckanut Community Forest.

Donald Duck  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 5:43 pm

Yes had the former parks directors been consulted, we could now be enjoying the dismal impacts of the proposed Fairhaven Highlands 739 unit subdivision.

John Watts  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 7:03 pm

I agree with the 2 former Parks Directors, both whom served us very well. Mr James is incorrect; a former public works director responded to the deliberately misleading information providing by Mr Fodor, who was hired by CR advocates to confirm their pre-ordained rhetoric.
The CR acquisition was definitely a ‘political’ decision, aided and abetted by former Mayor Pike and a cabal of Councilmembers who allowed themselves to be pressured and even bullied by CR supporters, some of whom appear often as commenters on this forum.
There is no real problem with allowing the development of about 25 acres of this property, but CR proponents who consider any developer in pejorative terms prefer to continue to hyperventilate and grossly exaggerate their arguments. While the First Amendment does allow wide latitude for free speech, CR advocates have been guilty of grossly misrepresenting their wishes into emotional appeals designed for those ignorant and incurious enough to believe.
I thoroughly detest that type of political tactic and find it difficult to give full credence to those who engage in it. But, it does happen periodically, mostly masquerading as populism and narrow, selfish self-interest. That kind of activity simply degrades our community by diminishing the credibility of elected officials, by bending their judgement to the will of those favoring silly issues of small importance to the detriment of anything more socially important.
I posted a comment in an earlier NW Citizen article called ‘Wise Owl’ on this subject.
It is certainly legal to have a special parks district to pay for overspending on the part of a former Mayor and Council, but there are much more worthy issues and needs that demand our attention and priority.

Wendy Harris  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 7:28 pm

I do not think comparisons to other parks projects reflects well on the City.

Chuckanut Ridge may be the most expensive land every purchased, but it is not the most expensive Parks project. The Cornwall overwater walkway is over $8 million dollars and this Parks Department project creates a concrete pedestrian bridge over tidelands leased from DNR. It duplicates existing transportion routes and is environmentally harmful. It was done in violation of Lummi Treaty rights, and the City has still not obtained tribal concurrence after 2.5 years of negotiation. The Parks Department is raiding Greenway funds for this, and also hired a lobbyist to obtain ear-marked federal funds. And there is more.  The project is peppered with public process violations. 

In contrast, the Chuckanut park protects an important natural resource, purchases actual land, and is being well vetted through the public process. If the park district is approved, it will be pursuant to a democratic process. 

Dudley Evenson  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 9:41 pm

It is interesting to read Brian’s comments. In the 23 years we have been working to save this precious urban forest, Brian never was in favor of purchasing this forest.  I agree with this statement “These are good folks supporting the Park District and they are trying to fix a complicated future problem.  They have a concern that the City might sell a portion of this property for future community housing needs to pay the debt.”  Yes they do which is why this Park District is being proposed.

He also said something else that concerns me and many others “City regulations would still protect the sensitive areas within the development.” In other words, there would be some serious development along Chuckanut Drive that would impinge on the integrity of the property.

He said “An issue against development in their backyard shouldn’t be a reason for such a funding mechanism like this Municipal Park District.”  This is not a Nimby issue. This forest next to the Interurban Trail is used by people from all over Bellingham and is an attraction for out of town visitors to our area. (which helps keep that old economy humming).

Alex McLean  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 10:43 pm

There already is “serious development” spangling Chuckanut Drive—there is a 40+ acre bollard of massive houses directly across the street from this property. I’m no fan of poorly-planned development or even excessively large houses that outstrip our human needs. That said, however, there is a compelling argument that SOME development on this property would not be the environmental apocalypse that proponents have stated it would be. Is there anything wrong with allowing a few more people, perhaps even a few hundred, to live close to Fairhaven’s amenities, close to the abundant trails and parks, and close to these other, blessedly located, houses?

I’ve been beating the drum of economic justice on this proposal for the past week—months if you include my first e-mails to Dan Remsen—and I’ve heard no response for why people like me, living in the shadows of I-5 and encroaching apartment towers, should have to pay for this minor and unequivocally constrained and environmentally ham-strung sliver of land.

Let’s start hearing a debate about infill and presume that at least ONE of these proponents understands that people are still having babies and, more than ever, people want to move to and live in urban areas and not in far-flung suburbs.

Lastly, perhaps a TDR would not work—I am happy to defer to mayor Pike’s analysis on this—but I am guessing that if proponents put a tenth as much effort toward allowing a TDR to happen as they have invested in thwarting Chuckanut Ridge’s absurdly high zoning overlay ... well, something would happen. From the era of Responsible Development Now! to this sad juncture, the one thing proponents have proven is that they can lobby hard and effectively to get their way.

