Friday, July 10, 2009

Council Work Session on the Infill ToolKit - Keep Informed

For those of you who are closely following the Infill Tool Kit, this is a reminder of the City Council work session on the subject scheduled on Monday, July13th from 1:10 to 2:40 in the council chambers at city hall. (Read the agenda item by clicking here) If you were not present for the hearing on the 29th of June, click here to review the slide presentation made by the staff to the council. Click here to read the information on the ToolKit provided to the City Council prior to the hearing on the 29th. This document contains information from the Planning Commission hearings and copies of written comments provided to the city by private citizens.

You can also read my blog entries on the ToolKit by clicking here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

It is not likely that the council will vote on the ToolKit after the work session. We will probably see another hearing on the subject in the near future but, in the meantime, this is an opportunity to keep current on the thought processes of the council members as they review the ToolKit with staff.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Dick for keeping the community-at-large abreast of the meeting scheduled for tommorow. I see that Councilman Terry Bornemann will be chairing the work session on the tool kit; this is apropos in respect of Terry being a member of the Sehome Hill Neighborhood, where I reside. Likely he is aware of the issues on Mason Street concerning the enforcement of the rule-of-three as well as the problems associated with densification of our neighborhood: evidenced by cram parked vehicles, dogs off-leash like never before, and the new congestion of noise -- all of these things which attenuate the quality of life in single-family homes. As a home owner, I did not sign on for densification in single family neighborhoods, whether it be legal or illegal (this is NOT a case of NIMBY, by the way).

We do have real problems on Mason Street, as I'm sure is the case for others, where densification caused by accretion of rental units (some managed by absent landlords, some which are in situ) has already degraded the quality of single-family life and single-family home ownership to the point where one wonders if there is public accountability. Does anything go? Maybe I’m too naive.

Multi-family and mixed-use zoning is, of course, useful and relevant to the infill tool kit and makes sense for densification, implicitly so. Yet, the preponderance of noise on Sehome Hill is perhaps the clearest indication that "single family" existence here is fast becoming a euphemism for Ant Hill in the Brave New World. It also seems that the sheer frequency and decibel level of street fire works in the neighborhood (those aren’t just M-80’s popping off; never mind the oppressive blare welling up from Interstate 5 – that’s a chapter for another story of progress) certainly disturbs the peace, including the disturbed birds on Sehome Hill and our stressed-out pets -- not to mention the residents and the attendant possibility of injury and property destruction. Locally, I notice too that a certain detached structure on Mason Street is now being upgraded (on the building permit it is called a "pottery shed,” as was the case years ago when the structure was originally constructed under different ownership) and likely will have a larger footprint. I don't have a problem per se with a larger footprint, if that is indeed all for which the structure-in-question will be used: throwing pots. Maybe the pottery shed will be just that. Unfortunately, there is a history of illegal renting at this same property address, linked to a previous home owner(s?) and I did not believe then that the former owner was acting in the best interest of the neighborhood. Deja vu?

The City does not appear to be addressing enforcement of illegal boarding houses, or at the very least has not taken sufficiently bold steps towards a more robust landlord policy. This is something problematic because infill planning, as it is currently defined, elides the force of evidence. As you have sarcastically remarked, Dick, “Let the good times role.” To which I would add, “Sell your shack and head down Tobacco Road.”

In light of all the above, then, it will be interesting to see if the Council’s committee members: (1) consider more input from those single family residents of Our Fair City who certainly know the ground truth of poorly managed infill planning, design and enforcement, (2) consider the impact of infill within non-urban space, (3) in general, bone up on urban planning (what are those other municipalities doing and what can we learn from them?) We live in the era of New Urbanism; its movement is largely a reaction to the unpleasant reality of urban sprawl. Various solutions have been tried – some flop and some fly. Therefore, it is in my opinion quite appropriate timing for a frank public discussion regarding this municipality’s proposal of an urban infill tool kit, especially within the chronic context of Bellingham's under-the-radar sinful infill.

Jerome Novalis Wolfe

Zonemaven said...


You may be interested that the city staff is making the following suggested revision to the applicability portion of the Infill Tool Kit:

"20.28.020 Applicability.

A. The housing types in this Chapter are not permitted in Residential Single zones, Neighborhood Commercial zones or property regulated by BMC 16.80 Lake Whatcom Reservoir regulatory chapter, except in those Areas with a “mixed” Qualifier that allows multi-family residential. The housing types in this Chapter are permitted in all other zones that allow residential, including specifically designated areas of Urban Villages. In the Residential Multi-Duplex zone, only Small House, Smaller House, Cottage, Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit, Carriage House and Duplex are permitted.

Original version:

A. The housing types in this chapter are permitted in all zones that allow residential uses except: Residential Single, Neighborhood Commercial, and property regulated by BMC 16.80 Lake Whatcom Reservoir regulatory chapter. In Residential Multi-Duplex zones, only Small House, Smaller House, Cottage, Detached Accessory Dwelling Unit, Carriage House and Duplex/Triplex of no more than two units are permitted. Each housing type or types in this chapter shall be permitted in any Residential Single zone only as a legislative rezone, with all of the notice requirements, hearings and safeguards afforded by a Type VI legislative process. The housing type or types permitted as a rezone in each residential single zone shall be added as a "Special Regulation" to the Zoning Table in Title 20. Addition of any of the housing types in this chapter to any Residential Single Area shall not be permitted in only a part of any Area, unless such amendment is considered during the annual review of Comprehensive Plan amendments. Additionally, required pre-application neighborhood meetings shall occur prior to docketing for Comprehensive Plan Amendments."

I have contacted each of our city council members separately to urge their support of the change which will keep the ToolKit items from being placed in the single family neighborhoods.

Your other comments are well taken.