We have met the enemy and [s]he is…

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Thu, Jul 26, 2012, 7:18 am  //  Larry Horowitz

…NOT us! 

The enemy - of established single-family neighborhoods in Bellingham - is the person who recently had this to say about the Sunset Commons rezone application for the former DOT property on the south side of Sunset Drive in the Sunnyland Neighborhood:

“You know, a lot of the feedback we got about this neighborhood proposal talked about multi-family not matching the existing development pattern.  I understand the concerns about neighborhood character.  I really, really do.

“We have the pressure of trying to figure out how to accommodate population in all of our neighborhoods, including Sunnyland. 

"So we have to figure out what we’re going to do when opportunities like this [application for increased density and multi-family zoning] present themselves in a single family neighborhood. 

“And, to be perfectly honest, the argument that multi-family doesn’t match the existing development pattern is the number one reason to consider multi-family - because we have to put some multi-family in single family neighborhoods.  Not everywhere in them, and not unilaterally; sensitively and thoughtfully, but we do have to consider that for the livability of all of our neighborhoods.”


So, let’s break this down:

First, instead of focusing on the “vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods,” our enemy chooses to focus on the “existing development pattern.”  Huh?  Since when is the existing development pattern equivalent to the vitality and character of a neighborhood?

Second, when our enemy talks about the “pressure of trying to figure out how to accommodate population,” exactly what pressure are we talking about?  In terms of accommodating population, does the GMA require the city to do any more than to “identify sufficient land for housing?”  [RCW 36.70A.070(2)] 

Is our enemy claiming that the city has not identified “sufficient land for housing?” 

Really?  Then wouldn’t our Comp Plan be out of compliance with the Growth Management Act (GMA)?  Is it?

Third, our enemy acts like a developer’s application for an upzone to increase density and allow multi-family development is such a rare and unique thing.  What?  Aren’t these “opportunities” presented on a regular basis?  And doesn’t our Comp Plan already comply with GMA requirements whether or not rezones are applied for and approved?  Are density and multi-family upzones actually required for the city to meet its GMA obligations?  If not, then where is this pressure coming from?

Fourth, our enemy claims that “the argument that multi-family doesn’t match the existing development pattern is the number one reason to consider multi-family.”  Really?  The # 1 reason? 

Is it possible that our enemy is not familiar with the March 1995 State Senate Bill (SSB) 5567 that amended the same section of the GMA requiring the city to “identify sufficient land for housing?”  You know, the same bill that admitted that the GMA wasn’t working? The bill that stated,

There is concern that these [GMA planning] requirements not only do not adequately protect single-family residential neighborhoods, but increase pressure to rezone established single-family neighborhoods to allow development of apartment buildings and commercial uses.” 

So, what did the legislature do?  They amended the GMA to require that the housing element of the Comp Plan ensures the “vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods” so as to “protect single-family residential neighborhoods” and prevent the pressures described by our enemy from wrongfully causing “our leaders” to rezone “established single-family neighborhoods to allow development of apartment buildings and commercial uses.”

Is our enemy not familiar with SSB 5567 and the GMA? 

What gives?

Dick Conoboy  //  Thu, Jul 26, 2012, 12:11 pm

Ah yes, Larry. The squeal of incoherence is deafening. One need go no further than the protracted debate on the Padden Trails rezone which mercifully died a long overdue death from confusion and exhaustion.


David Camp  //  Fri, Jul 27, 2012, 2:08 pm

Why is it that the planners always find some way for us poor taxpayers to pay for some grandiose scheme designed to accommodate people who not only don’t live here and aren’t planning to live here, but are merely projected to live here sometime in the future? Consider your water and sewer bill, which has increased at about double the rate of inflation for the past six years or so - why? Because the sewer plant can’t handle the number of people projected to move here over the next twenty years.

I say - let them stay where they are. And if they want to move here, let them pay for a new sewage plant. The existing one, which we have already paid for, works just fine for the people who paid for it.


Mike Rostron  //  Fri, Jul 27, 2012, 9:21 pm

The arguments for infill are mostly straw men at best. Farmlands are protected by passing laws to protect them from development, period.  Many who should know better continue to put forth the same tired and dishonest arguments which only serve to set up false choices for the intellectually lazy and historically uninformed, and do nothing to inform the discussion or shed light on the real issues.  The council is or should be well aware that much of Sunnyland is already zoned multifamily, and there are many areas of the neighborhood that are closer to the downtown with better access to bus lines and other amenities, and which would be better places to try experiments like the “infill toolkit” (really just a genteelism for higher profits & more flexibility for developers, largely at the expense of existing property owners and city taxpayers).