Unfortunately, while I have PRECISELY ZERO gripes with protecting this forest, the proponent’s way is going to plunder my wallet for their special interest cause and, very likely, sour any future chances for Happy Valley to see an expansion of its current trail and parks allotments. Were it my money to fritter away, and if $800-$1,200 didn’t sound like a lot of money to me, I would do what I have done in the past; give it to a proper conservation organization and know that they will do nothing with it other than fixate on ecosystem protection for maximum preservation impact and minimum financial expense. Save your trees with your dimes. Quit doing what realtors try to do to me when, ever ambitiously, they claim my freeway-bound hovel is somehow magically “in Fairhaven.”

Although the forest is decent enough, this debate isn’t about an ecosystem or about providing significant additional trails or parks to the already opulently green maps of this area. This is, no matter what, an urban area with a former state highway ripping through it. Proponents need to let some of the air out of their “ecosystem” rhetoric and answer the other questions of urban infill and economic justice that this Zero Development rhapsody of theirs implies.

Wendy Harris  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 12:58 am

Alex, I suggest you let the air out of your “economic justice” rhetoric. It is really offensive when a concept like economic justice is distorted to justify homes for the affluent and profits for developers.  I sincerely doubt that low income, handicapped or marginalized people will be moving into new homes at Chuckanut Ridge. Under federal law, economic justice considerations specifically apply to tribes. Economic justice is better served by protecting biodiversity, water quality and ecosystem functions necessary for native fish species and Lummi treaty rights in Bellingham Bay.

Alex McLean  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 3:49 am

You are right, Wendy, it is offensive. Happy Valley is bailing out the wealthiest neighborhoods in the county for their pet project. I find it offensive that they want me to pay for their development firewall—your sacred forest—while my neighborhood, and its salmon streams, gets hammered by ever-increasing housing. I don’t care two boiled farts what Federal Law says “economic injustice” is. If it tickles you to parse it through Harvard terminology, go ahead. I’m calling it street-by-street and, since I have two eyes, I know what it looks like when I see it.

And you know very well that none of Chuckanut Ridge’s potential development has to look like the mansions across the street. City Council, with heavy pressure from the likes of you and me, could zone it LEED or co-housing or Infill Toolkit or ... what the hell, let’s shoot for the moon and demand LBC.

You are smart enough to understand a map and I’m suspecting that any casual glance at my neighborhood, especially here in the densest tracts of Happy Valley/I-5 corridor, looks radically different from theirs. I’m happy for wealthier people and aspire to be one, but I’m not going to get there by financing their pet unicorn while I live miles away from any prospect of benefiting from it.

As to your resentment over the Overwater Walkway (OWW!), implied by your effort to impugn me with racism for not knowing what “real” economic injustice is, I simply disagree with you there. I think the OWW would be really cool, with minimal impact compared to the millions of pounds of imported rip-rap that BNSF dumps along that shoreline, and it will be an extension of a proven asset to this community.

Except for a portion of the funding, it is largely out of Greenways hands: the OWW is part of the six-year TIP and Public Works is acting on it as a non-motorized element of their process. Honestly, I haven’t followed the details as closely as I should—it just seems really far away from getting built right now. But the central arguments that work on me are that Wharf Street may be vaporized as an on-street crossing (as part of the deal to get BNSF to move the tracks) and, in any case, building other routes of access to Cornwall Beach Park will be a bear: crossing the railroad, alone, is going to be a $multi-million goat-show. Trying to widen an elevated Wharf St. for sidewalks (again, it cannot have a street-level crossing) likewise will cost millions. People will therefore be expected to either drive into or backtrack along the upland trail—a long, long, way if Wharf goes away—to gain access to the meat of the park. Put in this context, your notion that it is a redundant trail only looks correct now, this minute, but will look like poor planning 20-30 years hence. Furthermore, the current waterfront plan is mulling some sort of high-speed bike lane adjacent to or above the moved tracks. (An “interim commuter bypass trail,” meanwhile, is proposed until the tracks get moved) and this smart transportation option will look really dumb going to a dead-end at a beach when it could be connected to Fairhaven or, jeepers, the densest neighborhood in Bellingham, Happy Valley. With 350,000 annual users on the existing walkway, I would not want to put a price on how valuable this route is to getting people out of their car seats and commuting into downtown or into Fairhaven. Dollar-wise, it is an expensive outlay for a trail. Still, I’m trying to ponder how many users per-dollar we will be buying for this $3.2 million phantom slice of Chuckanut Ridge that we are talking about?

Whatever the tangle is with the Lummis on the OWW, I have no doubt it can be worked out. You, and you alone, will be able to add millions to any settlement scenario by stirring up the waters as you have so successfully done so far. Beware, however, of depriving either the Lummis or this community of a mutual benefit in order to save such an environmentally compromised shoreline: it is not a pristine maritime wilderness due to that railroad, just like Chuckanut Ridge is a lot different than a forest that doesn’t have a roaring former State highway abutting it, and pumping up the costs for something the community wants seems like the same sort of tactics that, um, well ... I’ve heard that real-estate developers do that, as well.

If the inland side is not navigable for fisheries (it seems like it wouldn’t be, but I’ve heard claims to the contrary) then I’m guessing that neither of us are going to cry too hard about creating a de-facto marine preserve within that arc.

