Sunday, April 27, 2008

New WWU President to Attempt Dance with 800 Pound Gorilla

We will soon see if the new WWU president will be able to lead that 800 pound gorilla-on-the-hill in a community dance. Will he be Fred leading Ginger? Or will he be Gene, dancing alone in the rain? To ensure he is aware of some of the dance routines in Bellingham, I wrote an email to the incoming WWU President, Dr. Bruce Shepard, last week. After a few introductory remarks, I said, “You will have a lot on your plate when you arrive here, not least of which is repairing relationships with the community. Much of the problem stems from the lack of student housing and an uncontrolled rental market here (dominated by students) about which WWU has chosen to do little over the years. Although the city has been lax in its enforcement of zoning codes, the overwhelming numbers and the behavior of WWU students have had a profound effect on the single family neighborhoods to the detriment of the quality of life and the value of homes of our hard working citizens.” I also included the text of a letter that I sent to the presidential search committee several months ago. You can read my blog entry on that letter by clicking here.

Another friend and concerned citizen also wrote to Dr. Shepard and said, in part:

“I realize you will have many "top" priorities on your plate and will get many more in the coming weeks and months to come. I would ask you to save a spot on "the plate" for an "illegal rooming house" issue hotly contested by single family neighborhoods in Bellingham. This problem is not just in the University's immediate area, but growing throughout the city. The character and property values of those affected are being drastically affected! I live 3 miles from the campus and "illegal rooming houses" are invading our area with negative impacts.

Many residents feel the University has only give lip service to this problem. No on-campus housing has been built for many years, though the campus population has risen dramatically over the past 10 - 15 years. Most institutions of higher learning in Washington have been very proactive concerning this problem in their respective communities; except for Western. I hope you will work to change this fact and help resolve the "illegal rooming house" problem here in Bellingham.”

Dr. Shepard acknowledged my message by saying, “Thanks, Richard, for the welcome, congrats, and thoughtful introduction to what is a complicated issue.” And to my friend he wrote, “…thanks for taking time to share the background on the housing issues.”

You can reach Dr. Shepard at his office in Green Bay at I encourage you to write to him about this pressing issue so that it is placed on his dance card immediately.

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