Don Keenan

Bellingham Mayor

 

1. Do you believe the business community should have an equal seat at the table with other interest groups (neighborhoods, environmental community, etc) in discussing the future growth of Bellingham? Why or why not?

Absolutely. Business owners, neighborhood residents, developers, and environmental advocates all need seats at the table. We all want and deserve not just to be heard, although that is crucial, but also to have our insights, values and preferences integrated into a collective vision for the future of Bellingham. We need to work together to make this vision a reality. We all benefit from planning which is informed by open thoughtful discussion and the best available planning expertise. The key is to get the results of our common vision implemented in a positive cost-effective way that honors what we all love about Bellingham and improves rather than harms livability here.

Everyone appreciates Bellingham’s natural beauty, great neighborhoods, strong educational system, availability of fine health care facilities, variety of recreational and cultural opportunities, and strong sense of place. Our community’s economic vitality must be part of our planning and preparation for future growth in order to insure that our citizens have access to family wage jobs and affordable housing so they can continue to enjoy all of the amenities Bellingham has to offer. I respect the investments being made each day in our community by businesses, small and large, that provide job opportunities, goods and services and economic health for our community.

 

2. Are you supportive of the current Port/City partnership and their vision for redeveloping the New Whatcom Site? Please explain.

Yes, I support the partnership between the City and the Port for redeveloping the waterfront. It’s critical for three reasons: the magnitude of the site (220 acres total); the complexity of the clean-up from an industrial use into a new neighborhood; and the location adjacent to the shoreline and downtown. Redeveloping the waterfront is a fantastic opportunity requiring master planning for development that will occur over the next 20 – 30 years. Substantial visioning has occurred, but no formal plan exists, since it is relatively early in the process.

The Agreement between the City and the Port requires that the redevelopment is financially feasible for both jurisdictions and that it reflects the interests of the City and Port and their constituents. It would not be in the interest of either the Port or the City to proceed with an agreement that is financially unworkable for either party. As Mayor I would work to insure that the City’s obligations in the final agreement make financial sense for city residents.

People have a right to expect that the waterfront will be developed in a quality way that instills pride – one that assures appropriate clean-up and public access to the shoreline, provides green spaces and people places as well as economic viability for both the private and public investments that will occur there. The City needs to work actively with the Port to inspire confidence in the public process, to identify and address concerns and move forward positively to build a shared vision.

 

3. When it comes to land use planning, should Bellingham work more closely with Whatcom County and other municipalities in the County? If so, how?

The City needs to work more closely with the County and other municipalities since Bellingham is the regional service and employment center. Also, we will have a long-term sustainable economy for all of Whatcom County only if all the cities and the County work together to preserve adequate farmland and natural areas. I have experience successfully working with these entities and, as Mayor, I will build on these relationships.

In order to avoid the types of problems we experienced with the lack of parks, trails and open space in Cordata, land should not be annexed unless City development standards have been met or will be met through the annexation agreement. Development in the Urban Growth Area should be built to City standards since annexation is assumed.

Planning for area-wide coordination of mass transit should be a high priority so that citizens can get to and around Bellingham without completely relying on their cars. Due to increasing traffic on our arterials and limitations for traffic mitigation, we should study working with Washington State Department of Transportation on building park-and-rides along our arterials at the edges of town so that people can park in these collector areas and then rely on WTA to get to and around Bellingham.

 

4.Do you support efforts to limit the height of future development in the Fairhaven Business District to two stories? Why or why not?

No, I don’t support a blanket two-story limit. A number of existing older buildings are more than two stories, and are the hallmark of Historic Fairhaven. Building heights are a highly charged issue with many concerned that “high-rise towers” will change the look and character of Bellingham. It’s time (some would say long overdue) to look at height and bulk issues in all areas of the City. Height limits should be reasonable and appropriate for the area. Perhaps some areas should also have minimum height requirements. Accepting a reasonable amount of additional density where appropriate throughout Bellingham is the only way we can avoid sprawl. It will challenge our creativity, but with good planning and design and lots of public participation I believe we can maintain Bellingham’s character, while increasing housing options, creating more walkable neighborhoods and promoting healthy local economic development.

