Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Epihany at Planning?

Has there been an epiphany at the Planning Department or are we observing a manifestation of dysfunction?

On Friday, 19 September, the Planning Director sent the email quoted below to Linda Stewart, who handles neighborhood services for Mayor Pike. (This email was reported in Dean Kahn’s blog entry entitled “Will Neighborhoods Bite the Bullet?”. Click here to read his blog entry.) It appears that the city is doing a bit of back-peddling on its much vaunted “tool kit”, which, Mr. Stewart now proposes, should not apply to single family districts (whatever that means since illegal rooming houses still proliferate - and where does one put an ADU or a carriage house, if not on a single family home lot?).

He also states that the underlying density [will, should?] not change with the toolkit. It would be useful to know the meaning of "underlying density" since there are many areas whose density has already been subverted by illegal rooming houses. Somewhat encouraging is his statement that a Type VI process would be needed for changes in “single family areas” (click here to read about the Type VI process) but processes can go awry or be undermined . Follow the dollar signs for clues. Do not underestimate the economic pressure to create neighborhood blivets.

Mr. Stewart goes on, “The Sunnyland project has received a great deal of attention from the City, the neighbors and the property owners.” You betcha! A translation of his statement is that the city and Sunset Commons LLC just got "whupped upside" their collective head by a 2X4 wielded by a neighborhood not inclined to just roll over, Planning Academy or not. This is the result of presenting a neighborhood development project with eyes wide shut. For more on Sunnyland you can read my blog posts by clicking here, here, here and here.

NOTE: The following is the referenced excerpt from Mr. Stewart’s email.

“The Toolkit project is still underway, but major work is needed crafting the final ordinance and integrating the new housing forms with engineering standards for streets and utilities.

It is likely that final adoption of the Toolkit will not occur until 2009.

Because the community has not yet had a chance to review the actual ordinance, I proposed a 60 day advance release of the Final Draft Staff Recommendation before Planning Commission Hearing.

The Final Draft Ordinance will be released only after we have agreement on content and form from Planning, Public Works, Fire and Law.

I also clarified the “applicability” issue (or where will these new housing types will be permitted). I will recommend to the community, Planning Commission and Council that:

The Toolkit housing types be applicable:

1) in “Planned Commercial” and mixed use districts,

2) in Multifamily Residential Districts and

3) as a “vocabulary” for contract rezones or other legislative actions subject to a Type VI process.

I will also recommend that the Toolkit NOT apply:

1) In any single family district, and that

2) The underlying density of the zone not change with the toolkit.

(Please note that changes to single family or density might occur in the future but it would not be part of this legislative package for the toolkit.

Each change would require a separate Type VI. This additional process in single family areas is where I hope we can work with neighbors to find appropriate places for additional density and infill).

The Sunnyland project has received a great deal of attention from the City, the neighbors and the property owners.

Yesterday we received a letter from the owners, Sunset Commons, LLC requesting the proposal be tabled until 2009 “… to have more time to work with the neighborhood and City staff on a site plan that is mutually beneficial, and that sets a high standard of how infill can be accomplished in Bellingham. The current time frame is not sufficient to attend to the details that this site and the neighborhood deserve.”

I agree completely with this request. The project will be held over into the 2009 Annual Review.”

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