An error by the city planning department on a set of plans submitted by developer Ted Mischaikov for his controversial Fairhaven Harbor project has hurt everyone connected to the process, and safeguards need to be instituted to prevent such errors from occurring in the future.
The error occurred when city planners mistakenly approved plans submitted by Mischaikov that called for the project to have a 110-foot-high tower; previous incarnations had shown the tower’s maximum height as 85 feet. The error was only discovered after the project’s approval, however, and planners rightfully felt that the approval, once given, could not be revoked.
The city planning department has long been the target of ire from those in the local construction and development arenas, some times unfairly, in our opinion. When the grousing about the length of time it was taking projects to make it through the Bellingham permitting process reached a crescendo about four or five years ago, the BBJ researched the issue and wrote an article showing that, in fact, wait times for permits placed the city right in the middle of the pack of similar-sized Washington locales, a far cry from what some developers had claimed.
However, the error by the city on Mischaikov’s plans has proven to be a painful one for all concerned — painful for Mischaikov and his partners because of the expense of having to come up with a whole new design for the project (that turned out to be unneeded anyway); painful to the residents who opposed the plan, and now have to live with the fact that the larger plan has been approved just when it seemed the project might be reduced in size by Mischaikov; and painful for the city, because of the very public black eye given to the department.
At this point, further finger-pointing is irrelevant. What is most important is that systems are put in place in the design-review process to make sure incidents like these are all but eliminated; yes, humans are at work here, so perfection is not realistic. We also know how hard everyone in that department works, and appreciate their efforts to keep Bellingham a safe, beautiful, and functional place to live and work. Unfortunately, errors such as this one and the now-infamous surveying error that allowed the Harris Square development to build five feet into the right of way only provide more fuel for those who are already unhappy with the process.
by Rik Dalvit