Steve Wilson  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 8:18 am

  Well, I guess US Secretary of State William Seward ran up against the same kind of wall when he advocated the purchase of Alaskan territory from Russia in 1867.  Imagine the reasonable arguments presented at that time to avoid spending all that money.
  I also just finished reading The Big Burn and discovered how difficult it was to establish the US Forest Service in the early 1900’s.
  Yes, there are powerful forces working to prevent any and all land acquisition that precludes development.  It’s no surprise that we are seeing it around this initiative to create the Park District.
  There are well intentioned people opposing the creation of this district.  They have come forward advocating many creative alternatives to funding the purchase of this property.  My question to them is this…Will you work diligently and lead the effort to save this land from development if the District is not established?  If so, please state this in public, on this forum and others means of public communication.  I want your personal committment on record, especially Mr. Zaferatos, Mr. Servais and Mr. Geyer.  No wiggle room here guys…I’m asking for your promise to work for NO future development on Chuckanut Ridge for the next five years or until the debt is retired.
  I’ve committed the last eight years of my ‘spare’ time towards this goal.  I’m ready to hand off the baton if this District isn’t created now. 
  Thanks for your kind and immediate attention.

Nicholas Zaferatos  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 7:57 pm

In response to your comment, Steve, where you specifically call out several previous contributors, including myself, let me start by paraphrasing a dangerous maxim, “If you’re not part of [your] solution, you’re part of the problem.”

I tend to refrain from publishing my opinions on blogs, as many authors that offer counter opinions quite often get verbally assaulted, and I hate feeling the need to rebut and further perpetuate antagonism. That’s not the intent of the publishers of open forums like NW Citizen who try to encourage collegial dialogue. It concerns me, Steve, especially in light of having known you for some 40 years and generally sharing a common persuasion on many community issues, that you now refer to me as a “Mr.” as in a “Mr. developer” kind of way,  just because my opinion doesn’t fall squarely in line with your “support without questions asked” position. (On a side note, in fact, I have been a developer, proudly devoting over 20 years in a public development management role in the service of helping Indian tribes move out of persistent poverty to achieve economic self sufficiency). To answer your very pointed challenge to me and others, no, I am not willing to assume responsibility or to devote my next 5 years, and I say this with no “wiggle room”, to working diligently on a financing solution should voters reject the measure, nor would I work to guarantee that no future development occurs on the CR property. Perhaps if I were an adjacent property owner, like you, my position might be far more emotionally charged and hardened.  I believe its squarely the duty of our elected officials to determine a ‘best’ solution on behalf of the broader public interest, and they have committed to this. So why do you ask that of us?

I have opined that exploring more equitable funding strategies that could achieve the common end for preserving this invaluable landscape in perpetuity is the right thing to do. Its really disheartening to be targeted by fellow Southsiders just because I endorse the exploration of alternative solutions.  I’m a big supporter of grass roots movements and of public service, and have devoted a fair share of my time over decades to public service – two plus terms on the planning commission, the board of adjustment, and several other appointed positions. And I have stood up plenty of times opposing what I considered to be “bad” development policies and projects, So please don’t so readily cast me as a pro developer of the “Woods” just because I don’t align with your proposed approach.

The Woods are saved, even though the proponent’s literature leads us to believe this vote is about saving the woods in peril from development. Let’s be a little more honest here. The land is in public ownership. The controversy is about best financing solutions. Don’t so quickly dismiss ideas like TDRs just because its not your preferred option. Yes, it’s a complicated approach, as Dan attests, and has some very tough political obstacles that need to be reconciled, and yes, it would take time and legal effort and money to set up an effective system of development rights exchange, and yes, it requires correcting the imbalance between ‘cheaper’ development choices in rural areas and more ‘expensive’ development choices in town. And let’s not fool ourselves, it would also likely have negative consequences such as raising the cost of housing which runs counter to our public policies encouraging affordable housing. But along with the potential pitfalls, it offers a far more reaching and equitable solution as we enter the new policy arena that emphasizes sustainable urban infill and smart growth – and, without meaning to beat a dead horse, we already purchased, at a premium cost to taxpayers, hundreds of development rights. If we don’t figure out a way to market those development rights through a system of exchanges, well, the taxpayers will have just bought a bunch of assets that will end up worthless. If TDR and PDR programs can work in so many other communities, why should they not work in a progressive community like Bellingham? It should be a city-only program, for in-city transfers, at least at the start.

Let’s not be too overly myopic here. I appreciate how much time you and other movers and shakers have invested in both the earlier oppositional movement to CR development, and in formulating and carrying out an ambitious funding plan. I understand your frustration when neighbors raise questions or suggest counter measures that might derail your preferred solution. And I honestly applaud you for so diligently helping to stop a development that should have never been permitted, as Tip aptly suggests, and bringing forth one solution that, if passed, would permanently settle this issue once and for all. Should the measure pass, I will have no qualms in contributing my share of taxes to repay the fund, because that’s the democratically right thing to do, even though I don’t use the property, nor do I use over 90% of the other great Greenways acquisitions projects. I continue to support Greenways because its programs have been widely supported by the entire community, and they are good for Bellingham. The Municipal Parks District taxing programs is one solution, but there are other solutions, too, that should not be prematurely taken off the table.

