Motivated Reasoning Yields Useless PlanningPermalink +
Mon, Jul 23, 2012, 6:05 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
Mon, Mar 10, 2014, 9:51 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs into an unusual hiring decision at the County Planning Dept
1 comments; last on Mar 10, 2014
Sun, Mar 02, 2014, 2:22 pm // John ServaisThe editor of the Whatcom Watch, Richard Jehn, has resigned effective today. Chalk up a victory for Craig Cole and Pacific International Terminals.
8 comments; last on Mar 05, 2014
Tue, Feb 25, 2014, 8:29 pm // John ServaisThe full text of Craig Cole's threatening letter of libel against the Whatcom Watch. And the emptiness of the threat.
14 comments; last on Mar 04, 2014
Mon, Feb 24, 2014, 3:33 pm // Wendy HarrisWe were led to believe the city would review waterfront wildlife and habitat connectivity. It turns out that the city intends to focus only on nearshore fish.
Sat, Feb 22, 2014, 12:16 am // Wendy HarrisAccepting the Paul deArmond award of citizen journalism on Feb 7, Wendh Harris gave this speech. We think it deserves its own post.
Wed, Feb 19, 2014, 4:48 pm // John ServaisCraig Cole, the local contact for the proposed Cherry Point coal port has threatened the Whatcom Watch with a libel lawsuit.
5 comments; last on Mar 08, 2014
Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 7:26 am // Riley SweeneyRiley digs through court data and discovers the real impact of privatization and legalization
Sun, Feb 09, 2014, 9:35 pm // Wendy HarrisThe mayor wants to amend a city law to increase flexibility for a GMA provision that should be used rarely, if ever at all.
3 comments; last on Feb 11, 2014
Sun, Feb 09, 2014, 2:36 pm // Wendy HarrisCostco imposes indirect costs on our community that are as real and tangible as road construction expenses.
1 comments; last on Feb 13, 2014
Sun, Feb 09, 2014, 9:13 am // John ServaisThe old empty Reid Boiler Works industrial building in Fairhaven burned to the ground Saturday night.
Mon, Feb 03, 2014, 5:30 am // Dick ConoboyProfessional and even college sports have morphed into a circus of corporate greed and the fleecing of the public.
3 comments; last on Mar 01, 2014
Sat, Feb 01, 2014, 12:35 am // Wendy HarrisFiling a public record request could land a citizen in jail under a proposal reflected in a Herald opinion article.
2 comments; last on Feb 03, 2014
Wed, Jan 29, 2014, 6:18 am // Guest writerTim Johnson writes about the first recipient of the Paul deArmond Citizen Journalism award, Whatcom County writer Wendy Harris.
3 comments; last on Feb 08, 2014
Mon, Jan 20, 2014, 5:14 am // Dick ConoboyThe developers of University Ridge have been silent since shortly after the hearing examiner's decision on 23 October last year. Will they walk?
Sun, Jan 19, 2014, 8:39 pm // John ServaisSuper Bowl ... Weed Bowl ... This bud's for you ... Bong Bowl ... Marijuana Bowl ... whatever. It is on!
1 comments; last on Jan 20, 2014
Tue, Jan 14, 2014, 2:19 pm // Guest writerDo we actually need to say that we, as citizens, want accurate information from government officials?
1 comments; last on Jan 14, 2014
Fri, Dec 27, 2013, 4:00 am // Guest writerGuest writer Barbara Perry writes about Bellingham Parks refusal to allow motorized wheel chairs to recharge at public electrical outlets.
6 comments; last on Jan 03, 2014
Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 3:56 pm // Wendy HarrisA Port of Bellingham internal memo tries, but fails, to justify changes in cost estimates for alternative marina sites.
5 comments; last on Dec 22, 2013
Tue, Dec 17, 2013, 12:21 am // Wendy HarrisArmy Corps advised DOE that it will not issue a waterfront permit without Lummi approval
2 comments; last on Jan 13, 2014
Mon, Dec 16, 2013, 12:30 pm // John ServaisFerndale Mayor Gary Jensen has decided not to file for the 42nd state Senate seat currently held by Doug Ericksen.
