Friday, August 22, 2008

Charrette Somewhat Righted - Sunnyland Remains Vigilant

Driftwood has provided an update to his comments regarding the meeting in Sunnyland on the development of the 4 acre parcel adjacent to St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church. However, caveat emptor.

"As a follow-up to my story yesterday, and in the interest of fairplay, I'd like to tell you about the next day's Charrette meeting where the design consultants presented a revised plan as a result of citizen inputs and further research. I went to the second meeting fully expecting to see the same displays and smiling faces and a reiteration of the 48 unit plan...so much for preconcieved notions, no, they didn't fall on their swords and take the density down to the 24-28 unit density we asked for, but neither did they ignore us entirely and hold out for the upper figure. The plan presented at the second meeting was for 35 units and it replaced the drive thru from Sunset to Illinois with a bike /walking path lined with a linear wetland or watergarden. This concept had 4 or 5 houses facing onto Illinois and made the whole thing a lot more comfortable for the surrounding neighborhood in my opinion. I can't speak for my neighbors, but I thought the comfort level in the room showed much improvement over the previous night's proceedings. I was impressed by the hard work that the design firm had accomplished in such a short time and looking at their proposal think that the revised plan may actually enhance the area. On the first proposal I saw nothing that I though would serve as a draw into the developement that to link us with our new neighbors, but the trail and wetland will allow bike and pedestrian access and limit the traffic that we feared, it also looked like a feature that would draw in folks out for a evening walk and tie the community together. We heard from some folks from the Planning department and a fellow from the Kulshan Land Trust and got a fair explanation of the Urban Village concept that they see for the Sunset district. We heard from the developer and he gave a very erudite expanation for what he would like to accomplish with his property, he spoke of affordable housing and his desire to build quality homes. I may be naive but I though the man was sincere and well spoken, if he does all he said he could do then I wish him all the best and won't begrudge him the pleasure of a Montana lodge and a fine driveway for his Hummer, I don't think there is anything wrong with him making a profit on his investment if he can preserve the quality of life for the surrounding community. On the first evening we saw a few folks who were upset with the process (the idea that the design firm was not taking our desire for less density into account) leave the meeting. Maybe they were making a statement, perhaps they just had somewhere else to go, but my feeling is that we must stay involved in the process and keep an open mind. The design firm made adjustments, the current residents saw a better picture, and while I didn't know if the developer was thinking about any compromise, I saw a human face, he seemed like an intelligent person who might surprise us. Maybe we will still have to deal with a wolf in sheep's clothing but I urge all of our concerned citizens to stay involved, think about things like urban sprawl and what happens when good people fail to pay attention, and attend these meetings to participate with some of the fine folks who want to make a difference. If we do this right, we, the citizens of Sunnyland, can show the rest of the town that we are willing to do our part to bring about a vision for the future and can count on a vibrant, thriving, liveable Bellingham in the future. I would particularly like to thank my fellow neighbors who have been on top of this issue and the Zonemaven himself for making this forum available for citizen comment, these are some of the people who make this country great! Driftwood"

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting point.... How quickly the proposal was amended down. Knowing the world of development I would guess you are falling for a reversal of "bait and switch methods" Methinks this can be titled "switch and bait" It is quite possible that the presenters entered the arena knowing full well that it was higher than reasonable but having pre designed a "compromise" which made them look reasonable and flexible. Good tactics. You should have waited for their last option to arrive at the table. Department stores practice similar tactics regularly. Their trick is M to M
"Markup to markdown" As with all commercial interests there are inherent dishonesties which are always present (e.g. $200 is expressed as $199.99.)

Cynic

Driftwood said...

