Troubling Implications of Variance RequestPermalink +
Fri, Mar 01, 2013, 4:19 pm // Wendy Harris
The University Ridge Student Housing Project is noteworthy because of its attempt to use the variance process to avoid zoning compliance. If the applicant, Ambling University Group, LLN, and its agent, Ronald Jepson, are successful, this could create a loophole that undermines the zoning code and the public's right to meaningful comment. I am posting below the letter that I submitted to the planning department in the hopes of encouraging others to comment. The planning department has not decided whether or not it will recommend approval of the variance application. The final decision will be made by the Bellingham Hearing Examiner, who is holding a public hearing, limited to the variance issue, on March 20, at 7 p.m. in the Bellingham City Council chambers. I certainly hope the planning department will recommend against variance approval and I will be following this issue closely.
Withheld Application Information
As a matter of policy, the Hearing Examiner should return this application as untimely, or in the alternative, rule that the applicant has failed to meet its burden of proof. The variance should be submitted as part of a consolidated application package that combines the SEPA process and the building permit, which includes the critical area report, stormwater plan and other relevant analysis.
The law favors consolidated application processes for administrative ease, improved planning, and full disclosure of facts and information. The applicant declined to use Bellingham’s consolidated process procedures. Because the granting of a variance is discretionary, and because the burden of proof is upon the applicant under BMC 20.18.020, the hearing examiner has the authority to require the full disclosure of all relevant information.
It is clear from review of the site design plans that a great deal of planning has already gone into this project, including analysis of wetlands, geologically hazardous slopes, storm water run-off and traffic impacts. The applicant has met with the planning department and has likely already informally discussed these matters. Yet the variance application fails to reflect even preliminary analysis of issues.
The public is entitled to full disclosure of project impacts. The variance criteria require that the granting of a variance not be unduly detrimental to the public welfare nor injurious to the property or improvements in the vicinity and subarea in which the subject property is located.
Concerns have been raised by residents regarding traffic impacts, sufficient infrastructure, steep slopes, flooding, and structural and financial impacts to neighboring properties. This is the very information that must be addressed in the building permit application.
The applicant has made a calculated determination to delay disclosure of project information by proceeding with the variance application before the building permit. Without site analysis and reports, the public can only speculate, but can not prove, potential public harm. Although the burden of proof is on the applicant, the applicant’s chance for variance approval increases without informed public comment.
The variance process is intended to protect the public interest and the public interest is not served when a variance decision is made without a full understanding of project impacts. The fact that this is a Type IIIB process indicates the potential for impact.
To further the goal of protecting the public, the hearing examiner should delay acting on the variance application, or in the alternative, determine that without building application material, the applicant has not met his burden of proof.
The applicant proposes a very large 4 building multi-story student housing complex spread over 11 acres of undeveloped land, containing areas of forest, steep slopes and wetlands, in the Puget Sound neighborhood. The project includes 433 parking spaces for almost 600 residents, and borders single family housing, triggering application of the height overlay ordinance.
The applicant submitted a revised variance from the application of the height ordinance, arguing (in carefully couched language) that while it has the ability to fully develop its site by expanding the site design, it reduces impacts to land and neighbors by expanding upward, in excess of the height limitations for two of the four proposed buildings.
Whether, and to what extent, it is preferable to build “up” rather than “out’ was an issue already considered and codified into city law through the overlay requirement intended to protect single family residences. A variance is not a device to provide flexibility that might otherwise be lacking in the development code. The applicant needs to file a request for a zoning amendment rather than a variance.
A variance is intended to be issued rarely, and only is the most extreme situations where a property owner is deprived of reasonable use of its property. It does not ensure the highest and best use of property. Here, the applicant, Ambling University Development Group, LLN, is simply attempting to maximize its profit on a commercial investment, but intends to move forward with the project with or without a variance.
The applicant has not met its burden of proof under BMC 20.18.020. The applicant purchased the property with full knowledge that there would be some constraints on development under the city’s critical area ordinance and development standards. There is nothing exceptional about the existence of wetlands and slopes on the property in this area, or of a right-of-way requirement for such a large multi-residential property. In fact, I challenge the applicant to identify any other 11 acre undeveloped lot in city limits that does not face similar critical area and development regulation constraints. With knowledge of these constraints, the applicant went ahead with a speculative property investment.
Granting this variance would establish a very dangerous precedent. It would create unpredictability that undermines the zoning code by allowing site specific zoning exemptions for investors who assert that this will result in improved use of property. This will result in spot zoning and undermine the type of comprehensive planning mandated under the GMA and the SMA.
It would also undermine the public’s confidence in the fairness of the system and the transparency of local government, particularly where the public is not provided with relevant site information. Land use regulations are enacted after community discussion regarding the interests of existing residents and developers, and must be applied fairly and uniformly to everyone. Please do not allow the variance process to be misused as a loophole for investors.
For all the above reasons, the hearings examiner and the planning department must deny/recommend against the applicant’s variance request.
Sun, Jan 25, 2015, 11:32 am // Guest writerAdventures of George Pickett in the Pacific Northwest Wilderness
Sat, Jan 24, 2015, 2:15 pm // Terry WechslerThe 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.
Thu, Jan 22, 2015, 11:13 pm // John ServaisThe 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
Tue, Jan 20, 2015, 2:07 am // Guest writerGuest 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
Sun, Jan 18, 2015, 9:14 pm // Guest writerEllen Murphy gives us a poem for this Martin Luther King day of remembrance.