Christopher Grannis  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 8:31 pm

The purpose of forming the Chuckanut Community Forest District is to repay the loan acquired to complete the purchase and secure the permanent protection of the park. The candidates for commissioners who want to preserve the forest make this very clear. They are committed to $.28 per thousand assessed valuation for only ten years.

Are community interests special interests? The Park District Proposal gives the community that has been trying for decades to preserve the hundred acre woods the opportunity to tax itself a small amount to do so. People choose to live in SW Bellingham to be close to natural areas and now they have the opportunity to finally secure the forest’s protection for less than many people spend on lattes.

Will City regulations protect the sensitive areas? The Fairhaven Highlands developer planned to remove all of the trees, all of the top soil, and blast the high parts of 60% of the property in order to put up huge multifamily buildings. The City said their regulations would protect the sensitive areas. Not many people fall for that argument.

Yes, good folks are trying to solve a problem that they were asked by the City Council to help solve. The choice is clear. Folks can vote to tax themselves to preserve this ecological treasure, or subsidize high density multifamily development that would severely compromise the Chuckanut Community Forest.

Please vote yes for the Chuckanut Community Forest District.

Delaine Clizbe  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 8:41 pm

With all due respect Mr. Grannis, you paid signature gatherers from Ferndale to get this gem on the ballot.  That is not “community interest”  that is called a Political Action Committee that was put in place by the likes of “Responsible Development” and “ReSources” to ram this thing down our throats.  If you can’t be honest about that…...

Bill Geyer  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 10:42 pm

The situation is not one of promising forever that no development will occur on the Chuckanut Woods site.  That precludes valuable community buildings that may be needed on this site in the future.  An all or nothing approach 60 years ago would have prevented facilities we enjoy today at our major parks – Fairhaven, Cornwall, and Bloedel-Donovan.  We cannot close off opportunities for future generations. 

I also believe any financial solution should be fully explored before a tax is levied.  This includes considering options for selling a portion of the site and/or selling the development rights to another location.  The latter tool is not presently functional due to existing deficiencies in the City code, a condition resolved by code amendments through the regular ordinance process.

However, you and others raise an important point, one I advocated during my 2007 City Council candidacy, and one I maintain today.  Chuckanut Woods’ natural resources must be protected.  Before 2011, the community’s best tool was application of City development regulations to a private sector development proposal.  Now, the citizens own Chuckanut Woods.  We paid for it with our hard earned money paid into Greenways taxes.  We are now in a much stronger position to protect the natural resources. 

It is up to our elected representatives to define the protection.  The City Council, with assistance from the Mayor, can define the exact boundaries of the protected areas.  They can define the exact areas to be sold (if any) for future development.  They can also define the exact number of development rights to sell, and when to enter the market.  In short, our City Charter empowers our elected Council members with the fiduciary duty to properly manage the asset we call Chuckanut Woods for the benefit of all residents.  They have until December 2017 to complete this task.

The Council’s actions to date lead us to the current situation.  Their constituents asked them to buy the site.  They did, with partial payment from their $3,200,000 loan from the Greenways Endowment Fund.  The sale closed, we now own the property.  Unfortunately, some south side neighbors proposed hasty formation of a new taxing district with vast powers to raise taxes to repay the loan.  This is unfortunate as the resulting election (Proposition 1) precludes the measured, informed action required by Council to repay the loan in a timely fashion.  I believe petitioning for this election was premature.  The result is the community is sidetracked into an electoral process when our resources should unify the community towards a solution we can support to the Council.  That measured process would give Council the confidence to take definitive action. 

In plain terms, here is what should occur.  The Mayor and Council should assemble a team of experienced private sector professionals in the appraisal field, real estate development, community planning, banking, site planning and environmental analysis.  The team should include community representatives committed to implementing our Comprehensive Plan.  The task should be to define areas to be protected, developed (if any), the entitlements necessary for each alternative, a strategy to take each one to market, and the prospective economic return.  That is what a professional developer does each day.  It is what I have been doing in various capacities for 35 years.  It is the informed way to achieve our common goal – to protect Chuckanut Woods while creating funds to repay City Council’s loan. 

Steve, we have known each other since my children attended your school almost 25 years ago.  I had the honor of serving as the City’s Planning and Development Director, followed by a successful private sector career since 1991.  My professional skills served many clients to build homes, offices and urban villages in Bellingham.  I built over 100 median priced homes in infill subdivisions, own and manage two wetland sites, lectured at colleges and high schools, served on company boards, and was fortunate to participate in the capital campaign for the Bellingham Food Bank. 

