conversation: city planner jackie Lynch

Fairhaven�s past, present
and future

Jamie Miller, co-owner of Manna Music, said organizing how he spends his limited philanthropic dollars is no easy task. �I try to put money into organizations with a proven track record and organizations that I believe in,� Miller said.

   To say the least, Jackie Lynch has a vested interest in how Fairhaven’s recent flurry of construction turns out.
   Lynch, a Bellingham city planner since 1989, has been the lead Fairhaven planner since the mid-1990s, working with, and fielding questions from, hundreds of developers, business owners, residents, elected officials and others to ensure smooth development.
   As new residents have flocked to Bellingham by the thousands during Lynch’s tenure, the city has increasingly looked at infilling as the primary way of reducing sprawl and accommodating newcomers. As a result, Fairhaven can be seen as one of Whatcom County’s first experiments at an urban village, a sector of a city where people can live, work, shop and play.
   “This is the type of development we really need in Whatcom County,” said Lynch, 52, who has a bachelor’s degree in environmental planning from Western’s Huxley College of the Environment, and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Pittsburgh. “It’s either this or fill in the wetlands, cut down the forests and build on dairy farms.”
   Development has not been without its challenges, though, as the neighborhood has grappled with parking issues, gentrification and a changing character.
   Currently, a smattering of projects that all began in the last year or so, such as Fairhaven Gardens, Harris Square and 12th Street Village are nearing completion, while a second flurry of building is likely to begin in the near future.
   When the construction is complete, the neighborhood, which for decades sat dormant, will have a new look and, likely, new feel.
   “Personally, I really want it to work. I want it to be lively and happy and beautiful and attractive,” Lynch said.
   Sitting in a meeting room at City Hall last week, Lynch, carrying a file folder of Fairhaven plans, overflowing like a teenager’s laundry basket, talked with The Bellingham Business Journal about current and future building projects and what, exactly, the future Fairhaven will be like.
   BBJ: Six months ago, it seemed buildings were going up left and right in Fairhaven. As far as new projects go, have things slowed down a bit?
   JL: “I think we’ve seen a pulse of building and I think we’re going to see one more big pulse go through.
   We have a building permit about to be issued at 1140 10th St., on the southwest corner of Mackenzie and 10th. It’s the same people doing Harris Square, Troy Muljat and Andre Mulnar. There’ll be 130 parking spaces, 70 units and 20,000 square feet of commercial.
   John Perry received design review a couple months ago at 1401 13th St. (for approximately 20 units and 1,400 square feet for office space). He hasn’t received building permits yet but he’s working on one.
   Next in line is (David Ebenal’s) Waldron Block redevelopment. They’re taking the Waldron Building, which is one of the nicest historic buildings in Bellingham, and are going to completely retrofit the interior and do seismic retrofitting.
   Then they’re going to add onto it with the Young Building, which will have condos up and retail down, and go all the way to 11th Avenue. It will also have underground parking, which is really innovative and probably one of the first times we’ve done this in Bellingham.”
   BBJ: Any idea when this next round of construction will begin?
   JL: “I’m guessing the 10th Street guys (Mulnar and Muljat) are going to start building as soon as they can and I know Ebenal wants to get going as quickly as he can.
   After this, you start to look around and say, ‘Where is the vacant land?’
There’s a few pieces here and there, and some single-family homes and people who might sell their homes, but there’s not a lot of vacant land available.”
   BBJ: What’s the latest with Rick Westerop and Ted Mischaikov’s Fairhaven Harbor (approximately 80 units and 20,000 square feet of commercial and retail planned at 800 Harris Ave.)?
   JL: “We currently have a hearing before the state’s Shorelines Hearing Board at the end of this month.
   The appellants are making the argument that there is too close of an approach of this building to the Padden Creek corridor and there should be significantly less development in this area due to impacts on the creek.
   What the city has said, and is saying, is that because of compensations the building applicants are providing, the impacts are really minimal.
   We’ll know a lot more as soon as soon as we hear what the Shorelines Hearing Board has to say.”
   BBJ: The availability of parking, or a lack of it, has been a concern in Fairhaven recently. Do you think there’ll eventually be metered parking there?
   JL: “Yes, I think there will because of the whole financial issue.
Meters are the most equitable way of dealing with the finances of parking. It pays for maintenance and upkeep and control.
   If we want to have people who don’t spend a lot of time in Fairhaven come here, like retail shoppers, we could, for example, have the first hour be a buck and the second hour be 10 bucks.
   All of sudden, you’re going to have massive turnover in this area. We want to have the people who are coming here all day — office employees and retail employees — parking in the periphery, where we’d do different financing.”
   BBJ: Who would oversee a metered-parking system?
   JL: “It would have to be the Parking Commission.
   Right now, the commission just works downtown so they’d have to be revised to work in other areas. They would have to, and I’m sure be willing, to say that any revenue that comes out of Fairhaven goes back into Fairhaven.”
   BBJ: As Fairhaven evolves, what do you envision it becoming and what is it not going to be?
   JL: “I’m going to have to speak as a Bellingham old fogey on this one.
I came here in 1973 and Fairhaven was dead and you could see tumbleweeds rolling down the street. Then nothing much happened in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
    Fairhaven in ’73 was a hippie haven but most of the hippies left in the late ‘80s when we started seeing upper- and middle-end development coming in. You hardly ever see people playing hacky sack in front of the Terminal Building anymore, which used to be a 12- to 16-hour game.
   Now, I think we’re seeing the character of Fairhaven change again. I’m certainly not enough of a sociologist to say what direction it’s going to go, but as these new units go in, you’re going to have people who can afford to live in these units walking down the streets.
   I’ve talked to some neighbors about whether we’re going to become the Carmel of Washington state, where there’s no point of even going there unless you have a seven-figure income, and I hope that’s not the case.
   I think there’s some good anchor tenants, like Village Books and Fairhaven Market, who will not allow that to happen.
   Yeah, there’ll be some upper-level stuff coming in but I think people will still be able to go to the market or bookstore and buy an apple or paperback at a normal price.”

