Monday, November 17, 2008

Homeowners To Be Hammered by Infill Tool Kit

As expected, the “infill toolkit” has reared its unattractive head again in the form of an article in the Herald (click here to read the article) by Jared Paben, who seemed to find all sorts of folks to talk to for the article (the mayor, council members, builders) except single family homeowners. The Zonemaven has already cautioned his readers on the pitfalls awaiting the neighborhood residents who might foolishly allow these benign-sounding "tools" where they live. (Click here, here and here to read some previous blog entries on the subject.) So let us look at the comments from these folks who would have you believe that they have only your best interests at heart.

The Mayor: “ ‘I think well-designed infill adds positive value to a neighborhood over time,’ he said. But no matter how good the housing types, if the city were to force them on a neighborhood there would be a huge pushback, he said.” Such a statement deserves some explanation, some backup, some proof but, no, it just lies there, like verbal road-kill, for the public to accept at face value. Speaking of value, just what is that value about which the Mayor is speaking? Perhaps if the Mayor explained that value, the “pushback” might be replaced by welcome banners and a band. When the citizens do push back, they get responses from the Mayor such as I received several weeks ago. Click here to read that blog entry and click here to read my letter to the Mayor which prompted his reply.

Planning Director Stewart: “The mayor's comments came after city planning Director Tim Stewart told the Planning Commission in September he would recommend against automatically allowing toolkit homes in single-family areas.” This is probably the only sensible comment coming from the city government on the “tool kit”, however, such talk disturbs (guess who?) ….. the developers!

Mr. Developer: “Developer Ted Mischaikov … said that the toolkit items, which were drafted after a series of public Planning Academy meetings, are intended to be sensitive to the character and enhance value of single-family areas.” Bellingham Herald reader “fl!pbreskin” caught this one right away with her astute comment on the Herald article: “Two things: 1. The Toolkit may have been ‘drafted after a series of public Planning Academy meetings’ but was not locally generated as implied by that statement. Instead, it appears to have been adopted directly from a Washington Association Of Realtors submission (as stated on the front cover of the Toolkit). 2. State of Washington regulations specifically require (not suggest) the preservation of single family neighborhoods as such.” Thank you, Fl!p. Mr. Mischaikov also stated, “ ‘It's tough for me to see that this toolkit can't be more approachable and applicable in existing neighborhoods,’ he said.” Sure. Right in Edgemoor, land of rentals, where he lives.

Council Member Barbara Ryan: “Some neighborhoods have large lots that could accommodate the so-called "infill toolkit" homes but residents don't want infill, said council member Barbara Ryan, an Edgemoor resident” You betcha! The Mayor would have a hard sell with the “tool kit” in Edgemoor where there is space aplenty… and some great views. But then again, Mr. Mischaikov would welcome such infill, no?

Council Member Stan Snapp: “ ‘If I were a developer or I were a homeowner and wanted to put a carriage house in the back of my house ... I wouldn't want to wait 11 months to even apply for it,’ said council member Stan Snapp, a Silver Beach neighborhood resident.” Some aphorisms come to mind. Haste makes waste. A moment on the lips, forever on the hips. Act in haste, repent at leisure. Once one of those tool kit “items” lands next door to you, it is, for all practical purposes, permanent as will be the problems that stem therefrom.

Council Member Jack Weiss: “Council member Jack Weiss, a Birchwood resident, said a process of allowing them in single-family areas has to balance addressing neighborhood concerns with ensuring the process isn't onerous for landowners.” So here we have a one-time process that should not be onerous but whose result can have virtually permanent effects. Not the balance the Zonemaven would be looking for.

The Zonemaven might be more accepting of the “tool kit” items, if not for the poor record of enforcement of the zoning codes which resulted in the uncontrolled infill we already know about in the form of illegal rooming houses. Once these ADUs, and carriage houses are allowed in an area, the push for their proliferation will overwhelm the city’s ability to control it in spite of our city managers’ protests to the contrary. The dollars (cha-ching!) will drive the infill train and without adequate enforcement, live-in homeowners will eventually bow to those dollars (cha-ching!), move into the ADU or carriage house and rent the “big house” (cha-ching!) to a gaggle in violation of the city code on single family rentals. You can take that to the bank. (cha-ching! cha-ching! cha-ching!)


john erickson said...

Good post today! You may find this of interest. On Viewcrest between chuckanut and 16th there are 5rentals, one with 6 bedrooms! Also rentals at both corners of 16th at chuckanut and viewcrest. That is 7 of 13 homes are rentals at the eastern "edge" of edgemoor. One might be shocked at the numbers throughout the area. thanks, john erickson ENA vp and AoBN rep. This was just for your info, but use as you wish.

zonemaven said...

Dear John,

Thanks for your info. Since about 50% of all single family homes in Bellingham are rentals, your 7 of 13 sounds about average but, as you say, this is on the edge of a high-priced area. Some of these may be rented by single families.

As of 2005 (the last year WWU published their student residence map) there were only 26 separate addresses in the Edgemoor area listed by WWU as places at which a WWU student lived. Whether these were students living at home with their parents, or students renting as a group in a single family residence or in ADU apartments was not indicated. The numbers paled in comparison to the student/unrelated invidual rentals in areas such as Happy Valley, York, Sehome, etc. By and large, Edgemoor has been spared the onslaught of illegal rooming houses.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dick,

The York neighborhood has a property with a detached ADU that was given a conditional use permit several years ago before zone 5 became "single family".This property has had 2 owners. The first owner NEVER occupied either of the dwellings but used them both as rentals (along with all of his other rooming houses). The current owners purchased the property last summer, the son lived in the ADU for a couple months after purchase, moved out and now neither dwelling is owner occupied. The problem with these ADU's is there is no enforcement with the few that exist legally (there are MANY illegal garage ADU's in existence).To expect the city to switch gears and enforce these is "wishing on a star". Before the city starts to approve more ADU's they need to consider how they will manage accountability and compliance.

zonemaven said...

Dear Anonymous,

I would file a complaint with the city. Contact Darren Sandstrom at 778-8623. He is now the Neighborhood Compliance Officer responsible for such complaints. I can send you the new complaint form if you contact me at zonemaven AT hotmail DOT com.