Motivated Reasoning Yields Useless PlanningPermalink +
Mon, Jul 23, 2012, 7:05 pm // John Servais
When Bellingham Planning Department staff think "view corridors" are good things for the Fairhaven Neighborhood Plan, even if they are not needed, they get put into the plan. Such thinking is called motivated reasoning - and it was on full display as the Bellingham City Council rushed the plan to completion this month. Here we examine only one example of several possible.
For months, staff urged the Bellingham Planning Commission and council to include a view corridor down McKenzie Avenue with reduced future building heights of 42 feet - in areas with otherwise 56 foot heights according to the plan. This is a huge area, from 9th down to 4th Streets along Harris Avenue. But reducing heights for a 100 foot swath right through the middle of a building lot takes millions of dollars in future value away from a land owner.
At the June 18 council planning committee meeting, Seth Fleetwood specifically asked staff to explain the reduction to 42 feet, exactly what view would be impacted, and from where. Planning staff displayed a photo of the view down McKenzie and then, using a pointer, showed just how those 56 foot buildings would block the view of Bellingham Bay and the islands to the west. Then, they showed how 42 foot buildings would allow the bay and islands to be viewed from 12th Street and McKenzie.
The council duly kept the 42 foot right of way corridor. At the council meeting on July 2, they made their final tweaks to the plan and closed the planning process. They then instructed city staff to bring the finished plan to the August 6 council meeting for the routine vote of adopting it. This plan will have a 20 to 40 year life - and it is extremely difficult for a property owner to get zoning changed once the plan is adopted.
For months some of us have been telling the staff, then the planning commission, and then the council that this view corridor was useless and unnecessary. We pleaded for the facts to be established. And thus Seth's question on June 18 and again on July 2. After all, council members want to be able to trust city staff to give them facts so they can make reasoned decisions.
So, last week, a couple of us set out to establish the facts. We already knew a 56 foot building would not hurt the view because we can read a map. The city planning department's own GIS map showed contours that made it clear a 56 foot building would not interfere with views down McKenzie Avenue. So we citizens spent our own time and money to set up a simple experiment. We put a mechanical lift in the center line of McKenzie Avenue at 6th Street and raised it to 51 feet - which meant the 6 foot tall guy in the bucket was at 57 feet. Actually, because of sloping land and other calculations, he stood some 5 feet higher than any 56 foot building would stand.
At the top of this page is a photo of him taken from the sidewalk at McKenzie and 12th Street - the exact spot where the planning staff person took the photo shown to the council. Can you see him sticking out above the trees, blocking the horizon line? No? Well, you cannot see him because he is below the trees that border Padden Creek - a city greenway where the trees are taller than 56 feet.
Just below this article, is the staff photo used at the June 18 committee meeting - with the pointer showing a supposed 56 foot building height way up in the power lines. Just not true. But it caused the council to leave the 42 foot view corridor in the plan.
The Bellingham Planning Department has no process for verifying information it presents to council as fact. Indeed, this is true for many other aspects of the Fairhaven Plan - something several of us have watched during the 6 years of this process. The 42 foot view corridor is useless and unnecessary. Fifty six foot tall buildings will preserve the view just fine.
Will the city council delete this useless view corridor on August 6? Some of us hope so. It is the last time it can be done.
Some of us look forward to a very cool Fairhaven in the future and this is a prime area for a beautiful development: maybe a grand hotel; maybe a beautiful, modern, northwest style, multi use building. This is near the Alaska Cruise Terminal, the Amtrak Station, and the docks where charter boats depart for whale watching and San Juan Island cruises. It's where boats sailing the islands anchor or dock so as to come ashore and enjoy Fairhaven. It is a fantastic area with potential. Many of us in Fairhaven want the zoning to allow for something great down there, not a narrow compressed concept of 1890s style buildings. We look forward to the future with confidence, not back 120 years to imitate the past.
If you want to delve further into this issue, here are some links and information. The staff presentation was at the June 18 council planning committee meeting and can be seen in the video of the afternoon session from minute 94:00, (minutes:seconds) with the screen shot below taken at 96:26. The discussion of the view corridor ends at 98:15. The height staff shows for a 42 foot building is actually the height of an approximately 65 foot building. With the wind blowing, we did not want to go higher in the lift. But city hall, public works, and the planning department certainly have the ability to check heights and give the council accurate information. If they wanted to. I invite them to verify or check this evidence.
