Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the article “Inside Fairhaven Highlands” in the February BBJ. Responsible Development is a group that I founded more than a year ago to engage the owner and the public around the issues related to Chuckanut Ridge construction projects.
Many of the participants in our group have been working to preserve this land since the early 1990s. I respond now because there were a number of inaccuracies and misstatements in the article. To begin with the name of our group is Responsible Development not Responsible “Growth.”
Tax records reveal that the purchase price of the Chuckanut Ridge parcels was actually $14.2 million, not the $18 million cited in the article. In negotiations with the property owners and Mr. Tull, we were told that the total cost of the property had an additional $1.8 million dollars in acquisition costs. I presume that Mr. Tull is quite good at math but that is still a $2 million difference, that I am sure most BBJ readers would not consider an insignificant amount of money even under the modifier “approximately.”
Although several people say that the rezoning of the property was a legitimate activity, the City of Bellingham is unable find any record of the actual vote on the issue. Some believe that this vote was not properly noticed prior to the vote. The zoning literally went from two homes per acre to 14 overnight, with very little public process.
While Mr. Tull repeatedly says this will be a very “green” construction project and that it will “provide some opportunities for beauty," the actual plans are for a very dense housing units with minimal setbacks, our attorney, David Bricklin (Harvard trained and who has argued and won land-use cases all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court) believes that the current wetlands application is clearly a violation of local and state law, if allowed by the city.
These objections have been formally filed with the city.
The construction of multi-story buildings above the current height restriction is assumed in the plan put forward, another clear violation of the city code.
At the “official neighborhood meeting” literally all the speakers (except Tull, Edelstein and the then city staffer Vega) spoke against the development. Two nights in a row well over 400 local residents turned out to tell both the city and the developer "no" to the project. They simply were not listening.
Interestingly, as Mr. Tull noted after the neighborhood meeting, the project was unbelievably hurried through city vesting.
Four days after the application was received it was vested! This happened after repeated reassurances by both the developer and the city that the most careful review and full discussion would take place at each step in the approval process. This is one of the largest single construction projects in Bellingham’s history, it is also certainly one of the most controversial. How many citizens or other builders in our community have enjoyed this level of preferential treatment?
The “charade” that was orchestrated by Mr. Tull did not provide any reassurance to the community that this construction project would provide any community benefit.
With respect to neighborhood and citywide concerns about the construction project we object to three issues, and we have repeatedly told the developer that these are our concerns.
This construction project will require huge public subsidies, likely at least $20,000 per home, for infrastructure they will not pay for but which will be required. Please review our consultant’s (Eben Fodor, a nationally respected urban planner) report available on our Web site, rdnow.org.
About 7,000 new car trips per day will flow out of this project and across the already overcrowded 12th Street bridge and down 30th Street (where the young person recently died in a motor vehicle crash). Neither of these roads have the capacity for this traffic. Though they insist that the “F” in LOS F does not stand for FAILURE. When you read the definition it clearly says that it is beyond the capacity of the roadways design.
The current wetland permit calls for filling in wetlands, encroaching on wetlands and simply misclassifies wetlands to a lower level.
These are wetlands that form some of the head waters for two of the highest quality salmon streams remaining in Bellingham. It contains the only forested wetland in the city of Bellingham; just because something is legal does not make it moral.
A careful reading of the comprehensive plan would lead to exactly the opposite conclusion that Mr Tull draws.
The entire community should not subsidize this construction project — let the developers pay the true and real costs.
Do not put unrealistic and dangerous burdens on the already burdened infrastructure, fix the 12th Street bridge and 30th Street, then allow construction if it is financially feasible.
Enforce the environmental laws fairly and even-handedly, no special treatment for Mr. Tull and other “old boys” in the insiders club. We are a community that has outgrown this way of doing business.
Frank James, a resident of Bellingham since 1969 and father of four children raised here, was the medical director of Interfaith Clinic for 10 years, was the County Public Health Officer, currently teaches at the UW School of Public Health and Community Medicine, just finished a year as President of the Board of Directors of Re Sources, is a primary investigator of a National Institute of Health cancer prevention research study and works as a primary care physician in Bellingham.
He is the founder of Responsible Development and was also the founder of Safe Bellingham, the group that held Olympic Pipeline responsible for the deaths of three young citizens.