As Mayor, I would direct the Planning Department to begin the process for a community dialogue – involving developers, businesses and neighborhoods – focusing on those areas that lack height regulation. With all major stakeholders engaged we can begin the public process of providing input as a community as to what a reasonable and appropriate height limit should be for those specific areas. There are always competing interests in land use matters that must be balanced fairly. We must have the dialogue and make a decision so that all interests have certainty as to what can be done with a parcel of property.

 

5. Do you support the Shoreline Master Plan currently being proposed by City Staff? Please explain.

I support the draft Shoreline Master Program and am confident that City Council will provide additional input to improve it. The draft Shoreline Master Program had an extensive public process, with 12 City Planning Commission public hearings/work sessions, significant public input and extensive rewrites based on that input. Our community was extensively engaged in the draft Shoreline Master Program process and valuable public input is reflected in the final draft document. The draft Shoreline Master Program provides protection where appropriate (natural and residential areas) and flexibility (New Whatcom and other developed shorelines) when necessary.

We need to work hard to protect the areas covered by the Shoreline Master Program, but we must provide for public access as appropriate, respect appropriate use of private property and provide for responsible development of shorelines in designated areas. There is tremendous potential for enhancing and developing marine-dependent and marine-related industry in our developed shoreline areas along the bay, which is provided for in the draft Shoreline Master Program.

 

6. What, in your opinion, is the primary cause of the decrease in the actual number of Whatcom County residents between the ages of 30 to 39 (primary working age) since 1996?

Without definitive answers available, it seems likely that much lower salaries here (about 78% of the State average) are the primary cause of the decrease in the actual number of residents in the 30 – 39 age group. Many in their late 20s and 30s are starting families and wanting to acquire equity in a home, so they seem to migrate closer to larger metropolitan areas where both the number of jobs and the salaries are significantly higher than here. As mayor I would work closely with the business community, educational institutions such as Western Washington University and trade groups like the Technology Alliance Group to match graduates with existing higher paying jobs and to work together to grow businesses that offer jobs that pay well.

Bellingham should also continue to be appealing to businesses wanting to locate in a community such as ours that offers natural beauty, great neighborhoods, a strong educational system, the availability of fine health care facilities, a variety of recreational and cultural opportunities, and a strong sense of place. We all have an interest in continuing to build a robust, diverse local economy. Right now Bellingham has a reasonably diverse economy and a low unemployment rate. While preserving our sense of place and all of our wonderful amenities, we need to make sure that our economy is one that truly provides ordinary citizens family wage jobs, access to affordable housing, and educational opportunities for lifelong learning.

 

7. Are you supportive of efforts to promote infill development in the City of Bellingham? If so, what measures would you propose to accomplish this?

I support efforts to promote appropriate infill development in the City. Some concerns people have about infill are: poor design that conflicts with neighborhood character, inadequate off-street parking and increased traffic safety concerns. These concerns can and should be addressed to make infill a more attractive option. Good planning focuses development where services exist rather than consuming farmland and increasing commute time. We need to apply Smart Growth principles, including mixed land uses, compact building design, a range of housing choices, walkable neighborhoods with parks and trails, preservation of open space, farmland, and critical environmental areas, a variety of transportation choices, development that is predictable, fair and cost effective, and collaboration among all stakeholders.

As Mayor, I’ll work with neighborhoods and the development community on projects, including urban villages, that accommodate planned growth while preserving those aspects of our unique neighborhoods that we value most. Infill will be more readily accepted when the development community and the neighborhoods have some certainty as to what will be built. When the developer meets with the neighborhood in the earliest stages of planning, reasonable neighborhood concerns can be addressed upfront, creating goodwill and saving redesign costs. Discussing the types of housing that will be built, the street layout and traffic impacts, parking, open space and view issues will further the dialogue between the developer and the neighborhood. Planning, Public Works and Parks Departments need to work together on all development projects at the earliest stages to assure coordination of resources and planning.