Certain members of the council and Jeff Thomas keep suggesting that neighborhood associations are not normally allowed or encouraged to make proposals on “site specific” developments, and they keep changing the rules to make it as difficult as possible for neighborhoods to have any real input.  Some members of the council and the planning department have been doing their utmost to make it sound like SNA had no legal right to put forth a proposal. Hogwash!  In fact our proposal was illegally moved from the docket after it had been previously docketed several years earlier.  The DOT site is a subarea and Neighborhoods have full authority and even an obligation to have a say in developments such as this which affect large areas of the neighborhood.  As the disingenuous councilman already knows, neighbors are even allowed to comment on and oppose modifications on individual lots in many instances. 

Regarding Bellingham proper, there are hundreds of acres of unused or underutilized (from the standpoint of developers at least) properties available, many already zoned as multifamily, that should or could be used before shoving unwanted infill down the throats of folks who have invested heavily in neighborhoods where they have a right to expect consistent zoning.  Moreover, ADUs are already permitted in single family zones.  This is assuming we even need infill at all!  Historically our growth has been slow, and the rapid growth of the previous few years an aberration.  Moreover, developers are motivated by the need to make high profits, not improve our city.  Slow lot by lot development in single family neighborhoods is something folks can adapt to.  We should be pushing for MORE gardens, trees, and rural character within the city limits in single family and even multifamily zones, and MORE preservation of historic buildings and neighborhoods (A recent study shows some 83% of Sunnyland noncommercial buildings are historic according to the federal definition of the term).

Many developers and certain community zealots would have us think our choice is only between accommodating inevitable population growth - that we must become another Seattle or Vancouver, or gobble up our farmland with old style suburbs -  also hogwash!  There are other choices, though such avaricious folks promote growth with that other false postulation that without growth there are no jobs - again hogwash!  We have not even begun to discuss the most important question for Bellingham: just how large a city do we want?  If we do want to continue on as a small city - say 80,000-100,000, we can take positive steps as a community to do so.  That discussion has yet to even take place in an honest and open manner, and it would seem the developers and certain city and county leaders do not want the citizens to even have a voice in those decisions.  We should take up that discussion before we start tossing about more grandiose plans for our Brave New City.

We do agree that it is good to have some types of European style mixed housing/business in certain areas of the town.  We believe this is happening/will happen without encouragement of developers who by and large are a nefarious bunch (I say this as a life-long building contractor and carpenter who has worked for a few).  As they have on James St. and Meridian near Haggen, businesses will convert and add on to older homes or build new facilities in more organic ways, and there is no pressing need to raze existing historic housing or radically change existing already endangered single family neighborhoods for projects that are better suited to the downtown or other more suitable areas.  Furthermore, we would like to see it a requirement that every would-be developer should be required to restore an existing historic building before they are allowed to build even an outhouse in this city!

Again such supposedly beneficial developments are always foisted on the working classes, who have most of their assets tied up in their homes, and who do the most to make such neighborhoods pleasant.  What makes Bellingham unique and attractive are not the latest fads and fashions of the developers, or even the mostly well-intentioned efforts of city planners and leaders, but the simple lot by lot efforts of working class citizens.  Why must we always be at the beck and call of the corporate owners?  Shouldn’t all of their schemes be automatically suspect?  What are their motives? In a word - profit.  The infill toolkit is a subterfuge developers came up with.  The term “NIMBY” was invented by developers to discredit the working class folks who have struggled for decades to own their own homes.  They would have us all live as impoverished college students or worse in their highly profitable cubicles.  This isn’t downtown Tokyo or Manhattan.  We don’t have to live like that here, and if that lifestyle seems attractive Seattle and Vancouver are a short distance away.  We can have our cake and eat it too - but only if we citizens take control of the development of our city, and don’t give it up to the profit-first-and-citizens-be-damned carpetbagging developers. 