During this time, I had the pleasure listening to community leaders Nick Zaferatos and John Servais and many others.  They taught me (and many others) the value of open discussion to obtain new solutions.  Nick’s comments above attest to his qualities.  His integrity is well known, his professional experience of the highest caliber.  John’s fervor for transparency and quality is equally clear.  These are the skills that will bring a solution to the current financial need.  These are the skills that I will commit to bring to the issue, regardless of the results of the current election. 

Steve Wilson  //  Sat, Feb 02, 2013, 7:54 pm

Thanks for response Nick and Bill.

Nick, sorry to put you on the spot.  I, too, don’t often respond to these forums, but am thankful that NW Citizen insists on identifying writers.  It also helps me to know the commitment level of writers beyond the printed page.  This helps me gauge the likelihood of ideas moving into reality.  I felt like I asked an honest question, and I appreciate your honest reply.

In response to both of your views it’s quite clear that the financing options you are advocating include some that are quite complex and untested here in our locale.  It’s not that they couldn’t work, but in my humble opinion they are unlikely to work given our time frame and the absence of an organized plan, which seems to be the case.  And, in the event that they do work they can be folded into the deliberations of the Park commissioners to reduce the levy accordingly.

In my opinion, looking to City Council for leadership on this issue is misplaced.  Council is not a finite entity over time.  Members change, interests waver, and attention is not easy to maintain over several years.  I strongly believe Council is looking for direction from it’s citizens to resolve this debt issue.

I was not on the committee that reviewed options and prepared the levy to create a Parks District.  However, I do know these people very well and trust their judgement.  I admire their ability to take time from their busy lives, and voluntarily commit to this overwhelming task.  In my opinion the levy offers a realistic approach to the retirement of existing debt.  And, most importantly it supports a commitment to NO residential or commercial development of this mature forested wetland.  This has the support of every southside neighborhood association. 

I’m content with my decision to VOTE YES for the creation of the Park District, while I respect your choice to voice a different opinion. 

Wendy Harris  //  Sun, Feb 03, 2013, 1:22 am

Bill, was that a blog comment or a campaign speech?

Bill Geyer  //  Sun, Feb 03, 2013, 6:55 am

Thanks for the response.  Always a pleasure to discuss issues with you.  Two technical points may ease your concerns regarding TDR’s.  They may seem complicated to the general public, but they are tried and tested in many parts of the country and WA.  As to timing, the City has until late 2017 to sell them for cash, a very long time on market to secure a buyer.  Price will determine if they would sell within 1, 2, 3 or 4 years.  But there is one key deficiency today.

The accredited professional planners (AICP) in City Planning understand TDR’s very well.  The recent appointment of Mr. Greg Aucutt as the Assistant Planning Director is timely to address this issue.  (Greg shepherded the 2006 Comp Plan to completion and the recent Fairhaven Neighborhood Urban Village Plan.) Unfortunately, the problem lies at the policy level with the Council’s reluctance to adopt code language that would make TDR’s functional and marketable.  The Council borrowed the funds to purchase Chuckanut Woods, they control the value of the site, yet they have not made necessary code changes to ease the sale of TDR’s.  Do that, and Council can repay their loan to benefit all Bellingham taxpayers. 

Your other comment defined another piece to the puzzle - looking to the Council for leadership is misplaced.  Agreed.  Dan Remsen, Joe Yaver and I discussed this at length over coffee in December.  We discussed a path for community leadership showing the Council the benefits of many financial solutions other than a taxing district.  I believe that effort should begin immediately after the election.  My response to your prior posting affirms my commitment. Not to pressure Nick here, but his expertise would be valuable.  Your voice as a resident would be valuable as well.  Imagine, you and I and many supporters and opponents to Prop 1 presenting Council with a step by step approach to place TDR’s into the market to repay the loan within 2-3 years.  I think Council just might follow our lead.

Bill Geyer  //  Sun, Feb 03, 2013, 7:23 am

Yes, that was a blog comment.  I provided some personal history to illustrate the point we all have many facets of our lives.  Nick and others properly chastised the use of identity politics to marginalize someone’s opinion.  On this blog, Prop 1 supporters frequently assign the term “developer” to marginalize someone with an opposing view and to misdirect the reader from the factual argument.  Our community needs to rise above this sophomoric tactic and elevate to the facts.

The Prop 1 debate is informed by expertise in the development field - neighborhood planning, site design, environmental analysis, appraisals, entitlement procurement, code review, public and private financing, marketing, and (most importantly) sales. I am grateful for developing expertise in all these areas over the past 35 years.  As I have done in the past and will do in the future, I often share my experience with neighbors to help further a community solution.  Such is the case here.

R.C., Bob Cunningham  //  Tue, Feb 12, 2013, 10:38 am

If the revenue is “owed” to greenways? Revenue belonging to the taxpayer, and the city cannot squeeze enough additional tax revenue from the populace? Perhaps “Greenways” could simply reposses said propety? Therby placing the “Park” in the hands of the people? No district needed, the end result being that the land IS open to the public?