5 comments; last on Dec 24, 2013
Mon, Dec 09, 2013, 12:24 pm // Guest writerBarbara Perry writes about the closed nature of the Bellingham School Board on the future of the Larrabee School.
1 comments; last on Dec 15, 2013
Sat, Dec 07, 2013, 8:23 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the direct, indirect, hidden and lost opportunity costs make this a waterfront boondoggle of billions
3 comments; last on Dec 11, 2013
Sat, Dec 07, 2013, 12:33 pm // Wendy HarrisLocal activist calls on Bellingham City Council to table the unpopular waterfront plans and engage in meaningful public process
2 comments; last on Dec 08, 2013
Fri, Dec 06, 2013, 11:03 pm // Wendy HarrisThe county will be required to consider water quality and water quantity when planning rural growth.
3 comments; last on Dec 10, 2013
Thu, Dec 05, 2013, 11:58 am // John ServaisThe Political Junkie has posted a 3 minute video showing Bellingham City Council members explaining their idiocy for all of us to watch.
2 comments; last on Dec 06, 2013
Thu, Dec 05, 2013, 5:00 am // Dick ConoboyThe post "riot" conversation is terribly lacking in several areas. We must expand the discussion or risk learning little from the experience.
3 comments; last on Dec 15, 2013
Wed, Dec 04, 2013, 10:53 am // John ServaisBellingham City Council and Port of Bellingham finalize the waterfront plan. In his weekly Gristle, Tim Johnson blasts the corrupt public process.
4 comments; last on Dec 05, 2013
Sat, Nov 30, 2013, 8:11 pm // Wendy HarrisThe waterfront plan allows a development bonus for payments made to the Lake Whatcom land acquisition fund
1 comments; last on Dec 01, 2013
Fri, Nov 29, 2013, 9:43 pm // Wendy HarrisA number of important issues need to be resolved before waterfront planning is complete, but the city council and port commission are ready to act.
2 comments; last on Nov 30, 2013
Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 9:01 pm // Wendy HarrisIf the port can not construct the airport safely, should it be entrusted with dangerous waterfront cleanup work?
Wed, Nov 20, 2013, 5:03 am // Dick ConoboyThe advice coming from Walmart and McDonald's to its low paid employees becomes more and more bizarre and inane.
Tue, Nov 19, 2013, 5:35 am // Dick ConoboyAmbling's motion to the hearing examiner for reconsideration was definitively rejected. The developer has not met the deadline for an appeal to the Superior Court
Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 2:18 pm // Guest writerIn which we find the hidden core of the waterfront plan is rotten through and through
7 comments; last on Nov 21, 2013
Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 10:59 am // Riley SweeneyThe county takes two big steps forward on the new jail, while still missing the point
Thu, Nov 14, 2013, 1:39 am // Tip JohnsonDear Mr. President, There's a sucker born every minute, and two to take him.
7 comments; last on Nov 21, 2013
Wed, Nov 13, 2013, 3:16 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city adminstration has been providing misleading/ incorrect information to the city council to avoid waterfront plan revisions.
1 comments; last on Nov 18, 2013
Tue, Nov 12, 2013, 10:21 am // Riley SweeneyRiley crunches the numbers on Renata and McAuley's races to find answers
2 comments; last on Nov 13, 2013
Tue, Nov 12, 2013, 5:16 am // Dick ConoboyPuget Neighborhood will likely have in the immediate future 1,300 new rental units that will be marketed primarily to the student population.
Sat, Nov 09, 2013, 9:47 pm // Wendy HarrisThe COB administration continues in its refusal to analyze waterfront wildlife issues, even though this is a prerequisite step in protecting wildlife from the impacts of development
3 comments; last on Nov 10, 2013
Tue, Nov 05, 2013, 8:21 pm // John ServaisWith lots of outside county money flowing in to our local races, this election is weird. But real - and we county residents have spoken.
11 comments; last on Nov 09, 2013
Mon, Nov 04, 2013, 9:55 am // Dick ConoboyThe call of the dollar speaks more loudly to health insurance companies than does the voice and well-being of the consumer, even here in Washington.