"Certe, Toto, sentio nos in Kansate non iam adesse" Yes, this could be the classic "switch and bait" The hammers aren't falling yet and we need to remain aware. But I am relieved that we are not seeing a bunch of block apartments like those that line the area around Barkley Village and the proposal I saw looked like a nice addition to this neighborhood, it seemed to be a reasonable compromise between the community and the developer. We can fight these things tooth and nail and we might even prevail but to what effect? I want to see smart growth and infill, I don't want to see cookie cutter developments stretching from Bellingham to Lynden and from the Puget Sound to the Cascade foothills. Last time I checked, we are still a free country and as far as I know people are free to move to anywhere their hearts desire and their pocketbooks will afford. If we persist in NIMBY attitudes sooner or later we will find ourselves looking like everything from Monroe down to Olympia. If we manage our growth wisely we can provide housing for our children and newcomers, preserve the quality of our neighborhoods, and retain the farmlands and greenspaces that make living here such a pleasure. Right now that property is a big slab of asphalt, the proposal I saw transformed to into living space in keeping with the concept of infill and did so in a manner I consider acceptable. We can still insist that they place bigger lots on it with fewer homes (less density) but the folks that don't settle there are going to go somewhere and that would probably be a big bunch of block apartments or a suburban development on some green field out in the county. I see a lot more bicycles out on the roads in town these days and that is a good thing, less cars, less fuel consumpution, maybe less wars to try to obtain every last drop of oil, besides being good for our health it's good for the planet. If we build new villages in town more people will have the opportunity to ride those bikes to work and shop, if we force them out further away we will just see more cars, more roads, more sprawl.
"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"...we can maintain this if we do this thing right. Driftwood

Dave Pros said...

I hate to rain on your parade but do you have any idea how dense an area has to be to support a business(Urban Village?)
As a person who owned a MA and Pa grocery store, profit margins are very small (I used to go to Costco and have to mark up prices to resell on my shelves)and it take a lot of purchases to cover costs not counting a decent income.
So I am unsure how high the density will have to be to insure a retail business wants to go in any Urban Village and then to stay there. B'ham does not have a success story for "UV's" yet.
Also, don't you feel the whole approach to asking the neighborhoods to accept this level of change, dealing with the increased density (housing out of charactor, less parking, more people, noise etc.) is out of balance? You lose quality of life and the developer makes money, it seems out of balance to me and I am very much a capitalist.
Does the city ask the developer to not entice people to this development?
Can he offer incentives to get people to move there?
One builder offered a new car if anyone would buy his house.
People are not standing in line now, so shouldn't we be setting stanards for the future of our area or is any method of getting people to come up here OK?
I know we will grow and accommodations need to be made, but let's ask the city to prohibit incentives for any type of development that is out of the current neighborhood character. B'ham took a way too high of a % of the county's population and now the neighborhoods have to pay.
It is one thing to ask neighborhoods to help, but I think they should also insure that developers do not build more than the market needs thereby driving costs up (affordable?)by spending money advertising to wealthy areas in the US and around the world and offering incentives to get more people up here (than the 31,601 projected) to make sure the units sell.
It seems like we are letting builders throw gas on a fire we are trying to cool down.

DRIFTWOOD said...

Well, I'm used to the rain by now. The Urban Village I think they were referring to was actually Sunset Mall, the fella from the city planning department (I'm sorry I don't pay more attention to names!) said they envisioned apartments or condos and such coexisting with the retail area right around there so I wasn't applying that term to the development in Sunnyland. I confess I wouldn't mind a coffee shop right in the middle of the thing, I could walk down the bike trail, buy a cup of joe and watch the Red Winged Black birds and Dragonflys. Perhaps they could put a trail under the freeway by Sunset Pond so we could get to Sunset Mall on foot without endangering life and limb or dying of old age waiting to cross Sunset! I've seen this (The Urban Village) down in the Hillcrest neighborhood in San Diego and it worked just fine, people living right next to eateries, theaters, shops, and grocery stores and they seemed to really like it. The drawings and building pictures that I saw at the second design Charrette meeting looked like they would fit right in with the craftsman and 40's style homes in our neighborhood, again, like Zonemaven sez "caveat emptor", we will have to watch this to ensure that what we're told is actually what gets built. I don't think he's going to have to offer any cars to get people into these homes and I think that there is going to be a lot of people moving away from the entire chunk of the United States from the other side of the Cascades all the way to Texas as Global Warming really kicks in and their water supplies dry up, not to mention those Floridians when it's under 30 feet of water! So...some of them are coming here, and how we manage the growth is up to us. I suppose we could build a Great Wall just north of Burlington. Do we push the increased density out to Everson, Kendall, Ferndale? How about out on the cornfields and raspberry patches and cow pastures? Do we want to see Hannegan Road turn into another Highway 9 down in Monroe? I,ve been waiting at stoplights down that way when you can see traffic backed up for a half mile ahead of you, thats what we'll get if we build out into the county. If we accomodate responsible infill and develope mass transit and grow more bike and walking trails to get people out of the cars not only will we all get healthier but we might actually get to meet other folks face to face and work on our empathy skills which have been so tattered in today's society, we might have to hang up our cell phones though. I do agree with the idea that we don't need developers trolling for buyers outside our area but to be honest I'm not sure how necessary that is with all the magazine articles showcasing our dazzling area.
Driftwood