How the Party Treats Jeb and Hillary Tells You Everything

Thu, Feb 26, 2015, 9:39 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley shares some insight into the national political parties

3 comments; last on Feb 27, 2015

Dealing with Meth Contamination - A Race to the Bottom in Whatcom County

Wed, Feb 25, 2015, 5:31 am  //  Dick Conoboy

In a hearing, possibly on 3 March, the Whatcom County Council will consider an ordinance changing the rules for contaminated meth use sites.

1 comments; last on Feb 27, 2015

Paper Dreams in Fairhaven

Next door to Village Books

Rent-to-Own Scam on Tenants

Mon, Feb 09, 2015, 5:00 am  //  Dick Conoboy

Not all rent-to-own propositions are an unwise method to buy a home but some are schemes to rip off the unsuspecting tenant.


The Hidden Election

Mon, Feb 02, 2015, 8:34 am  //  Guest writer

No ballot mailed to you. You must request a ballot for voting in the Whatcom Conservation District election. Deadline to apply is Feb 9. By Barbara Perry


Little Hong Kong by the Bay

Thu, Jan 29, 2015, 9:56 pm  //  Tip Johnson

Wherein Bellingham's billion dollar boondoggle is revisited

3 comments; last on Feb 03, 2015

A Call to Action to Support the Lummi Nation

Tue, Jan 27, 2015, 8:55 am  //  Terry Wechsler

The Lummi requested on Jan. 5, 2015, that the federal government, through the Army Corps of Engineers, honor Art. V of the Treaty of Point Elliott and deny…

1 comments; last on Feb 04, 2015

The Pickett House Museum

Sun, Jan 25, 2015, 11:32 am  //  Guest writer

Adventures of George Pickett in the Pacific Northwest Wilderness

5 comments; last on Jan 28, 2015

Call to Action—Shell Anacortes Crude by Rail Proposal

Sat, Jan 24, 2015, 2:15 pm  //  Terry Wechsler

The fourth area refinery crude by rail infrastructure project to receive permits without benefit of environmental review is being appealed, and provides an opportunity to make precedent.


Riley Sweeney to Receive Paul deArmond Award

Thu, Jan 22, 2015, 11:13 pm  //  John Servais

The second annual award for Citizen Journalism will be to The Political Junkie himself who runs the Sweeney Politics blog, Riley Sweeney.

2 comments; last on Jan 24, 2015

The Annexation Games

Tue, Jan 20, 2015, 2:07 am  //  Guest writer

Guest article by Sandra Alfers. Water and sewer connections drive unwanted annexation. Trickle Creek homeowners are muzzled by a "no protest zone."

1 comments; last on Jan 20, 2015

A Walk With Hope

Sun, Jan 18, 2015, 9:14 pm  //  Guest writer

Ellen Murphy gives us a poem for this Martin Luther King day of remembrance.

2 comments; last on Jan 21, 2015

Dead or Alive: How do you like your herring?

Sun, Jan 18, 2015, 8:15 pm  //  Tip Johnson

Wherein the ridiculous is ridiculed

5 comments; last on Jan 21, 2015

Lodging Goals for Whatcom County

Thu, Jan 08, 2015, 1:54 pm  //  Guest writer

Tani Sutley guest writes about the vacation rentals situation and presents goals for the county council to consider for improving our rural neighborhoods.

1 comments; last on Jan 10, 2015

Water is Valuable

Wed, Dec 31, 2014, 12:16 am  //  Guest writer

Duuhhh! Try doing without it. Marian Beddill provides an overview of our rural Whatcom County water situation and the efforts to find fair solutions.

3 comments; last on Jan 08, 2015

Riley’s Top 5 Whatcom Political Stories of 2014

Wed, Dec 24, 2014, 12:23 pm  //  Riley Sweeney

The Herald gave us their top 10 stories, Riley gives you his top 5


Coal Ship Collisions Study Is Released

Thu, Dec 18, 2014, 4:04 pm  //  John Servais

One part of the environmental study for the proposed Cherry Point mega coal terminal has been completed and released. It deals with ship collisions - they call it…

2 comments; last on Dec 22, 2014

Twas the Week Before Christmas…

Thu, Dec 18, 2014, 11:26 am  //  John Servais

Bellingham Public Works shows how tone deaf they can be to business concerns. They insisted on street work that takes away up to 80 parking spaces in Fairhaven…


Bellingham City Council Approves Rental Inspections

Tue, Dec 16, 2014, 2:51 pm  //  Dick Conoboy

7-0! City Council Unanimous. Rentals Will Be Inspected in Bellingham. Thanks go to WWU students for speaking out to city council.