At the July 2 council meeting, they discussed this for almost 10 minutes trying merely to learn the facts. You can view the video from minute 233:30 until 242:22, with some especially edgy dialog by Cathy Lehman and Seth Fleetwood from approx 238:00 to 241:00. Staff shows a computer model of the view that is inaccurate, but has been used for much of the Fairhaven planning process. All this time spent to learn if a 42 foot corridor is needed - a simple question of fact. Staff gets it wrong.
About the additional photos posted below. In order to see the fellow in the lift, I moved uphill to 13th Street behind Haggens grocery store - some 15 feet higher. Two photos show this - first a wide view of where I'm standing next to Haggens. I then cropped the photo to only show the center area, and you can just barely make out the person standing on the platform with orange railings right in the center of the photo. By the way, the council approved zoning to allow a 56 foot building beside and abutting Haggens. Thus the view corridor will not benefit anyone east of 12th Street for several blocks. And as soon as one walks down to 11th Street, the trees block the bay and horizon.
One last ironic fact. See that tall brick condo building on the right blocking the view of the bay to the right? That is Harris Square, a 60 foot building at 10th and McKenzie. City planning made a "mistake" and allowed the building to extend 5 feet into the McKenzie Ave right of way - thus intruding into the existing and useful view corridor of the bay and islands. This was reported about 5 years ago in the Whatcom Independent when I was publisher. We never did get an explanation from city hall for how that happened.
Related Links:-> Web page for city council agendas, minutes and videos
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 2:06 pm // Guest writerPatrick McKee of the Sunnyland Neighborhood guest-writes about the August 11 City Council slap-dash zoning changes.
1 comments; last on Aug 22, 2014
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 4:54 pm // Terry WechslerNot content with causing massive inconvenience, BNSF is now literally dumping on county residents.
8 comments; last on Aug 22, 2014
Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 3:48 pm // Guest writerJudith 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
Fri, Aug 15, 2014, 7:12 am // Terry WechslerA massive upgrade of the Cascade [rail] Corridor has left residents stranded and the sheriff asking Washington, DC, to intervene.
6 comments; last on Aug 21, 2014
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 3:13 pm // Guest writerSandy Robson guest writes of the need for real prosperity at Cherry Point, not a destructive short term coal port that destroys the fishing grounds.
4 comments; last on Aug 18, 2014
Tue, Aug 12, 2014, 10:52 am // Riley SweeneySome Context for the Primary Results
Mon, Aug 11, 2014, 11:31 pm // John ServaisBellingham City Council abruptly changes zoning codes to force Planning Department plan on Sunnyland residents.
7 comments; last on Aug 14, 2014
Fri, Aug 08, 2014, 10:10 am // John ServaisUpdated Wed evening. The Tuesday evening 8:20 pm Auditor report on the election is in.
5 comments; last on Aug 08, 2014
Fri, Aug 01, 2014, 8:00 am // Dick ConoboyCouncilmember Murphy's proposal is based on a complaint-based rental ordinance from Tacoma, demonstrated to do little for the health and safety of tenants.
9 comments; last on Aug 04, 2014
Fri, Aug 01, 2014, 4:47 am // Terry WechslerCarefully 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
Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 11:40 am // Riley SweeneyNorthwest Citizen has conducted a phone poll of likely voters, with some surprising results!
9 comments; last on Jul 29, 2014
Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 7:52 am // Dick ConoboyIn 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
Wed, Jul 23, 2014, 10:47 pm // Guest writerGuest writer Mike Rostron explains how Bellingham city planners played loose and illegal with planning processes.
Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 7:22 pm // John ServaisSunnlyland residents win one - after a seven year effort. Planning Department failed them and all of us.
2 comments; last on Jul 23, 2014
Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 5:30 am // Guest writerLandlords 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
Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 1:24 pm // Guest writerJudith Green explains how the Bellingham Planning Department is trying to cram their plan onto a neighborhood.
5 comments; last on Jul 21, 2014
Sun, Jul 13, 2014, 2:26 pm // Terry WechslerYears after BP completed its north dock, the Army Corps of Engineers released a draft EIS and it's really really stupid.