 

8. What do you believe is the primary pollution issue in Lake Whatcom, and how do you propose to address it?

Development in the watershed has been the prime factor in degrading water quality in Lake Whatcom, which is the drinking water supply for more than 95,000 people in Bellingham and Whatcom County. Runoff from construction, use of phosphate fertilizers, storm water runoff and vehicles using the roads around the lake send pollutants into the lake and impair the water quality.

Since only about 3% of Lake Whatcom watershed is in the City of Bellingham, as Mayor I would work closely with Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District, Water District 7, Whatcom County and State officials to stabilize the lake and initiate programs to restore its health.

Simply put, we need to prevent pollutants from getting into the lake. All new construction should utilize best practices to keep all potential runoff on the property by using proper safeguards during construction and installing appropriately sized rain gardens, dry wells or on-site drainage systems to handle even heavy rains. Incentives should be offered to current owners to retrofit their property to achieve a similar result. The use of vaults to trap runoff from roadways and public spaces needs to be expanded. I would also work to increase educational efforts so people can learn lake-healthier alternatives to phosphate-laden fertilizers and other pollutants. Finally, for the long-term health of our drinking water supply, we need to acquire additional property in the watershed by working closely with County, State and Federal officials to secure funds for purchasing significant portions of available land.

 

9. Should all businesses in Bellingham be treated equally by the City, regardless of whether or not they are locally owned? Why or why not?

City Hall belongs to everyone. The administration of all departments needs to be open, efficient, responsive, timely, predictable and fair – for everyone. Every business should be given the same consideration by the City without regard to ownership. Clearly there’s a strong loyalty to locally owned businesses in Bellingham – look at the continued success of independent businesses like Hardware Sales and Village Books – and a strong commitment by many here to buy locally whenever they can. Many of our locally-owned businesses are Bellingham treasures. In fact, studies indicate that generally local businesses generate a premium in enhanced economic impact to the community and our tax base by making purchases from other local businesses, give more of their profits to local nonprofits, and help keep our community unique.

However, businesses of different sizes, types and ownership provide economic diversity and add value to our community. No matter who owns a business in Bellingham, the employees work here, live here, recreate here and pay taxes here. It is important for business owners and employees to become involved in public process, volunteer for boards and commissions, and approach community involvement as a shared value.

 

10. If elected, what do you propose to do to interact on a regular basis with the Bellingham business community?

I will be an accessible, responsive partner willing to meet regularly with members of the business community, which generates a large portion of the City’s tax base to support a variety of City services. As Bellingham’s Deputy Administrator and as Opportunity Council Director for 15 years, I developed positive, productive relationships with Bellingham’s business community. One example is my work with property and business owners building private-public partnerships to redevelop the major downtown intersection of Railroad and Holly. As Mayor, I will build on relationships I already have with Bellingham Technical College, Whatcom Community College, the Bellingham School District, Western Washington University, St. Joseph Hospital, the Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Connections, Bellingham’s Technology Alliance Group and others to expand workforce-training programs, incubate new businesses and foster growth of businesses through technical assistance. Bellingham needs to provide a welcoming environment in which a variety of businesses providing family wage jobs can thrive.

Leadership is important here and I would make sure that positive interaction with the business community is a high priority for our City staff. Bellingham now has a reasonably diverse economy and a low unemployment rate, but we can’t assume that will continue to be the case. Perhaps we should add an Economic Development Chapter to our Comprehensive Plan so that economic considerations are included in our planning. While preserving our sense of place and all of our wonderful amenities, we need to work to create, diversify and enhance job growth and facilitate business development and stability.

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