Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunnyland's Web Discussion on the Infill Tool Kit

There is an interesting discussion about the Infill Tool Kit taking place on the Sunnyland Neighborhood’s Google site. (Click here to read the email exchange.)

Here is a sampler:

“Regarding proposed the city proposed infill toolkit: Why not have some areas with lower density? Shouldn't we wait until existing multi-family zoned areas are near capacity before encroaching into single family neighborhoods? We should be talking more about adding trees, shrubs, and green areas to our beautiful city, and less about cramming shabby tract style housing into our unique single family neighborhoods. The city can't even regulate the many existing illegal rooming houses. Imagine the new triplex looming over your back yard, which is then later divided up internally to house double the original permitted residents, complete with all their cars zooming up and down your alley. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this picture if you enjoy it and consciously buy into such a neighborhood, but to have it shoved down your throat after supposedly buying into a single family zoned area is another thing entirely. Imagine what might happen if the city were to propose such infill into the Edgemoor neighborhood!”

One theme is that of trust of the city government with respect to its desire and capability to enforce any parts of the Took Kit, especially those which can have an effect on the single family neighborhoods such as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and carriage houses. I have published two recent blog entries (click here and here to read them) on the Tool Kit and a recent (albeit anecdotal) ADU problem. A resident writes:

“As I see it...the city currently doesn't even (I could be wrong) have a code enforcement employee to make sure that compliance is being enforced and if you put all the regulations that are on such dwellings in the in-fill kit -specifically owner occupied units...who's going to enforce it, how's it going to be enforced, and what will be the consequences for non-compliance? Too many unanswered questions in my opinion to be comfortable with the tool kit as written. As it is, I have enough poorly maintained rentals surrounding me and I just can't do with anymore. I have a lot of neighbors in my vicinity that will agree with me on this subject but really even if you call the litter control officer it has taken up to eight weeks for the properties to get rid of the garbage piles […] So, as you can understand, I have no faith in the current system the city has for compliance...and this has nothing to do with the officer who is doing his job he is good at it but his hands are tied until the owners of the property do something.”

[Zonemaven Comment: For the record, the city has a Neighborhood Enforcement Officer, formerly the Litter Control Officer, who was “beknighted” last year by the City Council with additional duties relating to the enforcement of the code on illegal rooming houses.]

The Planning Commission is meeting again this Thursday, 30 April at 7pm to complete the hearing on the Infill Tool Kit. (Click here to read the relevant materials from the 16 April hearing which is still open through Thursday’s meeting). You can still provide oral testimony or you can send written comments to the Planning Commission. Check their contact information by clicking here.


Michael said...

Requiring the City to oversee "owner" occupancy puts too high a burden on bureaucratic expectation...bottom line, it won't happen. Better to come up with a broad "look and feel" that a neighborhood can aim for, provide flexibility for investors (single family owners are investors too, don't forget) to meet the intent of the "look and feel", then let the market create it. The more we tinker the less the future will get what 'it' needs, reinvestment will suffer and infill will continue to be a struggle. Etc, etc. Michael McAuley

zonemaven said...


Thanks for taking the time to comment.

I must say that I do not agree that "it won't happen". It will not happen only if we fail to insist that the city does its job. An archer aims high, not at his feet.

For the time being, there is no reason to place any of the Tool Kit options in single family neighborhoods since the much vaunted growth projections are no longer valid. There has been a 50% decline in the number of people moving to the state of Washington in 2007 and 2008.

As for letting the "market" create anything, we saw where that got us. People will follow the dollar, neighborhood character be damned.

Larry said...

Michael's comment that "single family owners are investors too" is intriguing.

While it's true that one's home is a major investment, to think of it in terms of its future development potential, especially in a single family neighborhood is a stretch.

People who purchase homes in existing SF neighborhoods do not presume that their neighbors are planning to further develop their lots. To assert so is a mistake, in my opinion.

mrostron said...

There may come a day in the future when we have to consider infill in the single family areas, especially if we don't stop reproducing like lemmings as a species! But at least for now, there are plenty of areas in Bellingham begging for more infill, and the development of the Georgia Pacific site will make room for yet more. There are also single family neighborhoods (Birchwood and Edgemoor come to mind) with much greater average lot size than Sunnyland, Columbia, York, or Cornwall Park.
Thanks for linking to our Sunnyland forum discussion of this matter.
Mike Rostron, Sunnyland Neighborhood rep.

Meg said...

Sincere thanks for blogs which inform re: local stuff.
Here is another perspective:
Been shocked by tenant/renter lack of knowledge in B'ham... they are a large group that is surprisingly unenlightened as to their rights! Complete lack of tenants' union reinforces situation and landlord capitalize causing neighbor headaches. This landlord actually thinks that informed tenants are better tenants and contribute to better landlords, better rental conditions and improved communities. Illegal units with lousy or non-existent rental agreements are not appealing to the informed or empowered tenant. The empowered tenant is knowledgeable with regard to landlord and tenant law. Neighbors are spared headache as landlord duties and liabilities (considerable) are widely understood by all parties.

