Is the proposed Padden Trails development just another City of Bellingham issue involving an “evil developer’s” request for a rezone, or is it a symptom of something larger? Hardly a day passes without reminders of the anti-growth attitudes which continue to influence local policy-making, depressing wages and economic opportunity here in the Fourth Corner. This pervasive syndrome’s latest manifestation surfaced as Bellingham City Council held a March 26 work session to consider the proposed Padden Trails project.
Bellingham’s Planning Commission and planning staff recommended Council’s approval of the proposal which would provide for projected population growth and permit increased density within Bellingham City Limits as required by the state’s Growth Management Act. If you think the planning-obsessed, command-and-control socialists who comprise the City Council would favor such a proposal, you would be seriously mistaken. These same hypocrites and their leftist friends support Futurewise’s lawsuits against Whatcom County in protest of too much ill-defined “rural sprawl” consuming agricultural land and open space. They continuously complain about degradation of Lake Whatcom’s drinking water and have favored measures such as banning boats from the lake.
When tangible Council action could be taken to address such concerns by providing for greater housing diversity and affordability within Bellingham , these “leaders” are nowhere to be found, and the anti-growth syndrome is once again on full display.
Infill Meets Bellingham's Goal of No Development Sprawl
a "Whatcom View" by Linda Twitchell
Bellingham Herald, March 31, 2012
There's a proposal before Bellingham City Council that you should know about if you're concerned about sprawl or you're concerned about how you, your family and friends can find housing in Bellingham.
The question has arisen: Is City Council serious about encouraging "infill" to keep growth inside the city? The council has adamantly opposed sprawl, saying it favors high-density infill. The city even adopted an "infill toolkit" three years ago to allow higher-density housing mixes, but it has never been used in a major project.
Bellingham now has a proposal for using the "toolkit." Developers of a 113-acre property west of Lake Padden and north of Interstate 5 want a change from low-density, single-family to low-density, multi-family zoning, allowing a mix of housing types and protecting critical areas. Density would go from 246 housing units (two per acre) to 492 (four per acre). Dwelling sizes would vary, and prices would range accordingly. Trails and open space are planned. The developer would build all needed infrastructure, including a $900,000 traffic light off-site, to help out the neighborhood.
Bellingham's Planning Commission and planning staff have recommended approval, saying the project conforms to the comprehensive plan and city goals, and doesn't present environmental problems. City Council members, however, made it clear at a work session March 26 that none of them supports the project as proposed. They suggest building at the original lower density - despite the fact that planning staff say that's not economically feasible. Infrastructure costs remain the same, regardless of how many homes are built. At the original density only 152 traditional, single-family houses could be built - selling for $700,000 or more. With 492 units built in clustered "infill toolkit" housing forms - small single-family homes, garden courtyards, townhouses, etc. - the average price would be $285,000 or less.
One councilman suggested the higher density isn't compatible with "existing neighborhood character." Zoning in most of the neighborhood is two- to four-units per acre, city planners report; one area is multi-family. Additionally, this project is on relatively isolated land, not visible from surrounding areas. Traffic would exit at the neighborhood's edge. If we can't have infill here, at densities that justify the cost of development, then where?
Let's be realistic - no neighborhood wants higher density. But if we're going to avoid sprawl outside town, we have to make room for people in town. The Growth Management Act requires cities to predict population growth, then accommodate it; "no growth" is not a legal option.
Bellingham is running out of "easy" places to build. Other than Cordata, at the north edge of town, buildable tracts in Bellingham tend to be steep and wooded.
Expense is an issue. Bellingham's building permits and fees are among the highest in the state. And as regulations make it harder and more expensive to build in town, people are finding homes elsewhere. Last year, only 20 percent of the new residential building permits issued in Whatcom County were in Bellingham, which issued fewer permits than Ferndale, Lynden, or unincorporated Whatcom County. Building in Bellingham during the past five years has dropped for single-family homes (194 units in 2007 to 71 units last year) and multifamily units (291 units to 104). The Realtors Association confirms this trend.
City Council repeatedly promotes high-density, multi-level "urban villages" to meet Bellingham's housing needs. But not everyone wants to live in a highrise. And not everyone wants downtown Bellingham built to the density of Bellevue, which is what the council has planned for.
Which do you prefer, sprawl or infill? Now is the time to speak up. Please give this serious consideration, and let the City Council know your preference. The public record is open until April 16 on this proposal, known as Padden Trails. Information is posted on the city's website.
The Building Industry Association of Whatcom County is a nonprofit with 350 members - homebuilders and related businesses (engineers to telecommunications firms). The association has no financial interest in this project and does not back it specifically. But we are interested in finding workable solutions for our community to make this a place where we all can afford to live. We think it's time to get serious about infill, or to stop complaining about sprawl.
Linda Twitchell is the government affairs director for the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County.