2 comments; last on Jan 21, 2015
Sun, Jan 18, 2015, 8:15 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein the ridiculous is ridiculed
5 comments; last on Jan 21, 2015
Thu, Jan 08, 2015, 1:54 pm // Guest writerTani 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
Wed, Dec 31, 2014, 12:16 am // Guest writerDuuhhh! 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
Wed, Dec 24, 2014, 12:23 pm // Riley SweeneyThe Herald gave us their top 10 stories, Riley gives you his top 5
Thu, Dec 18, 2014, 4:04 pm // John ServaisOne 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
Thu, Dec 18, 2014, 11:26 am // John ServaisBellingham 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…
Tue, Dec 16, 2014, 2:51 pm // Dick Conoboy7-0! 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
Thu, Dec 11, 2014, 4:05 am // Dick ConoboyThe 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
Wed, Dec 10, 2014, 5:37 am // Dick ConoboyThe 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
Tue, Dec 09, 2014, 12:31 pm // John ServaisThe 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
Tue, Dec 09, 2014, 1:25 am // Guest writerTani 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
Wed, Dec 03, 2014, 1:20 pm // Richard LewisPoet Richard Lewis reflects on Elizabeth Warren
3 comments; last on Dec 07, 2014
Sun, Nov 23, 2014, 3:27 pm // Tip JohnsonWherein Whatcom's Klan heritage may be oozing from some cracks
8 comments; last on Dec 06, 2014
Sat, Nov 22, 2014, 2:48 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley dives into the data with precinct maps and historical perspectives
Thu, Nov 20, 2014, 8:15 am // Dick ConoboyCampus 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
Wed, Nov 12, 2014, 12:51 pm // John ServaisUpdated 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…
Tue, Nov 11, 2014, 1:34 pm // John ServaisOn 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
Thu, Nov 06, 2014, 5:53 am // Dick ConoboyThe Campus Crest apartment complex may be the "victim" of a corporate restructuring plan.
3 comments; last on Nov 10, 2014
Tue, Nov 04, 2014, 11:28 am // John ServaisWhile 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
Mon, Nov 03, 2014, 7:14 pm // Richard LewisPoet Richard Lewis weighs in on the Tea Party values
Sat, Nov 01, 2014, 11:29 am // Tip JohnsonOr why to vote for Nyima, the dog, for County Prosecutor
4 comments; last on Nov 03, 2014
Thu, Oct 30, 2014, 1:18 am // John ServaisA link to Riley's Political Junkie for excellent recommendations - and a few thoughts of my own.
1 comments; last on Oct 30, 2014
Thu, Oct 23, 2014, 10:01 am // Tip JohnsonIt's just how things roll in Whatcom County
5 comments; last on Oct 26, 2014
Wed, Oct 22, 2014, 1:44 pm // John LesowUpdate Oct 22: John Lesow has posted a comment with considerable more information on this issue.
1 comments; last on Oct 22, 2014
Tue, Oct 14, 2014, 5:36 am // Riley SweeneyRiley does a local political comedy show
1 comments; last on Oct 15, 2014
Wed, Oct 08, 2014, 5:24 pm // John ServaisThree 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
Sat, Oct 04, 2014, 11:23 am // Tip JohnsonWherein we see that sometimes government can do what business can't.
9 comments; last on Oct 07, 2014
Fri, Oct 03, 2014, 9:26 am // Dick ConoboyAn experienced real estate inspector provides a window to the dangeroous conditions found in rentals in Bellingham
3 comments; last on Oct 05, 2014
Thu, Oct 02, 2014, 1:33 pm // Riley SweeneyRiley files a full report of the Tea Party debate for State Leg candidates
1 comments; last on Oct 04, 2014
Tue, Sep 30, 2014, 7:00 am // Guest writerWherein a Fulbright scholar, professional engineer and successful business owner files for public office
4 comments; last on Oct 02, 2014
Mon, Sep 22, 2014, 4:07 am // Dick ConoboyLast 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
Wed, Sep 17, 2014, 9:26 am // John ServaisWe 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
Tue, Sep 09, 2014, 7:21 am // Riley SweeneyRiley 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
Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 10:48 am // Terry WechslerWhile 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
Fri, Aug 22, 2014, 1:06 pm // Guest writerPatrick McKee of the Sunnyland Neighborhood guest-writes about the August 11 City Council slap-dash zoning changes.
2 comments; last on Aug 23, 2014
Wed, Aug 20, 2014, 3:54 pm // Terry WechslerNot content with causing massive inconvenience, BNSF is now literally dumping on county residents.
10 comments; last on Aug 26, 2014
Sat, Aug 16, 2014, 2:48 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, 6:12 am // Terry WechslerA 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
Thu, Aug 14, 2014, 2:13 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.
5 comments; last on Oct 02, 2014
Tue, Aug 12, 2014, 9:52 am // Riley SweeneySome Context for the Primary Results
Mon, Aug 11, 2014, 10:31 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, 9:10 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, 7:00 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.
14 comments; last on Oct 01, 2014
Fri, Aug 01, 2014, 3:47 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, 10:40 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, 6:52 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, 9:47 pm // Guest writerGuest writer Mike Rostron explains how Bellingham city planners played loose and illegal with planning processes.
Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 6:22 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, 4:30 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, 12:24 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, 1:26 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, 7:20 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, 5:54 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…
4 comments; last on Dec 15, 2014
Mon, Jul 07, 2014, 4:04 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, 4:00 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
Election InfoCounty election results
State election results
Coal, Oil & Trains
Community 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
Whatcom Peace & Justice
Port of Bellingham
State election results
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