The litter cop is helpful with garbage which keeps him a very busy guy with job security. His title of housing enforcer is unquestionably a separate hat which will have limited efficacy - perhaps that is the goal. I'm wondering if what you seek is a raising of the bar, which could also occur by improving tenant resources, B;ham could raise consumer (tenant) standards and benefit all parties. Housing codes and landlord-tenant laws are already in effect, aren't they? More ordinances are after all, just more ordinances. And yes, I guess we could get some new ordinance but be careful when directing anger + change into ordinance and provide much more than a litter cop.
Related question, being new-ish to B'ham, how did this state of affairs get to this place? So many bright renters (after all it is smart to rent now, no?) with almost no comprehension of their legal rights. Feckless situation. Neighbor headache though enormous is but only a symptom, the potential for cavalier exploit is apparent and without consequence.
This is what hurts community.

Zonemaven said...


Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

I certainly agree that our tenants should be better informed about landlord/tenant issues and, moreover, on the rights of tenants. Equally uninformed are most property owners who endure the most outrageous of activities on and uses of other properties in their neighborhoods, many of which are violations of the municipal code. One of the largest groups of tenants, the students of WWU, can avail themselves of a website which provides much good information about renting and being a good neighbor. But there are thousands of other renters in Bellingham who have no such resource.

You state, “Housing codes and landlord-tenant laws are already in effect, aren't they?” The short answer is yes but many are often ignored and enforcement is weak, at best. We have no ordinances that require landlord licensing which is essential to ensure the health and welfare of all renters.

The landlord/tenant problem in Bellingham is decades old. The landlord licensing issue was brought before the council in 2004 but the bill withered and died on the legislative vine. Landlords are organized and have money. The local citizenry remains uninformed, isolated and without monetary resources to fight for their rights. A fine recipe for the maintenance of the status quo.

Anonymous said...

Another perspective:
"we have no ordinance on landlord licensing which is essential" to what? O, to health and safety of whatever. Please note zonemaven, given the current state, it can be implied that WWU and City of B'ham have no vested or serious interest in changing the exploit of renters..this is actually the issue. Current laws exist and are not enforced, so let's make some more ineffective rules (which will not be attained but might get this neighborhood blogger to quiet down a little). And the proposed cure is landlord licensing...another ineffective, passive aggressive hoopjump... and renters will foot the entire bill.
This is naive and perhaps just another devisive, measure which will be simply unenforceable. Lousy landlords defy ordinance daily and could care less. Imagine that. If tenants don't know laws, housing code violations go unreported and rent still gets paid. Some local management companies are actually rewarded for a lack of ethic and landlord licensing is a shrug/very trivial detail.
This tenant demographic is not a genuine cause for concern in your proposal and that is its flaw. Maybe this ordinance is the solution to your neighbor but doesn't make for clever or effective policy on a wide scale.
I am sorry, I think this proposal is thoroughly missing the mark - although it does express frustration. It really does nothing for the tenant except create another expense. Neighborhoods are comprised of people who will thrive via mutual benefit and sometimes these neighbors gotta take care of each other.
When it is your night's sleep being regularly interrupted by rude neighbors, any ordinance is conceivable...a guillotine or an ineffective new rule are two extremes which come to mind.
I will sign off now and let you continue with this effort that needs serious questioning.

sally said...

Please be patient, more thought...
I realize that you too are new-ish to B'ham and may I humbly submit, reacting to rudeness with a new rule when existing law and code await you.
Interesting when discussing neighbor relations how often analytical zoning and wonk stuff prevail: we are really talking about humans, economic behavior and motivation.
In B'ham we are disussing owner and tenant - a historically two-tiered economy; only thing is, (for the past several years) it's been wise to rent so I've wondered why this increasingly clever group is so feckless and unaware re: their rights of tenancy.
Furthermore, why don't home-owning citizens know the legal responsibilities of ownership?
This is beyond ignorance and suggests a lack of personal responsibility on all levels. Whew!

In brief, the guy that doesn't know or exercise their existing rights likely needs a resource prior to the enactment of more oblivious regulation.

Favorably, Twilight is a gorgeous title and may taste good.

In earnest, Best Wishes to You as the battle for improvement of current situation is worthwhile. It is the new and improved twilight stuff that is lost on this eyes-open gal. Job creation and long-term security for twilight enforcement staff has it's value, leave it at that. I've worked with similar enforcement in Seattle and thought that we would all be dead prior to resolution - these problems keep staff responding to same addresses for much of their lengthy careers: serious job security but honestly, not much community result.



sally said...

waning credibility when blogs are censured to 'fit' agenda.

Zonemaven said...

Dear Meg and/or Anonymous,

I invite you to read my blog entry of 4 June 2008 at (copy and paste this into your browser). It is a summary of my thoughts regarding the necessity of landlord licensing.