Thursday, August 21, 2008

Charrette Overturns in Sunnyland

The following comment by “Driftwood” was left on my blog entry of yesterday (20 Aug) entitled Design Charrette? Sunnyland Beware. It was just too good to leave buried as a comment so I am reproducing it here. Any further comment by me would be polishing the hole.

"After attending the "Design Charrette" or "Poop Wagon" it seemed to me that the design firm hired by the city might as well been working for the developer directly. The proposal they submitted may not have been the highest density possible, I suppose we could fit a few more people on there if we stacked them like cordwood, but they had 48 units squeezed onto the lot! This does not fit into the existing community, the Sunnyland residents seemed to think that about half that number, anywhere from 24 to 29 units was a reasonable compromise, the developer wanted 49 units...what a coincidence! If the design firm was unbiased and impartial how did they arrive at such an inflated figure and why did they totally ignore the input from the current residents? Are we paying these folks or is the developer?

They presented an impressive bunch of diagrams, illustrations and color pictures that I must admit, were very pretty...there were just too many of them! The folks that did the presentation were personable and friendly but that doesn't mask the fact that they were trying to fit too many houses into too small a space. Who stands to gain from this whole project and who stands to lose...that is obvious. The developers interest lies in placing as many townhomes, duplexes, and cottages as possible onto the property, more money for him and I suppose he can get away from it all with an nice big Mc Mansion in Montana perhaps complete with a big log arch over the driveway to drive his Hummer under. We, the residents of Sunnyland, who purchased our homes in this neighborhood for the character of the area will bear the brunt of the project if it goes forward as currently proposed.

The design firm indicated that each unit would have parking for 1.5 vehicles, great...what about when they have visitors or what if they have more than one vehicle per household, and who has half a car anyway?! Where will the overflow parking go since they want to build with such density? My guess is they will park out into the surrounding neighborhood and you will find yourself parking a block and a half from your house and the effect will cascade down thru the area, so, even if you don't live immediately adjacent to this conglomeration, plan on seeing strange cars parked in front of your home. They didn't address the impact of all the new traffic on the area and the intersection at Sunset and James already experiences backups quite often, a lot of this traffic will be forced into the neighborhood to the south meaning more traffic thru what right now is a wonderful, quiet residential area. Zoom, Zoom.

One nice woman, whom, I'm sure was offering accurate advice, told us that we needed to draw up our own pictures and presentation to offer the city council since "they really liked that!" The developer has the resources to hire professional artists and draftsmen to come up with some really flashy visual aides to wow the council...although he really doesn't have to since the folks hired by the city seem to have achieved that already. Why should we have to convince OUR elected representatives to do the right thing for the neighborhood? Ideally a lot of folks would like to see the same number of homes go up on the site as already exist in it's surroundings in order to preserve the character of the community, the value of their homes, and the quality of life, but, we recognize that for the good of Bellingham and it's environs and to avoid sprawl and maintain our open space we need infill, but it needs to be done correctly balancing the needs of the current residents, newcomers, and the property owner...the proposal as it stands now needs to be revised, 48 units is not a compromise, we know when it's not rain that’s falling on us."



