Jack Weiss

Bellingham City Council Ward 1

 

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?

Yes. All stakeholders should be represented.

Growth affects us all, especially business. Mismanaged growth creates expensive traffic conditions that harm business accessibility, degraded community aesthetics that hinder employee recruitment, and expensive infrastructure improvements to correct mistakes that impact tax rates or decrease municipal services to businesses.

Business can help lead the discussion of how sustainable rates in growth can create predictable and economical benefits from the gyrations of boom and bust that marked Bellingham for so many years. Business can also show that zoning and project development that is creative and responsive to all stakeholders can be long-term investments worthy of community support.

 

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

I am supportive of the partnership.

I want to be sure, though, that we are not straying from our vision. For example, at the May 2007 Waterfront Advisory Group meeting, City Waterfront Assistant Director, Tom Rosenberg announced that the five bridges to be built under the latest plan would cost $150 million even though last September, the cost to the City was estimated at $68 million for these bridges. This is on top of a projected $70-80 million revenue deficit for the City’s share in this project. The economic benefits of this redevelopment could be lost with these overriding costs.

While a good deal of work is needed to resolve these and other issues, I think this project holds a wonderful promise for Bellingham and our region. I trust it will work out and I will do my best to help.

 

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?

Absolutely yes. The injustices served upon the thousands of Cordata residents are our community’s legacy of a failure of coordination.

The Urban Growth Areas (UGA) are theoretically planned to be annexed into the City within 16 years. Any planning or permitting work done on any property in these UGA’s should be done in tandem in accordance to an interlocal agreement between the governments. This interlocal would spell out that all departments impacted by UGA growth be involved in cooperating to a common City standard and provide legal mechanisms for compliance by developers. The current County reorganization of the Planning Department would be an excellent opportunity to change the paradigm of planning turf.

The $131 million the City estimates to be the cost of all UGA annexations over the next 16 years awakens the business and residential community of Bellingham that growth is substantially subsidized, even with new tax revenues. Because of this cost, land use planning should be carefully considered and coordinated.

 

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. As a Tier 1 urban center, Fairhaven should be properly master planned with specific goals for residential density and economic vitality of businesses located there. This will require additional height. Boutiques in Fairhaven are not sustainable with current high rents. Additional density will create a conversion to long-term service retail for the urban center and the surrounding southside neighborhoods.

However, prior to tackling Fairhaven height issues, I would propose that the entire community adopt a three-dimensional “skyscape” to plan what the appropriate aesthetic and economic factors of building height should be. Once adopted, a block-by-block development standard would dictate a maximum and a minimum building height during redevelopment in an urban center. This provides developer certainty. More accurate planning projections can also be made under this approach that would drive correct decisions on transportation, utilities, and other services. Having building towers haphazardly scattered throughout Bellingham or redeveloping a one-story bank downtown would be a historical curiosity if we adopted a skyscape plan in urban centers.

 

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

Yes. It is mandated by State law and has not been revised since 1989. The SMP is the result of a lengthy community process and incorporated the views of many stakeholders and the residents at large. The SMP is part of an outgrowth of the Comprehensive Plan that will properly manage the development of our community, provide more development certainty, and protect our environmental assets, including the shorelines. It is clear that if we had had a SMP for the Lake Whatcom drinking water reservoir 30 years ago, we would not be in this expensive predicament now.

No one wants a dead Puget Sound. I want a healthy and robust ecosystem that can provide a sustainable bounty to a fishing heritage we have in Bellingham. The SMP is an important step in bringing back this industry. It also will provide other benefits of biological filtration of pollutants (the cheapest alternative) and in places, gives our community buffers for wildlife protection and recreation opportunities.

 

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?

Demographics. Using the average age of 35 years in this bracket posed in the question, consider the 1961 birth year in 1996 and 1972 currently. In 1961, over 425,000 Americans were born. This rate dropped to 330,000 in 1972. It is no wonder that Whatcom County has been affected by the end of the “baby boom” demographic surge like the entire country has.

 

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?

Yes. Infill is accomplished in three ways; exhausting available vacant or underdeveloped land in areas that are appropriate for development, establishing incentives to live in urban centers, and carefully upzoning neighborhoods.

While infill of vacant land is market driven, the development of each urban center in town must come from corresponding master plans. I will work to properly fund this effort for the urban centers listed in the Comprehensive Plan, including Fairhaven and the CBD. Residential and commercial growth in urban centers can have certainty, vitality and sustainability while preventing sprawl into our economically valuable agricultural lands.

As established in our Comprehensive Plan, neighborhood upzoning is the result of a collaborative effort of the developer with the neighborhood to meet the needs and wants of both stakeholders. Over the years, I have been on both sides of the fence and feel I can help facilitate these discussions according to the process we have.

 

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

Unknowing abuse by us all. We have ignored the number one rule taught to all of us since kindergarten – don’t pee in the pool! And it’s worse – we’re not just swimming in this water, we’re drinking it! Consider this rule when years ago, we thought habits such as building 6500 houses in the watershed, creating significant land disturbances through clearing and logging, and simply washing our pollutants down stormdrains leading to the lake. These actions have impacted water quality.

A likely, but not proven, tipping point came many years ago but was masked by the flushing effect of Georgia Pacific’s mill using a tremendous amount of lake water that was re-supplied by the Nooksack River. Even if we wanted to, we cannot flush the lake again because of other allotments for this river water.

The unmasked effect of our historical practices is releasing phosphorous into the lake beyond its capability to readily absorb it. Phosphorous feeds algae, algae depletes oxygen, low oxygen releases more phosphorous in the water. A vicious cycle.

We should conserve most or all of the remaining 3200 development rights. Do no further harm. Work with existing homes to create individual solutions to minimize runoff into the lake. Beyond additional education about the issues, we should work with the water districts to be part of the solutions and not the development problem. Bottom line: it will be costly to change polluting habits, but even more costly the longer we wait.

 

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?

No. Locally-owned companies are more likely to contribute within our community, to keep the spending of company profits circulating in Bellingham, and to be more responsive to the legitimate planning needs of the City.

As the Urban Center concept unfolds, large footprints required by big box-type stores will be difficult to plan for and accommodate. Urban Centers can cater to smaller retail opportunities that are more available to local entry.

Further, manufacturing and R & D incubators should be prioritized for diversified small and local business development. Government should not pursue an economic strategy of landing large-scale employers with headquarters in distant lands when given the opportunity to diversify our business mix with incentives to smaller firms.

 

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

All segments of Bellingham, including the business community, will have my ear. A key issue in my campaign is one of fairness and I will make myself available to all who wish to talk to me. I will propose to the Chamber, BIA, and other business groups to have meetings as they wish to explore what we can accomplish together for the economic vitality of the community.

Throughout the years, I have created well over 100 jobs in non-profit and government roles. This includes employment in the waste management/recycling field, manufacturing, private school, renewable energy, and housing. I am a firm believer that business can make money, create jobs, and do good to the community and its environment at the same time. I know because I have done it. If anything, my experience with non-profits has made me excruciatingly cost-conscious. I understand the pressures of meeting payrolls, expanding operations and working constructively with employees, suppliers and ’customers’ in a competition for obtaining operating revenues.

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