As we said in this forum previously: the devil is in the details when it comes to infill.  Each project must be carefully examined on a case by case basis.  It may be a contentious process, but it is the property owners and taxpayers who will be stuck with the results long after the developers have pocketed their money and moved on to the next “low hanging fruit.”  (To quote a local developer.)  We applaud the four city council members, Gene Knutson, Teri Bornemann, Michael Lilliquist, and Seth Fleetwood, who supported the efforts of the many residents of Sunnyland who have given of their time and energy these last several years in drawing up and promoting this proposal - a modest and well reasoned request for single family zoning, allowing more than twenty new homes to be built where presently there are none.  As for the three council persons who actively opposed the neighborhood proposal; as the old song goes, “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing!”


Tip Johnson  //  Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 8:04 am

Since the late seventies, during development of the original comp plan, I have repeatedly encouraged people to compare the parts that help citizens build community to those that help people make a profit, those that assist and encourage folks to put down roots versus those that enable people to cut and run.

I remain convinced it is possible to craft a plan and land use code that encourages and protects community.  I can attest to decades of citizen work to accomplish this aim.  I must admit, sadly, that it is rarely accomplished and codified as such.


Elizabeth Jennings  //  Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 3:31 pm

Hello, neighbors and proximal neighbors! I write this 1) in thanks to my neighbors who have been tireless advocates for our quality of life here in Sunnyland, but also 2) as an appeal for civility, and 3) as a plea for a more inclusive conversation about the need for affordable multifamily housing in Bellingham, staring here in Sunnyland.

First: Thank you to the SNA and its planning workgroups whose volunteers have sought to include the most local of voices in community planning. It’s tough work, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness and commitment. I regret I was only able to participate for the first two years of the DOT (Sunset Commons) rezone discussions, but personally I got tired of dissenting opinions being branded traitorous to the neighborhood. As I have said in this forum in the past, I don’t agree with all the recommendations in the proposed amendment, but I do agree that the city should docket the SNA proposal as an act of good faith. We need to start the public process on this issue, and it makes sense to me that the neighbors’ proposal be the starting point for the next phase of deliberations.

Second: Can’t we be nicer? What does it gain us as a neighborhood or nation to brand people “the enemy”? This is the very reason I have a difficult time encouraging neighbors to get involved. In response I hear: “It’s too mean.” “It gets personal.” I believe Larry has many fair points, such as yes, the SNA is one of the legally-recognized entities that has legal standing to propose plan amendments. I agree with many (if not most) of his factual points in this post. However, the rhetoric here is anti-democratic in that its result is intimidation and suppression of speech. How does this tone advance the neighborhood’s cause? Call me a dope (or enemy or whatever you want to call me), but I actually trust in the good faith of our elected officials. That doesn’t mean they know everything, or that they will always agree with me, or that they always make the right decision. But they’re not my enemy. If someone’s wrong on the facts, can’t we help them understand our point of view without sinking to calling names?

Third: In addition to Larry’s many sound facts regarding the GMA, there are other facts to be considered in neighborhood planning, such as a clear and immediate need for more affordable multifamily homes, and Sunnyland’s ability to accommodate it. *Gasp!* Yes, we need more apartments in Bellingham, and I’d welcome some of them in the Sunnyland Lower West Side, here where so many of our historic buildings are already duplexes+. No, I’m not a shill of the developers. I’m a six-year homeowner in one of the most diverse (economically, age, renter/owner, ethnicity, etc.) neighborhoods in the city: Sunnyland Lower West Side. City-wide, incomes are down, rental vacancies are down, rent is higher, so more working families are struggling to make ends meet. I think our diverse, multifamily neighborhood has the capacity to support more affordable housing. You can bet that I’ll be an advocate for appropriate design and impact mitigation, but come on—we need affordable housing now, and it makes sense for it to be close to downtown, services, transit and all of the other amenities that we on the Lower West Side enjoy. If our single-family neighbors north of Alabama don’t want infill in their area, could we do a zoning “trade” like they did in the Lettereds or create a new creative solution to take advantage of the Lower West Side’s multifamily and mixed industrial status? There may be many other options available to us, lots of great ideas and options, but when neighborhood planning focuses on the trees, I’m afraid we’re missing the forest.

In sum: In relation to Larry’s original post, I’m not arguing for or against a specific number of homes on the DOT site. I’m not officially putting a dog in that fight (again), lest I get accused (again) of being a traitor to my neighbors. Instead, I’m asking that we refrain from broadly branding some decision-makers and other people with differing viewpoints as “enemies” of our neighborhood, and I’m asking for a more neighborhood-wide approach to planning, so we can accomplish multiple goals.  Sunnyland has both single- and multi-family zoning (and commercial, light industrial, public and other zoning).  Can’t we discuss the future of our neighborhood civilly, in a way that includes all opportunities, as well as the need for protections for history, character and other assets? In my experience, incendiary rhetoric does more to marginalize people who have good ideas than it does to encourage democratic participation. If you only want to hear your own ideas, keep up the mud-slinging. If you experience an echo chamber, it will be because everyone else has been intimidated into leaving the party.

