On May 14, the Bellingham Planning Commission recommended by a 4-0 vote to forward the new Infill Housing Toolkit to the City Council for review and approval. The planning commission made a few changes before sending it on, but generally it’s the same document that was put forward by Planning and Community Development Director Tim Stewart last fall.
While the toolkit continues to have some great ideas in it, the fact that it is only applicable to multi-family and commercial zoned areas of the city hamstrings its ability to effectively provide infill in Bellingham. For if we cannot use this tool to increase density in our single-family neighborhoods, then we are not embracing its full potential.
It’s now up to the Bellingham City Council to wrestle with this issue. In light of the fact that we have just included a new 635-acre neighborhood to the north — King Mountain — and we are considering adding another 238 acres just north of there, the debate over infill versus expansion is particularly relevant.
The council will continue to receive pressure from the “not-in-my-back yard” set to keep duplexes and townhouses out of the single-family neighborhoods, but our leaders need to be thinking about the larger picture of growth.
We can’t have it both ways. We can’t preserve our farmland and prevent sprawl while at the same time limit our infill tools from applying to existing neighborhoods. If we are to expand our boundaries, we should also be doing everything in our power to enable home-owners to add creatively to their properties without having to apply for a rezone.
Lifting big box ban a good idea
Mayor Dan Pike reopened a can of worms this past month by revisiting the big box store ordinance. He is proposing that the ban on stores 90,000 square feet or more be lifted from areas around Meridian between Costco and Bellis Fair, and also along Bakerview near Fred Meyer.
While the amendments to the ban will certainly irk some in the community, we support the idea of the amendments for several reasons.
For one, it is most appropriate for these types of stores to be located in Bellingham, the commercial and population base of the county, rather than in places like Ferndale or Birch Bay. It makes sense to have these stores closer to consumers.
Secondly, the areas in the mayor’s proposal already have several businesses close to and over that limit, and those areas are the most appropriate places for such stores.
Small local businesses should be rightfully wary of the competition of large stores such as Wal-Mart, but there is an old saying that the best way to shorten your competitor’s line is to lengthen your own. Continuing to encourage customers to “buy local” and provide strong customer service and great products is just good business practice. But to limit the city’s ability to allow large stores in the Meridian area is not going to help small local businesses grow stronger.
by Rik Dalvit