Tuesday, July 14, 2009

City Council Work Session on Infill ToolKit - My View

Note: I received the following from Nicole Oliver of the Planning Office after publication of my blog entry below: "I confirmed that the next meeting on the Toolkit is not a public hearing, but another work session on the ordinance. Folks certainly may comment during the evening during the comment period or submit comments in writing."

As I described in my last blog entry Council Work Session on the Infill TookKit – Keep Informed (Click here to read that entry), the City Council not only had an afternoon work session on the ToolKit but extended the discussion into the regular evening business meeting. There was no public input as the council was only to give direction to staff prior to a further hearing [see above note] on the ToolKit (which, by the way, the council scheduled for July 27th – mark that on your calendar now). Materials from the staff should be available around the 23rd of July on the City Council web pages.

The two major areas of discussion and conflict were the applicability paragraph and the portion of the ToolKit which deals with townhome height limits. With respect to the height limits, I think there are some valid points about keeping the limit to 25 feet in some areas, however, limiting the height may also unnecessarily constrain their placement in areas such as urban villages. The major bone of contention for the afternoon and the evening was that of the wording of the applicability paragraph with respect to inclusion of the ToolKit items in areas zoned single family.

The image at left (Click to see larger version) shows two versions of the applicability paragraph or “the where” over which the neighborhoods were to have full control. (Remember that from the two Planning Academies?) The original version, which was the object of citizen wrath, is at the bottom. A revised version is at the top. Essentially, the revised version strips away the ability to apply the housing forms in single family areas by using a Type VI legislative process. The revision also simplifies the language of the entire original paragraph in which had been inserted such lines as “only as a legislative rezone, with all the notice requirements, hearings, and safeguards afforded by a Type VI legislative process.” and “Additionally, required pre-application neighborhood meetings shall occur prior to docketing for Comprehensive Plan Amendments.” Most saw these earlier “explanatory” lines as attempts to mollify the public who, by dint of not having just fell off the turnip truck, saw through the fluff. The more you attempt to explain away the noxious qualities of a subject, the more that subject is seen as being what it is – noxious.

Also of note is the brevity of the revised version – a cousin to the rule of parsimony* attributed to the Earl of Occam (13th century). In this case, the simplest approach, during the annual review in each neighborhood, will suffice as a means to apply the ToolKit to a single family area. The original version, due to its length and qualifiers, becomes a legalistic and convoluted gloubi-boulga through which one plows at one’s peril. The new version also provides a modicum of predictability in that the uses of the ToolKit items would have to be part of a neighborhood rezone which can only take place once a year and apply to an entire numbered area. Otherwise, a Type VI process can be kicked off at any time and by anyone who can convince the Director of Planning, the Planning Commission or the City Council to do so (Can you guess the path of least resistance?). This is neither predictable nor desirable.

Of the six at the work session and subsequent meeting, Gene Knutson, Terry Bornemann and Louise Bjornson support the revised version which is intended to move the process along and allow the housing types to be placed initially in multi-family areas so that citizens can see and judge for themselves. There is no barrier to lifting or changing the applicability in the future at a time when the housing types have proved themselves. Barbara Ryan, Jack Weiss and Stan Snapp continue to support the old version with the Type VI process and its unpredictability, i.e., zoning by crap shoot. Jack Weiss attempted to suggest that neighborhood associations were beating down his door so that they could apply these housing types to their neighborhoods. He could only cite 3-4 of the 24 Bellingham neighborhoods as being so very pressed. Hardly a groundswell. Barry Buchanan was absent, however, in an email to me, he voiced support of the revised version. The sky is not falling, the sword of Damocles is not about to plunge, and the Eighth Plague (invasion of locusts) in the form of newcomers has been stopped by the economy. Time to chill.

But come to the hearing and testify.

*Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem or "Entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily."

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