8 comments; last on Nov 06, 2013
Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 10:19 am // Dick ConoboyFour bedroom dorm rooms have been nixed by the hearing examiner. University Ridge may be in trouble as a cash cow for Ambling Development of Georgia
3 comments; last on Nov 04, 2013
Mon, Oct 28, 2013, 10:19 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein we discover why we exert our rights - and grab some more petitions before it's too late
3 comments; last on Nov 06, 2013
Mon, Oct 28, 2013, 12:00 am // Dick ConoboyIndependent voters are for independent thinkers on the city council. Vote for Burr and Petree.
Sat, Oct 26, 2013, 7:36 pm // John ServaisBeach reconstruction is done at Boulevard Park on the Bellingham waterfront. Paths along shore are again open - and it looks good.
6 comments; last on Nov 01, 2013
Sun, Oct 20, 2013, 7:07 pm // John ServaisKen Bell has my vote over Mike McAuley for port commissioner. And Renata Kowalczyk has it over Dan Robbins.
8 comments; last on Oct 30, 2013
Tue, Oct 15, 2013, 3:16 pm // Dick ConoboyThe development of University Ridge will replicate the student ghetto that fueled the riot on 12 October.
6 comments; last on Oct 25, 2013
Tue, Oct 15, 2013, 2:46 pm // Wendy HarrisRequesting waterfront handouts for the Overwater Walkway while proclaiming autonomy from further public review is unjustifiable.
2 comments; last on Oct 16, 2013
Tue, Oct 08, 2013, 2:22 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city staff considers the overwater walkway a done deal before official approval or resolution of treaty right conflicts
4 comments; last on Oct 16, 2013
Wed, Oct 02, 2013, 10:19 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city administration asserts that there is no gap in waterplant plant and animal analysis
Wed, Oct 02, 2013, 10:01 pm // Wendy HarrisBellingham is holding an open house to introduce the public to its habitat restoration master plan, despite being at a preliminary draft stage
3 comments; last on Oct 04, 2013
Wed, Oct 02, 2013, 5:40 am // Riley SweeneyRiley uncovers how the Coal Industry is funding conservative candidates in Whatcom County
11 comments; last on Oct 03, 2013
Sat, Sep 28, 2013, 5:05 pm // Wendy HarrisThe city and port have not addressed wildlife impacts from waterfront development and this should be done before a waterfront plan is enacted.
Sat, Sep 28, 2013, 2:20 pm // John ServaisAs the right wing radicals seek to shut down our national government this week, we need to push back with common sense.
8 comments; last on Oct 01, 2013
Fri, Sep 20, 2013, 7:09 am // Dick ConoboyHearing held on 11 September. Comment period extended 10 days. Effects on home owners already manifest.
8 comments; last on Sep 22, 2013
Thu, Sep 19, 2013, 6:08 am // Riley SweeneyRiley examines who is donating to which candidates
Mon, Sep 09, 2013, 12:07 am // Wendy HarrisThe staff will be explaining the public's concerns, but the public is not allowed to testify.
Fri, Sep 06, 2013, 2:52 pm // Wendy HarrisElected officials continue to rely on inaccurate and misleading reports by the city and port staff regarding waterfront development.
Wed, Sep 04, 2013, 8:37 am // John ServaisAn attempt at linking to one or more writers who can help us make sense of going to war with Syria. An alternative to Kerry-Obama.
Wed, Sep 04, 2013, 12:36 am // John ServaisContacting Rick Larsen and Susan Delbene is actually a viable citizen exercise just now. Tell them to vote NO on bombing Syria.
1 comments; last on Sep 04, 2013
New LinksJulia Ioffe/New Republic
Current InterestCommunity Wise Bellingham
Friends of Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
League of Women Voters
Paul Krugman - economics
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 CausesBellingham Police Activity
Chuckanut Community Forest
Citizens of Bellingham
City Club of Bellingham
Community Wise Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
Facebook Port Reform
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
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That? - climate
Edge of Sports
Famous Internet Skiers
Good LinksAl-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
Talking Points Memo
War and Piece
NwCitizen 1995 - 2007Early Northwest Citizen
Internet At Its BestTED
Quiet, Offline or DeadBellingham Register
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Protect Bellingham Parks
The American Telegraph
The Crisis Papers