Michael Lilliquist

Bellingham City Council At-large

 

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. The business community is not just an “interest group.” It is made up of individuals, and as citizens of Bellingham, every person should have a seat at the table. We all have many roles – neighbor, employee, parent, club member, church member, owner or investor. I believe that all associations should be heard from, even as we recognize that each association has a particular interest in issues that touch closest. At heart, though, I think it is each citizen that should be heard from.

I think there is a false tension between business interests and neighborhood interests. With few exceptions, our common interests lie in a better quality of life. Indeed, for places like Bellingham, quality of life is an economic asset, just as economics are part of our admirable quality of life.

 

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

The complicated agreements negotiated and amended by the City and Port bear only tangential relation to the vision that Bellingham was shown by the Waterfront Futures Group. I think the Port has done an admirable job of securing the assets and properties that will serve its purposes, but the City has been in a more reactive role. I hesitate to call it an effective partnership. The Port has a business plan whereby moorage fees will finance redevelopment. In contrast, there is a $76 million projected shortfall in funding for City infrastructure costs, at the same time that the City has agreed to forgo the usual impact fees. How will this be managed? This serious question demands an answer.

The Waterfront Master Plan is still some months in the future. The plan will only be developed after the Dept. of Ecology publishes the final EIS towards the end of this year. I believe that this next step, the master planning stage, will be the true test of our vision for the New Whatcom site. This is where the City’s leadership will really need to step up, both by providing leadership and by including public input.

 

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?

Yes. As a matter of law, Bellingham must work with the County to plan for growth and to set the boundaries of our Urban Growth Areas and five-year review areas. Beyond that, I think it is critical for both planning departments to work together cooperatively, with the ‘good of the region’ as their ultimate planning goal. Failure to do so will have unfortunate consequences.

For example, problems can arise when the City annexes land that was originally governed by rules established by the County, for different purposes and with a different vision. In the Cordata neighborhood, the original county-negotiated provision for open spaces has utterly failed to meet the City’s mandates for adequate park land. Cordata was to have 100 acres of open space – and would actually require 117 acres under City guidelines – but has been able to secure just 20 acres usable as a park. In the Aldrich area, a 344-unit residential development was vested by the County years ago, and has secure rights to City utility service, leaving the City little choice but to annex this area despite the City’s policy to avoid sprawl. In each of these two cases, a closer working relationship would have helped.

 

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, two stories is far too restrictive. A two-story limit would have several negative consequences. It would prevent successful mixed-use development that could support the urban village goal for Fairhaven, it would limit density in an area of the City that is well suited to mid-level densities, and it would ignore the historical and architectural character of Fairhaven.

This issue if very familiar to me. As a member of the Fairhaven Neighbors association, I helped to promote the idea of a flexible height limit for areas adjacent to the current commercial core that would allow buildings up to 54 feet, or about five stories. Four- and five-story buildings are a far better fit for Fairhaven’s character, and would enhance the commercial success of this unique part of the city. A five-story limit would also promote the Comprehensive Plan goals of appropriate in-fill and mixed-use development in urban centers. Indeed, recent years has witnessed numerous successful and attractive projects in Fairhaven within the 3- to 5-story range. A two-story limit would be unwise in the extreme, just has been the permitting of a 10-story tower next to historic Fairhaven is unwise in the opposite extreme.

 

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

The Shoreline Master Program is the product of a good example of an open and responsive planning process, and this reflects improved direction within the City’s planning department. The results show in the generally high quality of the SMP’s regulations, although I prefer some of the Planning Commission’s recommendations since they provide better interim protection.

Preservation of our valuable natural assets is both socially and financially responsible. To do otherwise invites disaster by putting short-term gain ahead of our long-term best interests. I believe our natural environment is literally priceless, and we should treat it that way by being responsible stewards. The state’s visionary Shoreline Management Act of 1971 identified the “shorelines of the state as among the state’s most valuable and fragile of its natural resources…” The SMP is a step in the right direction to protect these valuable resources.

 

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?

The demographics of Whatcom County are complex, and it is difficult to identify all of the causes. I am open to learning more about this trend. We do know that the average age of agricultural workers is increasing, as fewer young people enter the field, and this may be a contributing factor. This statistic seems to suggest a lack of sufficiently well paying jobs to retain that age demographic in our area, particularly in the County. I would like to hear ideas from the business community about what they think can be done to change this trend, and how the City can be helpful in this matter.

 

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 the Comprehensive Plan policy to accommodate growth in existing neighborhoods “in a manner that complements neighborhood character.” This rules out large-scale multi-family projects in single-family areas, for example. At the same time, within reasonable limits, allowing slightly greater densities and smaller lot sizes will allow for effective in-fill, and will help to address the pressing issues of housing affordability and traffic congestion. Urban centers are another way in which greater infill can be accommodated, especially through mid-rise mixed-use projects.

At present, impact costs are assessed indiscriminately. Impact fees make little distinction between desirable (in-fill) and undesirable (sprawl) projects. At the same time, impact fees are set artificially low, producing a system in which current residents pay to provide infrastructure for future residents. These two problems might be addressed simultaneously by raising the base rate of impact fees while providing incentives such as substantial discounts and reductions for projects that accomplish in-fill goals. The key is to realize that the true costs of sprawl, in terms of infrastructure and services from the city, are far greater than the true costs of in-fill. A discriminating impact fee program is simply a way to internalize those costs where they belong.

 

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

I think it is irrefutable that the primary cause of the decline in Lake Whatcom’s water quality is run-off from human development, and the primary culprit is naturally occurring phosphorus from the soil. This is old news. Yet, despite placing drinking water quality at the top of its priorities for years, the City has not taken more action. Fixing Lake Whatcom and protecting our drinking water will be difficult and expensive, but the alternative of non-action will be more difficult and more expensive. Water treatment costs will grow by millions of dollars.

The solutions are also increasingly well known. Stormwater vaults have been shown to be ineffective in trapping dissolved phosphorus that makes up the greatest portion. Instead, stormwater must be kept on-site and out of the Lake, because once it is in our drinking reservoir, it cannot be removed by any affordable means. Undeveloped land must be taken out of the development pool, by purchases or conservation easements, or restricted to low-impact development. These measures will protect, but not restore the Lake. To do that, we must begin to replace impervious surfaces in the watershed to return to pre-1992 levels of run-off, as the State may soon require.

 

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?

This is an interesting question, and I can see both sides of the issue. On the one hand the City has the obligation to fairness, while on the other the City has obligations to promote local prosperity. Neither of these clearly trumps the other. I remain open on this question.

 

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

If elected as your at-large representative, I will have a direct role in assuring Bellingham policies are fair and promote the well being of the community. Naturally, as an elected official I will broaden my observations of business patterns and recognize effects of policy-making on the business environment. As mentioned in the first question, I believe that everyone has a seat at the table, and I encourage everyone’s participation and involvement in Bellingham government.

I propose to introduce a more transparent and accountable reporting system, as recommended by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), to provide the entire community with easy to read information about how and where their tax moneys are being spent for city services. I believe annual Business and Citizen Surveys, such as are conducted by the City of Portland, would be particularly useful to help Council, Mayor and department manager level decision makers to understand and address the special needs of businesses and neighborhoods affected by city services.

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