Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pike and Stewart at Samish Neighborhood Meeting

Mayor Dan Pike and Planning Director Tim Stewart spoke at the Samish Neighborhood annual meeting last night at the Elk’s Lodge in Bellingham. Unfortunately, the Mayor’s time was abbreviated as he had to leave for yet another meeting. Accordingly, there was not much opportunity for him to speak or for the Samish residents to quiz him on single family zoning. The few comments he did make merely repeated the notions which he put forth in his interview with the Whatcom Indy last week. You can read more about that by clicking here to go to my blog entry on the interview.

After some preliminary remarks came the questions, since Samish neighborhood has a lot of land yet undeveloped and its residents are rightly concerned about infill and tangential topics. One question produced an explanation from Mr. Stewart of the planning term “concurrency”, which is essentially that your infrastructure should keep pace with your development so one does not have too much infrastructure or too little. An example he gave was couched in quality of life terms wherein a child is faced with waiting in line to use the swing at the local park because development got ahead of infrastructure (the park and its amenities). The notion being that the child did not have to wait for a turn on the swing before increased development ruined his playtime and degraded the quality of life at the playground. However, the idea of concurrency still applies in existing neighborhoods in which there is no effective planning for infill because zoning codes are ignored and growth takes shape with silent infiltration in the form of rentals which do not adhere to the code – or to any other rules since they are never inspected. That kind of degradation of quality of life seems to be overlooked.

In response to another question about housing types, Mr. Stewart mentioned structures such as cottages, town houses, carriage houses and accessory dwelling units (ADUs), some of which the city has yet to define. Mr. Stewart opined along the way, that he liked the ideas of ADUs because he could see a time at which, if he owned a home with an ADU, he could move from the house to the ADU and make money by renting the house. Well, if you want to frighten homeowners, that was a good way to do it. I have spoken about this back door approach to creation of illegal rooming houses. Click here and here to read my previous comments.

Finally, came the question from a Samish homeowner who wanted to know the manner in which Mr. Stewart defined a single family home. This person knows about single family zoning and illegal rooming houses as he just received a $22,000 reduction in assessed value of his home citing the proliferation of illegal rooming houses on his street. An obviously uncomfortable Mr. Stewart cited the law but then began digging a hole for himself, some of which had already been dug by the City Council. He spoke to the alleged difficulty in enforcing the law and that we really needed enforcement of parking codes, etc. This is another version of treat-the-symptoms-and -not-the-disease approach to medicine being applied to zoning. As for code enforcement, it is not difficulty that determines whether or not enforcement takes place. For the record (yet again), I do support making the creation of illegal rooming houses a civil matter as opposed to a criminal one but you at least have to have a code to enforce. If you do not have a code, you have no zoning. If you have no zoning, density control is meaningless.

As I mentioned before in this blog, Bowling Green, Ohio seems to implement its code. See my blog entry on that by clicking here. In fact, you can call the planning department of the City of Bowling Green at 419-354-6218, just as I did. A nice chap explained their code enforcement procedures which he described as being labor intensive. I passed Bowling Green’s methodology to our police chief, Todd Ramsay but I knew that I was not telling him anything he did not already know. He is intimately familiar with law enforcement and investigation of violations. Nonetheless, he does not need yet another unfunded mandate to enforce the zoning code. He needs support from the Mayor and the City Council in the way of additional code enforcement personnel not to mention police officers.

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