Sunday, January 27, 2008

At-Large Council Member Speaks - Horse Missing -Barn Door Found Open

At-Large Council Member, Louise Bjornson penned an article on growth (that proverbial horse) which appeared today in the Bellingham Herald. You can read the article by clicking here. I cannot say that I disagree with the major premises of her article. That being said, there is a bit of a hollow ring to these phrases:

- ...growth…that does not impair the quality of life we all value.

- ...there is no need to sacrifice Bellingham’s neighborhoods in the process.

- Our neighborhoods are essential to our quality of life, provide stability and predictability…

My sentiments, too. Sadly, we all know that the neighborhoods have already been impaired by the decades of neglect (that doggone barn door!) in enforcing the municipal code regarding single family zoning and have already been sacrificed on the altar of landlord supremacy. If the council and the city are to stand by the three statements made above, there is quite a bit of work to be done to reverse the neglect and to restore neighborhood character. To return to the status quo ante, vigorous enforcement of the codes is necessary. This will entail the hiring of additional enforcement personnel to assist the sole code enforcement officer. Bellingham has erroneously deemed that adequate for a city of 70,000-plus residents. Our current enforcement officer is stretched too thin. She simply cannot do it all.

So, as Louise states, “...the city of Bellingham must change a number of its building codes to encourage better urban design”, the city might want to remember the existing codes or it might not get much support from homeowners who are suffering the insidious, unplanned and uncontrolled infill of illegal rooming houses. This mess should be rectified before the city moves to devising new codes. Moreover, since selective or deficient enforcement has been the hallmark of the last few decades, who is to say any new codes will not discover similar lacunae when the city faces implementation.

While we are looking at the city of Tacoma for inspiration, I invite the council and the mayor to look at the information for that city's Rental Property Standards Meeting held in 2007. (click here to see the .pdf document) Aside from expanding on attacking such problems as litter, the document speaks to issues of rental property licensing and inspections. Although this is no substitute for concomitant and aggressive enforcement of single family zoning codes, it demonstrates the need for additional efforts to clean up our neighborhoods. We are now talking about life safety requirements. If you want to see a comprehensive program on landlord licensing, you need not go farther than that offered by the city of Minneapolis since 1991. (click here to review their requirements)

Louise goes on to say, “Thus, there is no need to try to force inappropriate development into existing single-family neighborhoods by subdividing lots or forcing accessory dwelling units in them. Such shortsighted action would effectively end single-family neighborhoods in Bellingham by making them multi-family areas" You don't even have to force inappropriate development. You just have to let the situation deteriorate slowly. Again, the city will have to go along way to convince many homeowners that their neighborhoods have not already been converted to multi-family areas by omission (non-feasance?). And while we are at it, let the council invite Western Washington University to face the public and to describe the manner in which that institution will participate in the restoration of our neighborhoods before they are granted forgiveness and proceed to erect yet more buildings, this time on the waterfront, with no consideration of housing the additional students who will be attracted thereto.

We will be making no "smart choices" if we continue to build upon neglect and the urban blight that such disregard has produced.


Anonymous said...

I am so glad that the rooming house issue is getting some attention at last. I agree completely that Western needs to step up to the plate and start housing students on campus. How dare that institution abuse the community that funds it. Withdrawing money from Western may be the only way to bring them into line.

Anonymous said...

Do you have any suggestions what we might do to support Louise Bjornson in her efforts to get our city government to pay attention to how important lt is to preserve our single-family neighborhoods?