History & Background from 2005
Why didn’t the city purchase this property as part of the
Past and present City staff, Greenways Advisory Board members, and City
Council members have worked diligently, using open public processes, to meet
the legal requirements and the intent of voters supporting Beyond Greenways
levy. While some of this property was pursued with interest by the Greenways
program, the ballot language forwarded by the City Council and approved by
voters in 1997 did not commit the city to buying the Fairhaven Highlands
tract. However, Levy proponents and the Greenway Committee earmarked $1.6
million dollars for this property, recognizing it would only pay for a
portion of the site.
Though no purchase and sale agreement was ever in place, negotiations
took place between the city and the property owner regarding a 45-acre
portion of the property. An appraisal conducted for the City indicated a
value of $1.47 million for the 45 acres. The owners responded they were
seeking $6-$7million for the 45-acre tract. Though discussions continued
over the years, City officials and property owners were never close to
reaching an agreement.
The previous owner did donate 16 acres to the Whatcom Land Trust, who
transferred the property to the city in 2000. Negotiations with other area
property owners were productive, and efforts shifted toward area properties
with willing sellers around the Fairhaven Highlands site.
Since 1997, about 136 acres have been secured on Bellingham ’s Southside
by the Greenways program, including about 100 acres near the Fairhaven
Why is the city allowing any development on this property?
Anyone can ask to build anything on property they own, and the city must
allow them to build if the proposed development meets city, state and
federal laws. City officials are obligated by law to allow property owners
to use their land in conformance with existing land use and other
regulations. In fact, State law says that if someone submits a complete
application, and it meets the land use regulations, the City must decide on
the application within 120 days. City officials will review this proposal
against current land use, environmental and other regulations, using
procedures outlined in Bellingham Municipal Code, and approve or deny it
based on applicable laws.
Why doesn’t the city condemn the property?
Condemnation requires public necessity. It would be very difficult to
successfully claim public necessity justifying eminent domain in a court of
law. Even if the city did make a successful claim, there is not sufficient
funding to pay for the property to fulfill such a claim.
Why doesn’t the city impose a moratorium on this development?
Development that is allowed under current rules can be stopped only for
health and safety reasons (such as lack of sewage treatment plant capacity).
The city received an application on April 18, 2005 for a development that is
proposed under current land use and other regulations. While the review
process will determine the extent to which the proposal meets the detailed
requirements of these regulations, no urgent health and safety
considerations are apparent that would justify stopping the application and
Why should the Southside residents have to absorb infill?
All Bellingham neighborhoods will absorb additional residents as the city
population increases during the next two decades. Some neighborhoods have
more capacity than others, including several neighborhoods on the Southside.
Many neighborhoods in the central and north portions of Bellingham have
already had significant infill development. Those neighborhoods have fewer
parks, less open space, and fewer trails.
The city population is expected to increase by at least 31,600 over the
next 20 years. State law, the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan and our
current city Comprehensive Plan require us to accommodate the forecasted
growth primarily through “infill”. Infill is defined as development that
occurs on vacant lands within existing city boundaries (as opposed to
allowing growth to occur in the rural and agricultural areas of the county).
To accommodate the forecasted growth, more than 15,000 new homes,
apartment and condos will be needed. While all city neighborhoods are
expected to infill, some neighborhoods have more undeveloped land than
others. The Fairhaven and South Neighborhoods (where the proposed project is
located) have fewer total housing units than most other Bellingham
neighborhoods. Encouraging development in areas close to employment centers
(like Fairhaven and WWU) is consistent with adopted city goals and policies.
How will transportation problems be evaluated and prevented?
The developer proposing the Fairhaven Highlands project is required to
pay for a traffic study to show how much traffic this development will
generate. Based on the results of the study, and the review by the city, he
will then propose (and pay for) improvements to handle the additional
traffic. He also will be required to pay certain transportation impact fees
to provide street improvements designed to address the traffic problems
created by this new development. Part of the city’s review process for this
proposed development will be to approve or require modifications to these
traffic plans and calculate appropriate impact fees.
This proposed development and others have generated questions about
city’s proposed transportation “level of service”. This is a state-required
component of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. Setting an appropriate
transportation level of service requires city officials to carefully balance
many interests, especially when dealing with growth and development.
In 1995, the City adopted “Level of Service E” for arterial streets
during the hour when the highest traffic volumes are recorded. This level
allows some congestion at certain times of the day, such as “rush hour.”
Allowing some traffic congestion also encourages alternative transportation,
avoids the additional public costs of building new roads and widening
existing ones, and minimizes the amount of impervious surfaces that damage
If the city adopted levels of Service D or C, it would require wider
roads and more of them. This would drive up costs for city government, as
well as require additional impact fees from developers, which would then
increase the costs of new homes. Furthermore, new and wider roads would
promote faster driving speeds, create more hazards for pedestrians and
bicyclists and discourage walking, biking and transit, which are
transportation options the city encourages to reduce congestion and pressure
on the environment.
Can the Mayor or City Council stop this development?
The only realistic way for this development to be stopped is for someone
to purchase the property, and then for that owner to decide not to develop.
Why doesn’t the city purchase it now?
The developer has not expressed an interest in selling to the city and
there are not funds available to purchase this site for the amount that
would be required ($15 million to $20 million) if the property were for
With only about $1 million remaining in the land acquisition budget of
the 1997 levy, and with the success of purchases around the Fairhaven
Highlands site and Chuckanut Bay , the Greenway Committee, Parks and
Recreation Advisory Board and City staff are reluctant to spend the
remaining funds in South Bellingham . Recent efforts have focused on
parkland acquisition projects in North Bellingham .
How can citizens influence how this property is used?
Citizens can contact the developer and work to influence the layout of
the development, the amount and location of the open space, the proposed
transportation plan, and other details. Citizens can testify during the
various public comments phases of the city’s review process, and citizens
can participate in the Environmental Impact Assessment now underway.