Tue, Jul 08, 2014, 8:20 am // Dick ConoboyThe city council "persuades" the city administration to withdraw a request for an intrusive police threat warning system
2 comments; last on Jul 08, 2014
Mon, Jul 07, 2014, 6:54 am // Terry WechslerIt is time we stop allowing corporations to externalize the costs associated with their risky business practices, and demand more from our regulators who hold the keys to…
3 comments; last on Jul 13, 2014
Mon, Jul 07, 2014, 5:04 am // Guest writerGuest writer Sandy Robson breaks the story of officials from Washington treated to a coal-promoting junket to Wyoming.
2 comments; last on Jul 13, 2014
Fri, Jul 04, 2014, 5:00 am // Guest writerFerndale's most famous landmark is frequently commented on and is often in the news. Here is their side of the story.
4 comments; last on Jul 07, 2014
Wed, Jul 02, 2014, 5:14 pm // Terry WechslerOn the anniversary of the Lac-Megantic disaster, communities throughout North America rally in solidarity to remember and protest wholly inadequate government response to crude-by-rail's risks.
4 comments; last on Jul 12, 2014
Fri, Jun 27, 2014, 9:01 pm // Guest writerIn the Weekly, Tim Johnson left out three words in quoting Craig Cole - and his story misleads readers. Guest article by Sandy Robson.
11 comments; last on Jul 01, 2014
Tue, Jun 24, 2014, 10:24 am // Dick ConoboyThe Bellingham Police Department wants to purchase "threat assessment" software with federal monies. Citizen comments were vehement and negative. City Council confused.
5 comments; last on Jul 03, 2014
Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 10:18 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the failings of a bad policy framework are revealed
1 comments; last on Jun 19, 2014
Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 7:53 am // Dick ConoboyThe possession and use of consumer fireworks are no longer permitted within the city limits.
1 comments; last on Jun 19, 2014
Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 11:39 am // John ServaisWyoming Senators and coal honchos were in Whatcom County June 10 - to hold a news conference with select reporters.
7 comments; last on Jun 20, 2014
Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 11:20 am // John ServaisBellingham Hearing Examiner, Dawn Sturwold, retires in three weeks. Successor selection is hidden from all of us.
3 comments; last on Jun 11, 2014
Fri, Jun 06, 2014, 2:07 pm // Terry WechslerPart 2: Following Ken Oplinger to California, and Home Again
4 comments; last on Jun 19, 2014
Sun, Jun 01, 2014, 12:39 am // Guest writerA Venn diagram where coal, the Endangered Species Act, Republicans, and Wyoming’s Board of Education collide.
2 comments; last on Jun 02, 2014
Wed, May 28, 2014, 3:15 pm // Guest writerA perspective by guest writer Ellen Murphy reflects on the Whatcom Watch and the threatened law suit by Craig Cole.
22 comments; last on Jun 01, 2014
Tue, May 27, 2014, 1:23 am // Wendy HarrisWhy was so little consideration given to the concept of developing the waterfront for eco-tourism?
5 comments; last on Jun 11, 2014
Mon, May 26, 2014, 7:51 pm // Wendy HarrisCity park improvements have implications on the local and global scale.
2 comments; last on May 29, 2014
Thu, May 22, 2014, 12:10 am // Guest writerWyoming is ready to try and legally force us to limit our environmental scoping for the Cherry Point coal terminal
4 comments; last on Jun 17, 2014
Sun, May 18, 2014, 11:57 pm // Wendy HarrisReckless rezones and far-fetched explanations result in more slaughterhouses and meat packing plants
3 comments; last on May 20, 2014
Sat, May 17, 2014, 2:34 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley takes a closer look at the Charter Review Commission candidates
2 comments; last on May 21, 2014
Tue, May 13, 2014, 5:04 pm // Wendy HarrisBellingham's annual water quality report indicates that city hall's propoganda machine is going strong
1 comments; last on May 14, 2014
Sun, May 11, 2014, 2:20 pm // Terry WechslerPart 1: Introduction to the Bellingham Basin’s Potential for Fracking, Earthquakes, and Earthquakes Due to Fracking
3 comments; last on May 14, 2014
Fri, May 09, 2014, 10:02 am // John ServaisThe Political Junkie for Whatcom County - that would be Riley Sweeney - has Overstreet not running for reelection in the 42nd.
1 comments; last on May 13, 2014
Fri, May 09, 2014, 6:10 am // Terry WechslerWhy Washington must step in and assume lead agency status in Skagit County for the Shell crude by rail proposal.
6 comments; last on Jun 21, 2014
Tue, May 06, 2014, 5:52 pm // Riley SweeneyThe value of a Precinct Committee Officer . . .
