The Gristle

Four-score acres and a mule
  • Google+

FOUR-SCORE ACRES AND A MULE: South of Bellingham lies 82 acres of exquisite reforested canopy proposed for an urban park. East of Bellingham lies a parcel 100 times that size of exquisite reforested canopy proposed for an urban park. But might the timing on a policy decision on the smaller harm a policy decision on the larger?

In 2011, in the midst of a white-hot election, Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike negotiated a deal to acquire the forested wetlands of Chuckanut Ridge for $8.2 million, an historically enormous sum for a single parkland property acquisition. Of that amount, $4.5 million arrived from Greenways III funds set aside for the purchase. An additional $500,000 was contributed from park impact fees for the Southside. Most controversial, $3.2 million was borrowed from the Greenways Endowment, a loan Bellingham City Council agreed must be repaid. As a backstop against default on that loan when the balloon comes due in 2017, City Council agreed portions of the property could be resold to repay that loan.

In that six years, council reasoned, any number of repayment plans might mature.

Sharply critical that the previous administration had paid too much for an overvalued asset acquired by a groaning bank seeking surrender (along with many others) from the collapse of the housing market and construction industry, Mayor Kelli Linville early on in her administration reissued the warning of City Council that the property would indeed be surplused to avoid either default on the loan or repayment of the loan from the city’s general fund or Greenways. Those are not options, in her view.

Her warning galvanized supporters wishing to save the entire 82 acres prosaically known as Hundred Acre Wood. They launched a signature campaign to place a proposal in front of voters in the city’s southernmost neighborhoods this February to create a metropolitan parks district, a Chuckanut Community Forest Park, with special taxing authority able to raise sufficient funds to repay the loan. Supporters propose a levy of $28 per $100,000 of assessed home value over 10 years, or $70 per year for a $250,000 house.

Modeled after an earlier, stalled proposal to create a metropolitan parks district (MPD) that might encompass the entire Chuckanut Mountains south into Skagit County, this scaled-down version would be governed by five elected commissioners. The measure is unusual for Bellingham, involving only those voters in the city’s southern precincts (Edgemoor, Fairhaven, South Hill, Happy Valley, and South neighborhoods).

Precisely how MPD commissioners would coordinate and plan with the existing multi-member city Parks board, which further coordinates with the Greenways committee, is unclear. As authorized under state law (RCW 35.61), MPD commissioners could assign themselves a salary and expand Southside park activities beyond Chuckanut Ridge; however, supporters have no intention to do so, convinced such follies would collapse support for the district and its purpose.

Coterminous with these activities, Whatcom County Council has again picked up the threads of a proposal to transfer up to 8,700 acres of state forest trust lands into county management as a forest preserve park. Absent that transfer, the lands will be fenced off by the state Dept. of Natural Resources until logged. County administration had asked council to delay on council’s decision until the start of this year. Council held the second of three committee discussions on the proposal this week.

Like CR, the proposal takes advantage of provisions in state law. That law allows for the transfer for use as a park. Unlike CR, the proposal offers a measurable water quality benefit for all Bellingham residents.

In the Gristle’s estimation, both park proposals teeter on the knife’s edge.

Support for a forest preserve park on the Southside might best be expressed as some inverse-square equation based on the distance one is from the direct benefits of that park and the falloff of enthusiasm for the increase in property taxes. Compounding the perception of cost, Bellingham residents south and north just witnessed a sharp uptick in monthly outlay at the start of this year, the result of water rate increases to address the continued decline of Lake Whatcom.

Support for the Lake Whatcom Reconveyance is in the hands of, particularly, the votes of two County Council members anxious to discover evidence that Bellingham does not support the expansion of forest preserve parks at this time. The more volatile, unconvinced of those two votes, Kathy Kershner, actually represents residents on Bellingham’s Southside. Mightn’t the failure, even a slim failure, of a parks initiative in the liberal, affluent, parks-loving Southside provide just such evidence? Bet on it.

Our point is not that the merits of the two proposals should be conflated. Our point is the merits of the two proposals will be conflated, one used as evidence to decide the other, and the possible (perhaps probable) failure of the one by voters will collapse council support for the other. Focus on four-score acres may prove the ruin of four-score hundredfold acres.

Let’s stipulate that Chuckanut Ridge is worth the cost of preserving whole. Let’s further stipulate that—properly timed and organized, with appropriate scope and controls and support from numerous stakeholders, with adequate tie-in to other city endeavors—the creation of a MPD is an excellent financing tool for parkland acquisitions. Voters will decide its merits. Yet, given the radioactives that Chuckanut Ridge would not go critical until 2017, the timing of this initiative could not be worse for the larger issues that grapple with Bellingham in 2013. If the MPD fails for lack of the listed qualifiers, supporters will have broken the very best tool of last resort in their box.

Our eternal complaint about Chuckanut Ridge endures: It is a passion that cares little for other coincident issues unfolding alongside it.


blog comments powered by Disqus

 

Past Columns

December 9, 2014

AULD LAND SIGNS: Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?

Bellingham City Council turned on an interesting discussion in their committee meeting this week, whether impact fees—and… more »

December 2, 2014

DIAMONDS FROM CARBON: From the gloom, a small light might shine.

State budget forecasters project a $4.5 billion shortfall in the amount of revenue needed to adequately fund schools, health… more »

November 25, 2014

DIRTY LITTLE NOT-SO-SECRET: What if your partner who was not especially solvent and whose financial profile was headed in a terrible direction proposed a new business venture with considerable risk… more »

November 18, 2014

MISSION CREEP: In what’s proving to be the longest courtship of a foreign bride since the Age of Sail, Port of Bellingham staff prepare their third extension of a 120-day… more »

November 11, 2014

HARD ROAD FORWARD: Near as we can tell, upwards of 6,000 reliable voters in the 42nd Legislative District all had the same idea and believed it was original to themselves:… more »

November 4, 2014

STRUCTURES: Surely another Iron Law of Politics, the losing candidate is always thought to have run a bad campaign, or have been a bad candidate; and in the messy aftermath… more »

October 28, 2014

SEE NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL: The end was in the beginning; and after a long, long and ambitious evening session filled with impassioned testimony on the issue of landlord… more »

October 21, 2014

ALOHA: Hello and goodbye to the Bellingham Public Development Authority, and with it the latest stumble in the city’s journey to employ public land as the nucleus to fuel an… more »

October 14, 2014

CARWRECK: Surefooted Whatcom County Executive Jack Louws stepped off the curb into a deep hole at a regional transportation planning meeting last week, rejecting a Lummi initial offering for improvements… more »

Cascadia Weekly

Home | Views | | Archives | Advertising | Contact | RSS

© 1998-2014 Cascadia Newspaper Company LLC | P.O. Box 2833, Bellingham WA 98227-2833 | (360) 647-8200