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am Mike Rostron, a board member of the Sunnyland Neighborhood Association.
Most of us, I think, are willing to accept some level infill in our neighborhoods in order to limit the negative effects of sprawl. However neighborhoods would like to have the final say in just WHERE that infill is to be permitted, as well as the type of construction, density, etc., that is allowed. Part of the problem with the DOT site is that it was sprung on us last year and suddenly we found ourselves in a defensive posture. It is readily apparent the Sunnyland neighborhood is really two neighborhoods; South Sunnyland - the area between Alabama and State; and North Sunnyland - the area between Alabama and Illinois. South Sunnyland, with its closer proximity to down town, the university, Trader Joes, and Hardware Sales; pre-existing multi-family and light industrial zoning, and better access to bus service, is a far better location for adding infill - and there are suitable lots available.
The bottom line is the people of the neighborhood themselves prefer a density similar to the existing North Sunnyland area. The 24 to 28 single-family dwellings proposed by us after much research itself represents a compromise from the default zoning, and should be observed.
On the matter of Urban Villages: the Trader Joes/James St. development mostly serves the South Sunnyland area, while the North Sunnyland residents more naturally gravitate towards Sunset Mall and the Lowes/State Liquor Store developments by way of the pedestrian overpass behind Sunnyland School. I agree crossing Sunset can be a life or death proposition for pedestrians, and an under or overpass would really improve things there.

zonemaven said...

For Mike,

I submit that after you decide "the where" and the places are built, you will have lost control, in that the city will not enforce its ordinances, and you will finish by having "rental hell", AKA illegal rooming houses. Density is a meaningless term in this city, except perhaps in the planning process. After that, it is Katy-bar-the-door!

Driftwood said...

Zomemaven, I see your point...and apologize if I've played a part in diverting attention from your main issue, that of zoning enforcement and rentals. I guess that the density thing and the zoning thing are pretty much chained together and it would behoove us to pay a lot more attention to that fact. Your blog here has done a lot to open my eyes to some of the problems that others face, for my part I have been blessed with good neighbors and we cross way outside the standard model of husband and wife and 2.5 kids. We need to bring up your points at the next meeting concerning this development and see what the parties involved have to say about it, perhaps it will serve as a catalyst to change the bleak picture of zoning enforcement that you've painted thus far. Mike, I'm sure you're much more aware of the facts on the ground than I am and I respect your opinion, I will listen with an open mind. Driftwood

Dave Pros said...

We are not limiting sprawl by creating UVs. There is only the recently enacted school impact fee in non urban areas. When it is $32,000 cheaper to build in the county AND you get elbow room it is hard to think UVs will stop sprawl.
We are encouraging growth in ALL areas!
Currently we are encouraging (by subsidizing) building in the county, up-zoning neighborhoods, encouraging very high density in UV sites, basically giving up our uniqueness so a few can use our great area to create wealth for themselves. As a former Realtor, I am fine with real estate profits, I just want to see some balance, some guarantee that the sacrifices will actually accommodate the projected population and not be enticing even more to move here. Our natural amenities do not have to be destroyed unless we continue the unbalanced relationship. Darby Estates offered a free Segway if you buy there, then offered a years mortgage payments to get people to buy, will this new (I have not seen the plans) UV be better than Darby? Daily Realtors receive several new marketing (flyers) incentives to get existing and new houses sold, and it will happen to this project too. If this keeps up the next housing boom will spell the end of our close to nature life style. You will have to go alot further out to see the birds you enjoy now.
We have no long term plan for how we grow. Planning decisions are "ad hoc". We don't even have any idea about HOW we will grow, will we become like the Seattle to Lynnwood model (continuous sprawl) or have our small towns become their own economic centers. These two choices have totally different transportation needs, zoning needs and will effect us fundamentally.
Builders go where the most money can be made, the far edges of UGAs creating leap frog development, the city lots where they can get up-zoning concessions. All this is bad in many ways but mainly inhibits downtown development, where the growth should go.
Growth should only occur where it can benefit our community.
Did you know the biggest tax producer is not Ag, is not construction, it is tourism. As we become less unique, tourism revenue will decrease.
All of us currently here will be making up that difference.
I don't know of anyone in favor of building a wall.
How about every time govt creates wealth for someone (up-zone) it also asks for a benefit to the community?
How about developers paying for the impacts they cause? (none in the county)
How about we get a voter approved long term land use plan?

