The Gristle

Edge City

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

EDGE CITY: On the first day of this month—yes, April Fools’ Day—the City of Bellingham got bigger. And will get bigger still. No fooling.

Nearly 250 acres has been be added to the City of Bellingham through a series of planned annexations.

The first is the 75-acre Mt. Baker Highway/Britton Road annexation area, north of Barkley neighborhood above Dewey Valley. This is a relatively straightforward annexation, primarily intended to extend better police and fire service to a growing residential neighborhood near Northern Heights, an area surrounded and well serviced by public schools.

The second, potentially more fraught annexation is 174 acres near Birchwood neighborhood west of Interstate 5, an area bounded by Bennett and Bakerview roads and Airport Drive. This is a comparatively poorly serviced area for fire support, but represents a significant and needed addition to Bellingham’s industrial and mixed-use land supply. This annexation’s two significant challenges are the continued northward creeping encroachment on Ferndale’s planned Urban Growth Area (hello, Ferndallingham!), and the uncertain future of Bellingham International Airport (BLI). Both challenges may be exacerbated by the very sizable annexation of 802 acres proposed just to the west currently under study and review by COB—the so-called Alderwood annexation.

As the city describes in its press release, “Annexation is the procedure for bringing unincorporated areas of a county into an adjacent incorporated city. If an area is annexed, the city becomes the primary provider of local government services. In order to be eligible for annexation, the subject properties must be located within the city’s Urban Growth Areas (UGAs), which have been designated by Whatcom County as appropriate for annexation and urban development.”

They also, as in each of these cases, needed to be supported by a petition and consent of a majority of property owners in the proposed annexation area. Cities can’t just glom on to the adjacent fringe without consent; and the petition process reserves additional rights and benefits to the property owners.

It’s likely, for example, that residents of the relatively simple Mt. Baker Highway/Britton Road annexation could actually see reductions (or at least efficiencies) in costs of existing sewer and water service as they are brought into the city limits.

Since 2009, the city has approved eight annexations, taking in 1,370 acres. This increased the size of the city by 8.2 percent and brought about 1,400 new residents into the city limits. These annexations added more than 1,200 acres of residentially zoned land and 609 existing housing units.

The simple math is that the service requirements for industrial annexations are less costly than those for residential, and there are a greater number of taxing instruments to finance and maintain them. On the other hand, the city needs strategic residential land supply very badly.

Each time a new area is annexed, the City of Bellingham is required to prepare a population census of all the residents living in that area. In the coming weeks, census takers from the Planning and Community Development Department will be visiting the annexed areas to obtain population and housing counts. The population count is added to the city’s total population and allows Bellingham to receive a share of state revenues based on the city’s population. These revenues are used to provide municipal services throughout the city.

The primary challenges with the Airport Drive annexation in tandem with the proposed Alderwood annexation are that the areas are underserviced by urban levels of police and fire. Residential areas to the west are also desperately starved of parks and green spaces. A heavy residential component in Alderwood means those services will be expensive to obtain, and could impose a geometric cost burden on the city and its ratepayers.

“In general, the outlook on city revenues and expenditures is not good,” city planners confess in their strategy document for annexations. “This is the result of a number of factors. Property taxes, sales taxes, business and occupation taxes from commercial and industrial development generally exceed the cost to provide the full range of urban services. However, the opposite is true for residential development, especially for low-density residential development,” they reported.

The airport, too, represents a significant unknown factor, as the Port of Bellingham commissioners continue to study its operations. In February, the commission received a report on the elusive, mercurial market of BLI in comparison to other airports. In short, it is difficult to make regional airports profitable in the modern era; and perhaps that land is better suited for a higher economic purpose.

The city has historically annexed the revenue-producing business properties, but for many years allowed the extension of utilities without requiring annexation. This resulted in entire neighborhoods growing up around the edges of the city, many clamoring for better public safety and public works.

“The bill to provide urban level services (especially emergency services) would come due were the city to annex the residential areas,” planning staff ominously confessed.

The 2019 annexations are the first sizable additions to the city’s urban boundaries in a decade—the housing market collapse, the cratering of the public finance and resulting implosion of municipal revenues have made city planners more circumspect and cognizant of the structural challenges of paying for growth and urban levels of service. City leaders have meanwhile done a fair job of managing the expectations of property owners who want to crowd in annexations of their gruesome piecemealed subdivisions.

A coming election portends a major shift in Bellingham city government, and it’s critical this institutional memory is not lost.

