Mayor Pike’s ambitious new reign

Plan for first days outlines new leader’s priorities

 

Newly elected Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike has promised to streamline the city’s permitting process and include the business community in neighborhood planning efforts within his first 100 days in office.

 

No one can argue that newly elected Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike is ambitious.

After all, this is the man who came out of nowhere to beat longtime Bellingham political heavies Don Keenan, Seth Fleetwood and Dan McShane in the recent election.

Now his 100-day plan seems similarly bold, and if we hadn’t witnessed his out-of-the-blue ascension to Bellingham’s throne, we might second guess his aspirations.

The BBJ recently sat down with Mayor Pike to discuss his ambitious new plan, as well as the city’s UGA and waterfront redevelopment.

 

BBJ: Do you support the city planning department’s decision not to participate in a reconciliation process with the county over the urban growth area (UGA) expansion issue?

Pike: I think we have a wonderful planning department and staff who have done some great work on the UGA question. The big problem I have is that I think there were some flawed assumptions they were given [in the land supply analysis]. As a result, we ended up with a much larger UGA than the county would like to see.

Our process has been upheld in court, so that throws a bit of a challenge in terms of trying to address the size of the expansion that the city is currently on record as advocating. In any decision regarding the UGA, there are going to be folks that feel they are hurt by it and are motivated to take action. Meaning, generally, to sue.

The fact we’ve already been upheld by the hearings board means they’ll have a very difficult time suing us. We have to be very careful about how we address what our current assumptions are.

There are also some differences in opinion in terms of how staff is utilized by the County Council versus the City Council. Rather than saying the City directed planning staff not to participate in the reconciliation, my understanding of what happened was the City Council and the County Council both felt legitimately frustrated with their counterparts because of a basic communication problem.

On the city side, council directed staff to negotiate with their county counterparts. On the county side, council directed their staff to exchange information but to absolutely not negotiate.

The city staff felt very frustrated, so there wasn’t a reconciliation process.

The reality is there will be significant changes both to the City Council and the County Council [in January], and I think those changes are going to have some impact in terms of how this debate is framed and how the two sides work together toward some sort of resolution.

I’ve had some discussions with some County Council members and with County Executive Pete Kremen, and I think all of us agree it would be good to somehow find alignment in positions. That is what’s best for the community and probably also what is best from a legal perspective.

It just seems logical to me that if the county and the city agree on what appropriate expansions or boundaries of the UGAs are — or if we don’t have any expansion at all, which is what some of us are advocating — then at least we’re in the fight together.

 

BBJ: Which UGA recommendation do you support?

Pike: I’m in support of not expanding at all currently, but I could live with the county’s expansion [recommendation] if it comes down to that.

 

BBJ: At a recent Waterfront Advisory Group meeting, you mentioned the idea of making the Waterfront District a triple-bottom-line project. How do you propose to follow through with that idea?

Pike: Triple bottom line is [the concept of focusing] not just on economic sustainability but on environmental and social sustainability, as well.

The way they’ve done it in other places is they develop a matrix of criteria that, in the eyes of the community, address the triple-bottom-line approach. You might create a scoring system for that matrix where you weigh the different criteria. And then someone would come in with a proposal and we might have some minimum [criteria]. Beyond that scoring comes into play.

There might also be something where there’s some land costs that are bid on, so there’d be some minimum bids involved for the land value in addition to minimum scoring requirements.

 

BBJ: One task you’ve identified in your 100-day plan is to support neighborhoods by establishing a neighborhood code and character task force and by scheduling a second planning academy. To what extent do you envision the business community participating in these efforts?

Pike: I think the business community is going to be very central [in the planning academy] because part of my vision for that process is that it would not only include neighborhoods and residents, but would look globally at building issues from the neighbors’, developers’ and business community’s perspectives.

I think some of the things that are currently happening in the community are developers are bringing forward proposals that at times may be incongruent with neighborhood expectations. On the other hand, sometimes developers bring forward proposals and are being blasted for something they have a right to develop. The status quo results in a polarizing process where people end up getting really angry and not talking to people they should be talking to so we can get some positive resolution.

The bottom line is developers, neighbors and the business sector need predictability.

The code and character task force would involve folks from all the different sectors providing input into a process that would look at identifying what issues are central for different parts of town — in terms of height and bulk issues and the like — and then tie those into the code so the code and the plans speak better to each other than they do right now.

 

BBJ: You have also suggested streamlining the permitting process in your first 100 days. Can you detail what you have in mind?

Pike: The process as it is currently executed is a sequential process. By having processes that happen sequentially instead of simultaneously or concurrently, you end up building unnecessary delay into that process.

In addition, the way the process is set up right now, the applicant is expected to be the expert on the process, which I just think is totally unfair.

We’re going to replace that with a concurrent process where there will be a project or an application manager assigned to each application. There will be a city staff [person] who will hold your hand as you enter the process and will work with the different permitting agencies.

 

BBJ: And this will happen within 100 days?

Pike: We’re at a point where we’re confident it will work, so we’re going to roll it out on a grand scale before the hundred days is up.

 

BBJ: Do you plan to use this process with every application that comes through?

Pike: Yes.

 

BBJ: Do you plan to hire any new planning staff for this process?

Pike: There may be some hires needed because we’ve already identified them. I know that we don’t need any new budget for it.

 

BBJ: What else are you planning in the near future that would affect the business community?

Pike: One of the things I’m working on is having some more focused outreach from the city and trying to look for opportunities for attracting certain business types to the community or helping folks that are here grow.

There’s a range of types of business [to attract]. We want to make sure that the businesses that are here that are growing, like Aluminum Chambered Boats or All American Marine, get what they need to stay here.

I want to focus on businesses that fit in with our community in a number of ways. I think we should target businesses that pay reasonable benefits and wages because by doing so we help our tax base and we help our citizens.

I’d also like to see what we can do to help keep our fishing fleet healthy and see if we can expand moorage.

 

Pike’s 100-day plan

In his swearing-in speech, Pike promised to focus on the following tasks during his first 100 days in office:

 

Protect Lake Whatcom Reservoir

  • Complete and recommend to the City Council an interlocal agreement between the city of Bellingham and Whatcom County for joint management of the watershed.
  • Establish a quality retention initiative to encourage on-site stormwater management for households within city limits.
  • Initiate review of city of Bellingham’s water treatment system to ensure continued excellence in water treatment service.

 

Promote green Bellingham

  • Maintain and enhance Bellingham’s role as a national leader in environmental protection by reducing the environmental impact of municipal operations.
  • Inventory resolutions and commitments to green practices.
  • Develop inter- and intra-departmental implementation strategies.
  • Research new technologies and practices utilized by other cities for their potential benefits to Bellingham.
  • Enhance residential and commercial green practices.

 

Create a healthy waterfront

  • Identify a list of “early adoption projects” in partnership with the Port of Bellingham.
  • Initiate an economic benefit analysis of redevelopment alternatives in collaboration with agencies and institutions of higher education.

 

Support neighborhoods

  • Review all neighborhood plans.
  • Establish Neighborhood Code and Character Task Force to develop recommendations for resolving inconsistencies between zoning code and neighborhood character.
  • Schedule a second Planning Academy series of workshops to strengthen the collaborative relationship between the city and neighborhoods.

 

Streamline permitting process

  • Complete change from sequential processes through multiple departments to concurrent processes.
  • Assign each permit application an ombudsman who will track and support the permitting process through resolution.
  • Establish a more predictable timeframe for permit processing.

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