Driftwood said...

OK Dave, I think you hit the nail on the head in light of our current building policies. I still like the idea of UV and think that if we push specifically for that we could avoid the vast sprawl that lurks in our future. The question is, how do we get more people to understand that they have a dog in this fight? The whole issue is under the radar right now, I wouldn't have been so interested in the Sunnyland Design Charrette if not for a letter in my mailbox from a couple of concerned citizens that was headlined in big bold type saying "WARNING"and outlining some of the real impacts for the neighborhood, even then we only saw around 30 or so residents show up for the meeting, and I think that we have somewhere near 2000 households in Sunnyland. We need to get organized, the Building Industry is and it seems like they are calling the shots so far. I know we all should show up at Planning Department and City Council meetings addressing these issues but we need a forum beyond that if we are to influence the process. Obviously those of us writing into Twilight Zoning are making an attempt to pay some attention but there are a lot of folks who either don't know, don't care, are too busy, or would actively oppose any call for change to the status quo. We need a movement! Maybe we could call it"Bowel Movement" in reference to the description provided for the origin of the word "charrette"! I know opponents would make light of it and say that's just what we're full of but that's my point, we've got to do something to get people's attention, we've got to get the word out. That "WARNING" letter was a wake-up call for me and I think we could expand on that, maybe coffee shops would let us post something calling for action or telling people where they could find more info on these subjects? Maybe yardsigns? Maybe more and better ideas? I hope you know that I was speaking tongue in cheek when I mentioned a Great Wall at Burlington (and "Bowel Movement!"), it would be more economical to do that at Lake Samish. That said I do like the points you made, they sound reasonable, we need a real commitment from our city and county officials as to how much growth will happen and where. But above all, we must get the average joe or jane involved, we need to find a way to reach out to them beyond the charrettes and the blogs and the newspapers, and no, I don't include the Herald in that, they don't seem to have their finger on this pulse. Perhaps an informal get-together of interested parties would kick start the thing or maybe something of this nature already exists and I just haven't come across it while websurfing, is so please let me know. I thank those who have already been paying heed to these issues and have taken the time and effort to get involved and provide a forum for discussion. The same thing could be applied to the rental and zoning issues that Zonemaven brings up, we need to find a way to educate homeowners about the possible drawbacks to unchecked rentals and let the renters know why it is in their interest to have some rules. The renters around me are wonderful people but I know not everybody has that luxury. In summarization, (yes, I know...it's about time. Apologies for being longwinded it's just that I find this interesting and am passionate about it!) we need to keep the ideas flowing and bring more folks into the mix, I am talking to my friends and neighbors and trying to pique their interest, we need to find a way to present a united and organized front and figure out what we all can agree on, we need to get peoples attention, the flyer sent out by the City of Bellingham Planning and Community Developement Department might have told us about the what and when but it will take more than that to get folks motivated...and perhaps we need that wall. Driftwood

Dave Pros said...

Dear Driftwood,
Getting people motivated has always been the problem.
At Pro-Whatcom we called it "hot spots" as growth and zoning started changing an area which activated people. Unfortunately, people get active when it is too late, it is one of the ways govt has of minimizing resistance (govt has ways of dealing with citizens like having many many meetings where lawyers get paid to attend and normal people lose family/personal time to attend.)
The real, before the future is set in stone time, is now.
The county has just started the new population projection taking us to 2029 (then we have to do it again in 2011.)
When the county picks a projection number, it is all over but determining what area gets hit. When cities ask the county for a % of the growth and the county agrees, it becomes too late. Of course the BIA lobbies hard for the highest possible growth rate.
If just the activists in each neighborhood (Pres and VPs of the neighborhoods) push for the low number, lot could be achieved. I know in personal conversations, Mayor Dan does not want to ask for a larger % of the growth than the city is now (39% of the county pop) but many other forces come into play so, his hope needs support.
Your city council is much improved with Barry, Stan, and Jack in the council.
Here are some ideas to effect change.
1) Get your council person involved that will help.
2) Get several concerned people to "tag team" the GMCC meetings, the next one is 9/3 at 3PM in Ferndale city hall.
3) Get educated on LOS and other factors that the population projection determines (just about all growth issues.) I have written white papers on several issues like population projection, you can email me at dpros@juno.com if you want that info.
It doesn't take a hundred active educated people but city/countywide, 50 people who know what they are talking about is a minimum number, people who will stay engaged even after their area has been rezoned and the 'hot spot' cools down.
Remember the city said the cost to bring in the UGAs is $131,000,000!
And you know who gets to pay that bill!
By the way, I ask Ms Holm what the cost will be to retrofit the existing city to accommodate the population in, and going in to the UGAs, she rolled her eyes and said, "We don't even want to think about that."