I look forward to working with all of you in ways to build up our sense of community in Sunnyland, rather than tear down individuals. Stop by to play horseshoes any time!

Best regards from the Sunnyland Lower West Side,
Elizabeth Jennings


Larry Horowitz  //  Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 4:09 pm

Elizabeth,

Thanks for sharing your insights.  While I am in total agreement about our need to remain civil (especially when neighbors share ideas amongst themselves), having been through a seven-year battle to protect both an ecologically sensitive urban forest & wetland habitat as well as the quality of life in my own neighborhood, IMHO, it is naive to believe that appeasing those who plan to do you harm is an effective strategy.  Fortunately, Churchill recognized appeasement wasn’t working for Chamberlain, and I am thankful for the other community leaders who recognize that appeasement won’t work for the neighborhoods.

It’s bad enough when the city fails to enforce its own laws that are designed to preserve our quality of life.  It is simply intolerable when city officials are either ignorant of - or choose to ignore - state regulations like the ones adopted by SSB 5567. 

I sincerely hope you are successful with your approach, and I encourage you to engage with others that way.  But to expect those of us who have spent thousands of dollars and thousands of hours fighting for the quality of our lives to appease those who threaten our neighborhoods is unrealistic.

Warm regards to you as well,
Larry


Elizabeth Jennings  //  Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 4:39 pm

Larry: Thanks for your kind reply! I’m still curious: How is civility appeasement? Or is discussing increasing affordable housing in the multi-family and light-industrial area appeasement? I did not propose acceding to the demands of your opponent. I did take issue with the content of your post, but rather with the rhetoric. How does calling names and branding some people as an “enemy” (as a strategy or tactic) help you accomplish your goals? What will this accomplish for your cause?


Larry Horowitz  //  Mon, Jul 30, 2012, 6:53 pm

Elizabeth,

I do not believe civility is appeasement, nor have I claimed that it is.  Appeasement is a policy aimed at avoiding confrontation by making concessions. 

The person I have observed (with tongue-in-cheek) as “the enemy of established single-family neighborhoods in Bellingham” has taken an overly aggressive position vis-a-vis multi-family zoning in these neighborhoods.  In fact, this person is the one who has attempted to use intimidation and suppression of dialogue.  If you re-read what this person had to say, you’ll see that there’s little room to negotiate.  Perhaps your suggestions would be better directed there.

Neighborhoods are typically in a reactive mode.  Seven years ago, when the battle I participated in began, I started out very differently.  But it didn’t take long to learn that you cannot negotiate effectively without standing your ground.

The developers and certain city officials (both elected and appointed) have historically been the aggressors.  (Did you attend any of the meetings where former planning director Jorge Vega tried to convince us that upzones and UGA expansion were our only choices and began to force them down our throats?) 

Most of us just want to live in peace… undisturbed.  Unfortunately, that option has been taken away from many of us.  I don’t agree that identifying the enemy has anything to do with “calling names or branding.”  I am simply observing the aggressive nature of this person as well as the comments, which are in direct conflict with the GMA and goals of most single family neighborhoods in Bellingham.  Having successfully fought a prior battle by standing firm, I fully expect this strategy to succeed in accomplishing the goal of preserving the character of Bellingham’s established single family neighborhoods.

Could I be wrong?  Sure.  That’s why I fully support your approach.  I don’t have a monopoly on successful strategies, and I suspect you don’t either.

By the way, in your first comment you wrote, “I agree with many (if not most) of his factual points in this post.”  I’d be curious as to which factual points you do not agree with.

Warm regards,
Larry


Tip Johnson  //  Wed, Aug 01, 2012, 1:23 pm

So I watched the tape and I have to say, I am getting sick of that bogus argument.