Alan Doyle
Past Columns
A Change in Climate

April 24, 2019

The Raucous Caucus

April 17, 2019

Dragged

April 10, 2019

Fixing the Fix

March 27, 2019

Halfway Houses

March 20, 2019

New Directions

March 13, 2019

Fire and Ice

March 6, 2019

The Big Short

February 27, 2019

Marina Lacuna

February 20, 2019

New Bites at the Apple

February 13, 2019

Coal Folds

February 6, 2019

Refocusing the Narrative

January 29, 2019

Old Town, Old Story

January 23, 2019

Ranker Unanchored

January 16, 2019

‘Alternative Methods’

January 9, 2019

Top Stories, 2018

January 2, 2019

Et Tu, #MeToo

December 26, 2018

Turn That Corner

December 19, 2018

Events
Today
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am

Student and Community Job Fair

10:00am|Whatcom Community College

Skagit Valley College Sustainability Fair

10:00am|Skagit Valley College

Parkinson's Dance Class

11:00am|Ballet Bellingham

English Country Dancing

1:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Alt Reads

3:00pm|Everson Library

Kids for Peace Write Now

4:00pm|Village Books

Robin Hood, a Musical

7:00pm|Sedro-Woolley High School

Balkan Folk Dancers

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

The Success Lie

7:00pm|Village Books

Eurydice

7:00pm|Squalicum High School,

Salish Sea Intertidal Life

7:00pm|Community Food Co-op

Unstable By Design

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

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Tomorrow
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am

Robin Hood, a Musical

7:00pm|Sedro-Woolley High School

Eurydice

7:00pm|Squalicum High School,

Unstable By Design

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Spring Book Sale

10:00am|Deming Library

Chanticleer Authors Conference

12:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

SPA Talk with Bradley James Lockhart

2:30pm|St. Paul's Academy

Linuxfest Northwest

3:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Peace Vigil

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

First Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Poetry Party

5:00pm|Upper Skagit Library

Building Dreams Dinner and Auction

5:00pm|Maplehurst Farm

Raise the Roof Auction and Trashion Show

5:30pm|Depot Market Square

North Cascades Community Orchestra

7:30pm|Central Lutheran Church

The Coronation of Poppea

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall, Anacortes-Westminster Presbyterian Church

Genre Legends, Hot Dogs

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Trove Web Village Books
Saturday
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am

Robin Hood, a Musical

7:00pm|Sedro-Woolley High School

Eurydice

7:00pm|Squalicum High School,

Unstable By Design

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Chanticleer Authors Conference

12:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Linuxfest Northwest

3:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Genre Legends, Hot Dogs

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Skagit Community Band

7:30pm|Maple Hall, Anacortes-Westminster Presbyterian Church

The Coronation of Poppea

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Dealer Demo Day

9:00am|Fanatik Bike Co.

Everson Garden Club Plant Sale

9:00am|Everson Elementary School

Have a Heart Family Fun Run

9:00am|Edgewater Park

Anacortes Vintage by the Sea

9:00am|Anacortes Port Transit Event Center

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association

Independent Bookstore Day

9:00am|Village Books

Rise Against Hunger

9:00am| St. Luke's Community Health Education Center

Seedlings, Starts and Garden Goodies Swap and Giveaway

10:00am|Van Zandt Community Hall

Backyard Habitat Native Flora Fair

10:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

WoodFest

10:00am|Sedro-Woolley High School

Contemplative Brush and Japanese Washi Papers

10:00am|Blaine Harbor Center

Local Author/Illustrator Open House

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Dia de los niños/Dia de los libros

10:00am|Lynden Library

We Are Skookum Scavenger Hunt

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Dakota Art Store Anniversary Art Expo

10:00am|Dakota Art Store

Vaisakhi Festival

11:00am|Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Tomato Growing Tips and Tricks

11:00am|Joe's Gardens

Getting Your Hand Dirty

11:00am|North Fork Library

The Greatest Sideshow in Sedro-Woolley

12:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Learn to Grow Fruit Trees

1:30pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Little Farm Homegrown

2:00pm|Everson Library

Garage Wine Company Tasting

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Sudden Valley Jazz Series

3:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Interwoven Lives

4:00pm|Village Books

FiberFest

4:00pm|Maple Hall

April Brews Day

6:30pm|Depot Market Square

Guemes Island gets lit

6:30pm

Contra Dance with Heliotrope

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Poetry Duo

7:00pm|Village Books

Swing Into Spring

7:00pm|Pioneer Pavilion Community Center

Bellingham Community Band's Appalachian Spring

7:00pm|Syre Center

Jennifer Scott, Rene Worst, and Bill Coon

7:30pm|Jansen Art Center

Skagit Valley Chorale's American Journeys

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Artrageous

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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