Driftwood said...

Great Dave! It sounds like you are someone that has a clue. I talked to one of my neighborhood reps last night and one of her laments was that we are basically lay people and sometimes (Ok, most times!) the nuances of all this escape us. What would be good is if we had someone to decipher some of the arcane terms that come up in these matters, I attribute that to those lawyers that get paid to honcho these things, it's kinda like going to buy a car or a house, reams of paper with miniscule print couched in legalese to the point that make the whole process exasperating. I recognize that this is the language of government but my conspiracy theory is that is exactly the purpose of the tactic, to confuse the process to the point that joe sixpack just signs the paper to get it over with, maybe he should lay off those sixpacks! I don't profess to be at all adept at all this, I confess I don't even know what a LOS is, level of service perhaps? I hope I can offer some ideas from a neophyte perspective that might help to raise awareness and reach out to people like myself that were unaware of the problems and issues. My rep told me that one factor in the low turnout at the charrette was that the guy who printed out the "WARNING" letter was doing that on his own dime and only targeted the surrounding two blocks, if we organize perhaps we can get around that by tasking (asking) several people with access to a printer to print out a number of flyers to spread around and lighten the load. Do the neighborhood reps from the various areas of the city ever meet together to discuss this thing and consolidate their concerns and present a united front? My rep said that just getting a space for the charrette was a problem, why couldn't we ask the city to provide us with such a venue? It seems to me that it would be in their interest to allow this (or perhaps not...but nevertheless the right thing to do!), save a lot of time if we could present our distilled veiwpoints rather then folks raising their hands at planning and council meetings. There is only so much time at those things and some folks who might be shy of addressing a large crowd will be more likely to get involved if they can bring up their views at a smaller meeting and then hear them aired by those more at ease in the larger venues.
Another tactic might be to identify what the most important points we all feel need to be emphasized and ask folks to stress those in particular.
I think a point paper outlining where we are now, detailing the personal impacts, and providing people with our plan to move forward on this would be well received, if we could get a few more people to attend the neighborhood meetings, ask them to talk to their friends and neighbors, reach out to other neighborhood associations, and figure out how to get the message out in a variety of methods we could really get the ball rolling on this. Creating a flyer volunteer team, getting the information on a website with yardsigns displaying the URL, couching the info in terms that folks can relate to, letters to the editor, developing a citizen network or points of contact that could pass info on to others, posting flyers in public places, all this would help to spread the word.
I'll e-mail you for the info you can provide and pass that on to my neighborhood rep in case they don't already have it. It sounds to me like the hot spot thing you talk about serves as a divide and conquer mechanism, maybe we can get people to realize that the whole county is a hot spot, what affects one of us affects us all. All this may be naive and done before but I think you're right, we need to get something done before the concrete sets. Driftwood

zonemaven said...

To Mxsticker,

I think you posted your comment to the wrong blog entry. If you would re-enter your comment on this blog entry, I will post it. If not, it will remain on the posting about Lexington, KY and some folks following this thread may miss it.

Dave Pros said...

Driftwood,
You are right on about all your thoughts.
I wrote an article for the Indy about govt double speak like "concurrent" means the opposite of "at the same time" I'll send it to you if you want. Email me at dpros@juno.com
I also wrote an article for the Herald about citizen input improvements.
It is a govt run by people who are organized and can state their case well, lawyers get paid to do that, that is one of the reasons they usually prevail. Without an organized resistance, they always win.