Community planning,
feudal-lord style


   In addition to her job as the City of Bellingham’s lead Fairhaven planner, Jackie Lynch also plays a big role in the development of another Whatcom County community — the Shire of Shittimwoode.
   Can’t find it on your Rand McNally?
   That’s because the Shire of Shitim-woode is Whatcom County’s branch of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), which Lynch has been a member of for 26 years.
   “It’s a happy, fun hobby,” said Lynch.
   Founded in Berkeley, Calif., In 1966, by a group of science fiction and fantasy fans, the SCA focuses on the study of the European Middle Ages, its crafts, traditions, literature and the like, and members create personas of people who could have lived during that time period.
   Today, there are more than 24,000 members, in 16 Kingdoms, around the world.
Lynch, who portrays the character Meresigha Stonegatta, a wealthy owner of an Anglo-Saxon village in 916 A.D., is among more than 130 people in the county who belong to the organization.
   Away from work, Lynch oftentimes spends three or four weekends a month at SCA functions.
   A senior member of the local organization, she occasionally teaches a four-hour class on persona development, for which she’s earned an SCA Golden Swan award “for people who are idyllically fanatic about persona development.”
   Lynch admits the organization can appear a little wacky but, once people try it, they experience the camaraderie and can get hooked on the role playing.
   “I first went with my friend, Roxanne Orr, who was invited to a little event on the south side of Sehome Hill, and she didn’t want to go alone,” Lynch said. “I was dragged in kicking and screaming and wasn’t the least bit interested in history or any of this (stuff) but I got to wear a cloak and that sounded like a lot of fun.”
   She’s been participating ever since.
   “I had a wonderful time,” she said. “There were neat people, we got to sing songs and eat weird food and everybody had fantastic clothes and were very friendly.”
Lynch, a bit of a history buff, who occasionally appears in character at the Whatcom Museum of History and Art, said the SCA is a great way to understand the past.
   Because the SCA is a feudal society, Lynch said members constantly practice courtesy, etiquette and respect — traits that are necessary in her job, where she constantly deals with people who are passionate about projects that may affect them.
   “Everybody has a story and history that’s important,” she said. “You have to understand that and respect that.”

— J.J. Jensen


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