1 comments; last on May 07, 2014
Mon, May 05, 2014, 3:34 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the gyrations of the bid for widespread county slaughter are exposed.
2 comments; last on May 07, 2014
Thu, May 01, 2014, 10:21 pm // Guest writerMove to Amend is a national movement to amend the U.S. Constitution and define persons as people and speech as not money.
7 comments; last on Jun 02, 2014
Wed, Apr 30, 2014, 8:20 am // John ServaisRiley posted this morning that Seth Fleetwood has decided to challenge Doug Ericksen for state senate in the 42nd District.
1 comments; last on Apr 30, 2014
Mon, Apr 28, 2014, 6:28 am // Dick ConoboyEvery Bellingham Planning Commission member has ties to development or development-related businesses.
4 comments; last on Apr 30, 2014
Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 1:59 pm // Terry WechslerA closer look at Whatcom County's industrial "stewards of the environment."
3 comments; last on Jun 25, 2014
Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 11:43 am // Wendy HarrisThe public needs to support city council and request that a waterfront habitat assessment include terrestrial species and habitat connectivity.
Sat, Apr 19, 2014, 2:57 pm // Terry Wechsleror How Not to Plan for Future Generations' Water Needs
12 comments; last on Jun 30, 2014
Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 10:40 am // Riley SweeneyA simple explanation of the Charter Review and analysis of District only voting
Wed, Apr 09, 2014, 9:07 am // Riley SweeneyCity pushes for Alabama Street improvements, residents speak out
3 comments; last on Apr 14, 2014
Sun, Apr 06, 2014, 4:29 pm // Guest writerBy Christopher Grannis: Wherein despite every effort and expense, citizens cannot make the City follow the law or work for neighborhoods
2 comments; last on Apr 07, 2014
Sun, Apr 06, 2014, 12:52 pm // Terry WechslerWhy commenting on the EIS for Comp Plan revisions for Cherry Point means demanding an EIS in the first place.
5 comments; last on Jun 25, 2014
Wed, Apr 02, 2014, 6:00 am // Dick ConoboyAmbling University Development Group pulls out. University Ridge will not be built.
12 comments; last on Apr 06, 2014
Tue, Apr 01, 2014, 1:27 pm // Wendy HarrisPlease help us protect county wildlife by ensuring that the scope of the EIS review is adequate. A sample scoping letter is included.
Mon, Mar 31, 2014, 2:23 am // Wendy HarrisThe public has a week to comment on the scope of issues reviewed under the EIS.
Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 1:32 am // Wendy HarrisOn March 26, 2014 the city and county provided their update and assessment on the status of Lake Whatcom. This is mine.
2 comments; last on Apr 01, 2014
Wed, Mar 19, 2014, 10:32 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs into the county's plan to buy the county morgue
3 comments; last on Mar 24, 2014
Mon, Mar 17, 2014, 12:52 am // Wendy HarrisThe public is not provided with a proposed plan or adequate information prior to the annual "state of the lake" meeting
4 comments; last on Mar 18, 2014
Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 1:11 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein there's a crackdown on growing plants, and plans to let slaughter run free
2 comments; last on Mar 16, 2014
Fri, Mar 14, 2014, 10:47 am // John ServaisFukushima radiation has been found 20 miles from Whatcom County farmland along the Fraser River in British Columbia.
1 comments; last on Mar 17, 2014
Election InfoCandidate Filings
Primary election results
Coal, Oil & TrainsCommunity Wise Bellingham
Powder River Basin R. C.
Local Blogs & NewsBellingham Herald
Bham Herald Politics Blog
Bham Politics & Economics
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
League of Women Voters
Western Front - WWU
Local CausesChuckanut Community Forest
City Club of Bellingham
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Reduce Jet Noise
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary Building
WA Conservation Voters
Port of Bellingham
US - The White House
WA State Access
WA State Elections
WA State Legislature
Weather & ClimateCliff Mass Weather Blog
Nat Hurricane Center
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That? - climate
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good Web SitesAl-Jazeera online
Foreign Policy in Focus
Innocence Project, The
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Middle East Times
New American Century
Paul Krugman - economics
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Project Vote Smart
Stand for the Troops
Talking Points Memo
The Crisis Papers
War and Piece
NwCitizen 1995 - 2007Early Northwest Citizen
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Police Activity
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph