The Gristle

Four-score acres and a mule

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

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.

3 Oms 8th Anniversary (Spotlight)
Past Columns
Breached and Beached

May 10, 2017

The Calm Before the Storm

April 26, 2017

April Showers 2

April 19, 2017

April Showers

April 12, 2017

The Fix Flops

April 5, 2017

A Perfect Storm

March 29, 2017

Monopoly

March 15, 2017

Layers of Concern

March 8, 2017

The Fix Is In

March 1, 2017

Half Time

February 22, 2017

Washington v. Trump, 2

February 15, 2017

Washington v. Trump

February 8, 2017

Between East and West

February 1, 2017

Beachhead

January 25, 2017

Stormin’ ORMA

January 18, 2017

Stormwater Rising

January 11, 2017

Events
Today
Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am| Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

What-A-Sho!

7:00pm|Bellingham High School

Julius Caesar

7:30pm|Miller Hall

Twelfth Night

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Wild Things

9:30am|Cornwall Park

Seconds Sale

10:00am|Good Earth Pottery

Seaweed Beach Ramble

10:00am|Living Earth Herbs

Book Trailers

12:30pm|Ferndale Library

Valley writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Sin & Gin Tours

4:00pm|Whatcom County Tourism

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Ski to Sea Block Party

5:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

School of Rock

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

WWU Orchestra

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Genre Legends

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Northwood Steak and Crab
Tomorrow
Ski to Sea Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am| Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Twelfth Night

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Julius Caesar

7:30pm|Miller Hall

Sin & Gin Tours

4:00pm|Whatcom County Tourism

School of Rock

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Genre Legends

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Lummi Island Artists Studio Tour

10:00am|Lummi Island

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Low Tide Picnic

11:30am|Marine Park

Stones Throw Block Party

12:00pm|Stones Throw Brewery

Blossomtime Parade

12:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Project Connection

1:00pm|East Whatcom Regional Resource Center

We Are WWU

6:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Salsa Night

9:30pm|Cafe Rumba

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Northwood Steak and Crab
Sunday
BC Morgan Horse Show

9:00am| Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Twelfth Night

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

School of Rock

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Back to the basics

7:00am

Ski to Sea Race

7:00am|Mt. Baker to Bellingham Bay

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Fairhaven Festival

12:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Images of Resilience Farewell

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

1:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Audubon at the Museum

2:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|Majestic

see our complete calendar »

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