It is remarkably similar to one I have heard over and over from developers and realtors (those profiting from neighborhoods as compared to living there).  It goes like this:

First some genius planner or policy maker comes up with a rationalization for siting an incongruous use.  That use brings more severe impacts, noise, light, traffic, trash, parking, etc.  Residents of adjoining properties sell or move and rent.  Properties run down and the next adjoining properties similarly devalue.  Usually some sharp realtor buys them up, encourages transitional uses and skimps on upkeep.  Eventually the whole area looks dysfunctional and some slick land use attorney comes to council and says, “Gee, you guys already screwed it up.  Now you should rezone it and let us finish it off.”  This is the classic cut and flip strategy of making money through transition.  That, my friends, has nothing to do with stable neighborhoods.

Has anyone else noticed that the “pressureā€¦to accommodate population in all of our neighborhoods” never actually extends to the neighborhoods with the largest lots and the best views?  I say, if you want folks to believe there is a purpose higher than profit in neighborhood upzones, then start with some projects in Edgemore or the upper Samish neighborhood, maybe South Hill or Geneva.  Otherwise, it’s just more covert code for running roughshod over the common folk.

Sure we need more affordable housing, but that would be far better addressed with a detached accessory dwelling provisions than neighborhood upzones.  Besides, affordable units will benefit from better views, too. Yep, start that plan in Edgemore, Councilor.  If it flies there, we’ll talk about it in Happy Valley.


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Waterfront Development Bonus Yet Another Bad Idea

Sat, Nov 30, 2013, 8:11 pm  //  Wendy Harris

The waterfront plan allows a development bonus for payments made to the Lake Whatcom land acquisition fund

1 comments; last on Dec 01, 2013

City and Port Ready To Act on Waterfront Plan

Fri, Nov 29, 2013, 9:43 pm  //  Wendy Harris

A 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

Port Unable To Protect Public Safety

Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 9:01 pm  //  Wendy Harris

If the port can not construct the airport safely, should it be entrusted with dangerous waterfront cleanup work?

0 comments

Walmart and McDonald’s - Partners in Institutionalized Cluelessness

Wed, Nov 20, 2013, 5:03 am  //  Dick Conoboy

The advice coming from Walmart and McDonald's to its low paid employees becomes more and more bizarre and inane.

0 comments

Anatomy of a Development - Part X Appeals of the Hearing Examiner’s Decision

Tue, Nov 19, 2013, 5:35 am  //  Dick Conoboy

Ambling'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

0 comments

Smoking Gun: Fraud and Deception

Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 2:18 pm  //  Guest writer

In which we find the hidden core of the waterfront plan is rotten through and through

7 comments; last on Nov 21, 2013

County Releases EIS, Prepares to Purchase Jail Site

Mon, Nov 18, 2013, 10:59 am  //  Riley Sweeney

The county takes two big steps forward on the new jail, while still missing the point

0 comments

Noballmacare and Setting the False Standard

Thu, Nov 14, 2013, 1:39 am  //  Tip Johnson

Dear Mr. President, There's a sucker born every minute, and two to take him.

7 comments; last on Nov 21, 2013

City Council Misled On Waterfront Planning

Wed, Nov 13, 2013, 3:16 pm  //  Wendy Harris

The city adminstration has been providing misleading/ incorrect information to the city council to avoid waterfront plan revisions.

1 comments; last on Nov 18, 2013

Election Analysis: What Happened with the Port Races?

Tue, Nov 12, 2013, 10:21 am  //  Riley Sweeney

Riley crunches the numbers on Renata and McAuley's races to find answers

2 comments; last on Nov 13, 2013

Puget Neighborhood Likely New Home for 1,300 Students

Tue, Nov 12, 2013, 5:16 am  //  Dick Conoboy

Puget Neighborhood will likely have in the immediate future 1,300 new rental units that will be marketed primarily to the student population.

0 comments

Gloomy Fate For Waterfront Wildlife

Sat, Nov 09, 2013, 9:47 pm  //  Wendy Harris

The 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

Election Results - November 2013

Tue, Nov 05, 2013, 8:21 pm  //  John Servais

With 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

Health Insurance Scams - Washington Not Spared

Mon, Nov 04, 2013, 9:55 am  //  Dick Conoboy

The 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

Anatomy of a Development - Part IX BMC Rule of Three Thwarts Plans

Thu, Oct 31, 2013, 10:19 am  //  Dick Conoboy

Four 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

The Slaughterhouse Referendum - Citizens Opposing Widespread Slaughter (COWS)

Mon, Oct 28, 2013, 10:19 pm  //  Tip Johnson

Wherein we discover why we exert our rights - and grab some more petitions before it's too late

3 comments; last on Nov 06, 2013

 

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