Saturday, September 22, 2007

Candidate Bill Geyer (Ward 5) Responds

Bill Geyer has responded to my blog comments. He also took the time this morning to call into the Mike Kent Show on KGMI to support those of us who are seeking enforcement of the municipal code. I have reproduced his comments in their entirety. Thank you Bill.


Thank you for your email regarding enforcement of the the "family" definition within Bellingham's single-family zones. I agree with your opinion that a violation of this code places a burden on the surrounding households that comply with our zoning laws. My opinion is that not only should this code provision be enforced, but also that it "shall be the duty of the Director to enforce the provisions of this ordinance" (please see Bellingham Municipal Code 20.50.010A). The current Bellingham code uses "shall", which leaves no room for non-enforcement. Although an enforcement action may touch off a public debate on the merits of this policy, perhaps it is time to have this debate so that enforcement occurs. For the reasons below, the current ordinance language should remain and enforcement should take place. Meanwhile, other steps should be taken to encourage additional student dormitories on campus and in nearby areas already zoned for multi-family uses.

How did this happen?
Conversions of single-family homes into rooming houses has occurred because owners can collect more gross rent from many tenants than can be collected from one tenant. Overcrowding results and unsafe conditions to the tenants, and surrounding home owners results. Preventing overcrowding was one primary reason zoning was confirmed by the US Supreme Court in 1926 (Euclid v. Ambler 272 U.S. 365).

Where did this come from?
Zoning definitions of "family" have evolved over the years with a primary focus on relations by blood or marriage with no occupancy limitations. However, limitations on the number of people not related by blood or marriage are typical. As different living arrangements have accelerated over the past 20 years, cities are struggling to keep a balance on their basic responsibility for safe neighborhoods without overcrowded conditions. Unfortunately the lines get blurred when market forces for student housing come into play. Our local market is healthy due to growth in the number of students and some property owners are exploiting this situation.

What should we do?
First, we need to uphold the current Bellingham law.

BMC 20.08.020 Definitions

D.11. Dwelling Unit: A single unit providing complete, independent living facilities for 1 family including permanent provisions for living, sleeping, eating, cooking, and sanitation.

F. 1. Family: One or more persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption, or not more than 3 unrelated persons, living together within a single dwelling unit. For purposes of this definition children with familial status within the meaning of Title 42 United States Code, Section 3602(k) and individuals with disabilities within the meaning of Title 42 United States Code, Section 3602(h) will not be counted as unrelated persons. "Adult family homes," as defined by RCW 70.128.175, are included within the definition of "family." Facilities housing individuals who are incarcerated as the result of a conviction or other court order shall not be included within this definition.

BMC 20.30.030 Residential Single Development Permitted Uses
A. Uses Permitted Outright. No building or land shall be used within an area designated residential single, except as follows:
1. Single Family Dwelling Unit with less than 5,500 square feet of total floor area. (See Conditional Uses. Also see Section 20.30.050 H, for limitations on number of rooms in attached dwelling units.)

BMC 20.50.010 - Enforcement Officer

A. It shall be the duty of the Director (or authorized employee) to enforce the provisions of this ordinance, or any conditions properly imposed by the Hearing Examiner or Council related to the use of land, and see that any violations are remedied through proper legal channels.

As shown above, enforcement is required. It should be pursued at this time.

Second, the root cause is the lack of student housing on the WWU campus and the surrounding areas. The City should engage in constructive discussion with WWU to identify strategies to house the increasing number of students. WWU is a great institution of national and international prestige that will continue to attract the best and brightest students. I trust this will continue as WWU is a great cultural and economic benefit to the entire community. We should work towards meeting WWU's growth either on the WWU campus or in close proximity on WWU property or in adjacent multi-family zoned locations. Some opportunities for mixed-use urban villages along Samish come to mind.

Please contact me if you would like to discuss in greater detail.

Thank you,

Bill Geyer, Candidate for
Bellingham City Council 5th Ward

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