4 comments; last on Dec 18, 2014

Council Moving Rapidly on Rental Registration and Inspections

Thu, Dec 11, 2014, 4:05 am  //  Dick Conoboy

The Bellingham City Council has added an inspection component to the registration-only rental ordinance proposal of Councilmember Murphy

4 comments; last on Dec 16, 2014

New Year’s Eve and Consumer Fireworks - Ban in Effect

Wed, Dec 10, 2014, 5:37 am  //  Dick Conoboy

The ban on consumer fireworks that took effect last summer is valid all year, even New Year's Eve

1 comments; last on Dec 11, 2014

Ship Breaks Loose at Port of Bellingham

Tue, Dec 09, 2014, 12:31 pm  //  John Servais

The Horizon Lines ship - the many year resident of the Port of Bellingham - broke loose this morning due to failure of some system. A few photos.

3 comments; last on Dec 10, 2014

Whatcom County and the New Sharing Economy

Tue, Dec 09, 2014, 1:25 am  //  Guest writer

Tani Sutley writes of how unregulated vacation rentals are invading the Lake Whatcom watershed. She urges action before the Planning Commission meeting on 11 December.

4 comments; last on Jan 03, 2015

War and Peace

Wed, Dec 03, 2014, 1:20 pm  //  Richard Lewis

Poet Richard Lewis reflects on Elizabeth Warren

3 comments; last on Dec 07, 2014

Prosecutor McEachran Calls Racism Charge “Preposterous”

Sun, Nov 23, 2014, 3:27 pm  //  Tip Johnson

Wherein Whatcom's Klan heritage may be oozing from some cracks

8 comments; last on Dec 06, 2014

Where are the persuadable voters in the 42nd District?

Sat, Nov 22, 2014, 2:48 pm  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley dives into the data with precinct maps and historical perspectives


Campus View Apartment Project Officially Defunct

Thu, Nov 20, 2014, 8:15 am  //  Dick Conoboy

Campus Crest Communities, Inc. has officially offered for sale the Lincoln St. property that was to be a student apartment development.

2 comments; last on Nov 23, 2014

Howard Harris Dies - More Testimonials Added

Wed, Nov 12, 2014, 12:51 pm  //  John Servais

Updated Nov 12. Howard Harris, the founder of the Bellingham silent peace vigil at the Federal Building in Bellingham, has died. He and Rosemary were leaders in our…


A Veterans Day Note

Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 1:34 pm  //  John Servais

On this Veterans Day, a note about how vets need our government to step up - as has never been done. And a personal note on the power…

3 comments; last on Nov 13, 2014

Lincoln Street Apartment Development May Be Abandoned

Thu, Nov 06, 2014, 5:53 am  //  Dick Conoboy

The Campus Crest apartment complex may be the "victim" of a corporate restructuring plan.

3 comments; last on Nov 10, 2014

Doug Ericksen’s Tax Lien

Tue, Nov 04, 2014, 11:28 am  //  John Servais

While smearing Seth Fleetwood over a common tax arrangement, we discover Doug Ericksen also has a benign tax lien - one he denied.

6 comments; last on Nov 11, 2014

A Recent GOP History in Not-So-Terse-Verse

Mon, Nov 03, 2014, 7:14 pm  //  Richard Lewis

Poet Richard Lewis weighs in on the Tea Party values



Sat, Nov 01, 2014, 11:29 am  //  Tip Johnson

Or why to vote for Nyima, the dog, for County Prosecutor

4 comments; last on Nov 03, 2014

Election Recommendations

Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 1:18 am  //  John Servais

A link to Riley's Political Junkie for excellent recommendations - and a few thoughts of my own.

1 comments; last on Oct 30, 2014

Something Gristly to Chew On: The rest of the story -

Thu, Oct 23, 2014, 10:01 am  //  Tip Johnson

It's just how things roll in Whatcom County

5 comments; last on Oct 26, 2014

Point Roberts vs. the FCC:  Modern David and Goliath

Wed, Oct 22, 2014, 1:44 pm  //  John Lesow

Update Oct 22: John Lesow has posted a comment with considerable more information on this issue.

1 comments; last on Oct 22, 2014

Tune in TONIGHT for Political Comedy

Tue, Oct 14, 2014, 5:36 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley does a local political comedy show

1 comments; last on Oct 15, 2014

Bham Planning Director - Rick Sepler Chosen

Wed, Oct 08, 2014, 5:24 pm  //  John Servais

Three final candidates for Bellingham Planning Director spoke today at a cozy 'meet and greet' of government employees and developers.

6 comments; last on Oct 11, 2014

The Business of Government

Sat, Oct 04, 2014, 11:23 am  //  Tip Johnson

Wherein we see that sometimes government can do what business can't.

9 comments; last on Oct 07, 2014

Rental Conditions -  A Real Estate Inspector’s View

Fri, Oct 03, 2014, 9:26 am  //  Dick Conoboy

An experienced real estate inspector provides a window to the dangeroous conditions found in rentals in Bellingham

3 comments; last on Oct 05, 2014

Few Surprises at the Tea Party Debate

Thu, Oct 02, 2014, 1:33 pm  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley files a full report of the Tea Party debate for State Leg candidates

1 comments; last on Oct 04, 2014

Satpal Sidhu, Candidate for State Representative, 42nd District

Tue, Sep 30, 2014, 7:00 am  //  Guest writer

Wherein a Fulbright scholar, professional engineer and successful business owner files for public office

4 comments; last on Oct 02, 2014

Hickory, Dickory, Docketing…Yet Another Spot Rezone

Mon, Sep 22, 2014, 4:07 am  //  Dick Conoboy

Last Thursday, the Planning Commission voted to recommend the docketing of the spot rezone of 801 Samish from Residential Single to Commerical Planned (non-retail)

6 comments; last on Oct 03, 2014

Samish Way Experience - Drug Dealing Dangers?