As a follow-up to my story yesterday, and in the interest of fairplay, I'd like to tell you about the next day's Charrette meeting where the design consultants presented a revised plan as a result of citizen inputs and further research. I went to the second meeting fully expecting to see the same displays and smiling faces and a reiteration of the 48 unit much for preconcieved notions, no, they didn't fall on their swords and take the density down to the 24-28 unit density we asked for, but neither did they ignore us entirely and hold out for the upper figure. The plan presented at the second meeting was for 35 units and it replaced the drive thru from Sunset to Illinois with a bike /walking path lined with a linear wetland or watergarden. This concept had 4 or 5 houses facing onto Illinois and made the whole thing a lot more comfortable for the surrounding neighborhood in my opinion. I can't speak for my neighbors, but I thought the comfort level in the room showed much improvement over the previous night's proceedings. I was impressed by the hard work that the design firm had accomplished in such a short time and looking at their proposal think that the revised plan may actually enhance the area. On the first proposal I saw nothing that I though would serve as a draw into the developement that to link us with our new neighbors, but the trail and wetland will allow bike and pedestrian access and limit the traffic that we feared, it also looked like a feature that would draw in folks out for a evening walk and tie the community together. We heard from some folks from the Planning department and a fellow from the Kulshan Land Trust and got a fair explanation of the Urban Village concept that they see for the Sunset district. We heard from the developer and he gave a very erudite expanation for what he would like to accomplish with his property, he spoke of affordable housing and his desire to build quality homes. I may be naive but I though the man was sincere and well spoken, if he does all he said he could do then I wish him all the best and won't begrudge him the pleasure of a Montana lodge and a fine driveway for his Hummer, I don't think there is anything wrong with him making a profit on his investment if he can preserve the quality of life for the surrounding community. On the first evening we saw a few folks who were upset with the process (the idea that the design firm was not taking our desire for less density into account) leave the meeting. Maybe they were making a statement, perhaps they just had somewhere else to go, but my feeling is that we must stay involved in the process and keep an open mind. The design firm made adjustments, the current residents saw a better picture, and while I didn't know if the developer was thinking about any compromise, I saw a human face, he seemed like an intelligent person who might surprise us. Maybe we will still have to deal with a wolf in sheep's clothing but I urge all of our concerned citizens to stay involved, think about things like urban sprawl and what happens when good people fail to pay attention, and attend these meetings to participate with some of the fine folks who want to make a difference. If we do this right, we, the citizens of Sunnyland, can show the rest of the town that we are willing to do our part to bring about a vision for the future and can count on a vibrant, thriving, liveable Bellingham in the future. I would particularly like to thank my fellow neighbors who have been on top of this issue and the Zonemaven himself for making this forum available for citizen comment, these are some of the people who make this country great! Driftwood

Anonymous said...

The city's plan is "INFILL AT ALL COSTS".

If we want infil but not in our neighborhood, then that is really sayig you do not want infill.

This whole infill thing has been shoved down our throat. In reality we wil get infill density AND sprawl to the north.

Since we do not want this density. Let's start changing the tune of the city from INFILL AT ALL COSTS to grow naturally. They should be working for us - so why don't we start dictating what our future should be not the other way around.

Driftwood said...

"Those that fail to plan, plan to fail" I'm not sure what growing naturally entails but if it results in a laissez-fare policy towards growth then yes, we will see the sprawl spread like an oil sheen over Whatcom County. It's got to be more atractive for developers to buy up chunks of land in the country away from potentially hostile homeowners right now, then they only have to face the ire of a couple of adjacent farms who, if they find their living choices under fire, might decide to parcel off their own property and, presto change-o, another housing development pops-up, named after the birds or trees or whatever it has replaced...then they spell it with a final "e" to give it panache! It shouldn't be "Infill at all costs" it needs to be "Infill mitigating the costs"
Look, I'm really not on the side of the developer, it irks me that they get rich building these developments and then move away to avoid their own creations, I wonder if we did a study of the homes where the developers live now, what would we find? I'm sorry if I'm painting them all with a broad brush, I'm sure some of the are really nice people but I think that they are sometimes blind to the effects of their handiwork. If I thought it was realistic I would call for no more growth whatsoever but I don't think we'll get any traction with that. I've traveled thru a lot of countries during my years in the service and seen how different cultures handle their housing and you can see a big difference between areas that buy into the car culture and those that have chosen mass transit. More cars=more roads=less green, I believe that if we design our communities to facilitate walking and biking we will be much better off 20 years down the road, so to speak. We should dictate what our future will be and to do that we need a solid, verifiable, enforcable plan. The NIMBY plan seems to be 'anywhere but here'. If the no-growthers think they have the numbers and infuence to stop this entirely then more power to 'em! If we could legislate the issue to stop the developers and keep the folks who own large tracts of land from selling it off then why aren't we doing that? I think we might find ourselves on the wrong side of the Constitution. If we keep building out all we are doing is delaying the inevitable...but if we design our communities intelligently I believe we can accomodate growth and preserve our region. I really like to hear from folks on all sides of the issue, what do the people who don't want any change see as our options? How do the developers defend their practices? If you have a plan or a vision the please, by all means, share it. There is nothing to be gained by remaining silent but more of the same, in this row boat we ALL need to get our oars in the water! Driftwood