City should work towards resolving issues with county
It’s understandable that the City Council would be concerned about getting sued by property owners over expansion plans of the urban growth areas. Lawsuits are expensive.
But as the County Council is set to move forward with its mandate to define Bellingham’s boundaries, it is disappointing that they cannot count on the city’s help in the matter, as the City Council has decided to opt out of negotiations about expanding its urban growth areas.
Last year, the city council approved its comprehensive plan, which called for adding 2,128 acres to the fringe areas surrounding Bellingham. Included in these plans were a few controversial projects such as Larrabee Springs, which is owned by Caitac USA and is located north of Cordata. After the city sent on the recommendations, the County Council decided they only wanted to allow the city to grow by a tenth of that number, or a total of 250 acres.
A lot of money is tied up in plans by developers in those areas, and legal representatives from the city are fairly certain that no matter what happens, lawsuits and appeals are bound to follow.
One of the troubling questions that arises from the city’s refusal to talk this over with the county, however, is whether the city made its initial recommendations of 2,128 acres out of fear that it would get sued. One can imagine that they decided to include every proposal made by developers with the thought that they could then make the county the bad guys by forcing them to shoot down the idea.
The county is asking for explanations and support from the city, and it puts doubt in the integrity of the city’s stance if they are unwilling to negotiate and support the county in this very difficult decision.
We elect our leaders to lead. Although it is in all of Bellingham’s best interests that the council is prudent and avoids expensive lawsuits, it is also the duty of our elected represenatives to make the tough decisions for the betterment of the entire community.
Working with the county to provide insight into how city staff came to its recommendations is the path to better planning. Refusing to talk out of fear of getting sued is simply poor leadership, and it makes one wonder if the city was in the wrong in the first place.
This issue is too important to our community for our council to simply run out of the kitchen when it gets too hot. That’s what we’re paying them for — we’re paying them to cook.
— Vanessa Blackburn
Waterfront building height debate a bellwether of what’s to come
Sometime this month, the city will decide what to do about the brouhaha over the 50-foot-tall building proposed on the waterfront next to the Hotel Bellwether.
The project, called the Bellwether Gate, is a group of four buildings, the highest of which is proposed to be 50 feet tall. As reported in the BBJ last month, that building is slated to house the engineering firm CH2M Hill, which would occupy 45,000 to 50,000 square feet. This new building would allow the company to expand its offices while remaining in Bellingham.
The controversy is concerning the height of the tallest building. The planned contract for the area only allows for a 35-foot height limit, although the zoning allows for buildings up to 65 feet. While it is rare for planned contracts of this nature to change, it is not unheard of.
The Bellingham Planning Commission is split on the issue of whether or not to allow for the 50-foot building. The six members that voted in a 3-3 vote on Nov. 29 could not send clear direction to City Planning Director Tim Stewart, who ultimately makes the final decision.
At a neighborhood meeting earlier in the month, residential property owners near the site expressed concern about the building blocking views and how it might be a bad precedent to set to allow tall buildings to be built along the waterfront.
No pun intended here, but this issue is a bellwether of what is to come for the waterfront. As our formerly industrial shoreline becomes more and more developed, our community should expect that large buildings will be proposed.
The community should keep in mind that there already is a precedent, as well. Besides the Hotel Bellwether, which is 54 feet tall, several of the buildings on the former Georgia-Pacific site are huge by comparison. It is difficult to imagine how large they actually are until one is standing on the site right next to them.
If the county ultimately rejects the city’s plans to expand its urban growth areas along its northern border, there will be increasing pressure to infill areas such as the waterfront. Infill often means taller buildings.
This issue of building heights needs to be taken in the context of what is best for the entire community, not just a few citizens who will lose their views. If this building is not approved, CH2M Hill may decide to take its 250 living wage jobs outside of the city. This is a loss that should be taken seriously.
When residential property owners invest in a house and a piece of land, they should know what is planned for their surrounding neighborhood — and their views.
There should be a warning sign on all properties that can see the water: This view may change. Even when the bottom falls out from the national housing market, Bellingham continues to grow because this a place people want to move to. This means higher densities and a bigger city.
When considering issues such as building heights, city planners, neighbors and council members need to keep in mind the big picture — and what is best for the entire community.
by Rik Dalvit