Wed, Sep 17, 2014, 9:26 am  //  John Servais

We post a disturbing report of a personal encounter along Samish Way, with the permission of John Stark, who experienced it.

2 comments; last on Sep 17, 2014

Who Will Be Appointed to Lehman’s City Council Seat?

Tue, Sep 09, 2014, 7:21 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley and John share the short list of who might replace Cathy Lehman on the Bellingham city council on January 5.

8 comments; last on Sep 10, 2014

An Imminent Threat:  The State Plans for CBR Disaster While Counties Punt

Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 10:48 am  //  Terry Wechsler

While the state spends hundreds of thousands of dollars defining risks of crude by rail, Skagit County finds no significant adverse impacts of a crude-by-rail proposal.

1 comments; last on Aug 28, 2014

You can’t fight city hall: city hall doesn’t fight fair

Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 1:06 pm  //  Guest writer

Patrick McKee of the Sunnyland Neighborhood guest-writes about the August 11 City Council slap-dash zoning changes.

2 comments; last on Aug 23, 2014

Good Friends and Neighbors:  What $54 Million Doesn’t Buy, Part 2

Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 3:54 pm  //  Terry Wechsler

Not content with causing massive inconvenience, BNSF is now literally dumping on county residents.

10 comments; last on Aug 26, 2014

Devil In the Details

Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 2:48 pm  //  Guest writer

Judith Green of the Sunnyland Neighborhood guest writes this brief summary of what went wrong with the planning last week.

1 comments; last on Aug 22, 2014

Good Friends and Neighbors:  What $54 Million Doesn’t Buy

Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 6:12 am  //  Terry Wechsler

A massive upgrade of the Cascade [rail] Corridor has left residents stranded and the sheriff asking Washington, DC, to intervene.

7 comments; last on Sep 02, 2014

Reliable Prosperity

Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 2:13 pm  //  Guest writer

Sandy Robson guest writes of the need for real prosperity at Cherry Point, not a destructive short term coal port that destroys the fishing grounds.

5 comments; last on Oct 02, 2014

Fleetwood versus Ericksen: What Happened in Round One?

Tue, Aug 12, 2014, 9:52 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Some Context for the Primary Results


The Rule of Law - Bellingham Style

Mon, Aug 11, 2014, 10:31 pm  //  John Servais

Bellingham City Council abruptly changes zoning codes to force Planning Department plan on Sunnyland residents.

7 comments; last on Aug 14, 2014

Final Updated Election Results

Fri, Aug 08, 2014, 9:10 am  //  John Servais

Updated Wed evening. The Tuesday evening 8:20 pm Auditor report on the election is in.

5 comments; last on Aug 08, 2014

Councilmember Murphy’s Proposed Rental Ordinance Is Deeply Flawed

Fri, Aug 01, 2014, 7:00 am  //  Dick Conoboy

Councilmember Murphy's proposal is based on a complaint-based rental ordinance from Tacoma, demonstrated to do little for the health and safety of tenants.

14 comments; last on Oct 01, 2014

Trial by Fire:  A Rising Tide of Civil Disobedience

Fri, Aug 01, 2014, 3:47 am  //  Terry Wechsler

Carefully planned actions are rolling across the state to make the point that it's not OK to expose us to risks associated with CBR.

7 comments; last on Aug 04, 2014

Northwest Citizen Releases Polling of Whatcom Voters

Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 10:40 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Northwest Citizen has conducted a phone poll of likely voters, with some surprising results!

9 comments; last on Jul 29, 2014

Plan Commission & Samish Neighbors Bypassed on Rezone Docketing

Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 6:52 am  //  Dick Conoboy

In contravention of the Bellingham Municipal Code, the City Council will consider on 4 August a last minute docketing request that ignores the Planning Commission and Samish Neighborhood.

1 comments; last on Jul 30, 2014

Sunnyland Planning Process Explained - Partially

Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 9:47 pm  //  Guest writer

Guest writer Mike Rostron explains how Bellingham city planners played loose and illegal with planning processes.


City Council Approves Resident’s Sunnyland Plan

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 6:22 pm  //  John Servais

Sunnlyland residents win one - after a seven year effort. Planning Department failed them and all of us.

2 comments; last on Jul 23, 2014

What Landlords Need to Know about Rental Registration

Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 4:30 am  //  Guest writer

Landlords are so caught up opposing a licensing and inspection ordinance, they cannot see the upside for them in ridding the city of bad rentals.

19 comments; last on Aug 01, 2014


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