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The Gristle

The Real Social Network

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

THE REAL SOCIAL NETWORK: More than 120 Bellingham business owners and residents gathered downtown this week to discuss their concerns about a proposed 42-unit apartment complex for low-income households downtown. Constructed, the complex would be the third to serve potentially disruptive tenants on a single block in the downtown core.

Whatcom County Council member Ken Mann encouraged the meeting between owners and residents, city staff, and the project proponents, Catholic Housing Services, and their sister agency, Catholic Community Services.

CHS is a non-profit that provides housing to lower income families and those with special physical and mental needs. CCS provides services to that housing.

Mann said he encouraged the meeting after he had heard from several business owners who were concerned the project had been misrepresented as a mixed-use, variable income residence, and that it was moving forward without a great deal of public process from the City of Bellingham. Mann is the County Council representative to the Opportunity Council board of directors, a non-profit with a similar mission. He also serves on the county Health Board that sets policy for issues related to mental heath and substance abuse. Other elected officials from the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County Council were also in attendance.

“I believe I have a duty to participate in this project evaluation,” Mann explained. “The project is funded with city, county, state, and federal tax dollars and tax credits. We have a duty to spend that money wisely.

“I care deeply about downtown and supporting its vibrant growth,” Mann continued. “The same people who want to reflexively green light this proposal are many of the same people who would want full review if a private, for-profit developer was proposing a strip mall on this site.”

Several business owners echoed these thoughts, supportive in principle of laudable goals of reducing homelessness, yet concerned that the economic climate downtown is fragile. A careless project, a tender imbalance, could tip it over.

The City of Bellingham originally purchased the .7-acre parcel from the city’s parking fund, intending to build new parking downtown; however, the city decided in April 2011 to surplus the property for less than its appraised value, at a loss of about $300,000, to CHS and invest the revenue to develop properties adjacent to Central Avenue and the waterfront.

That waterfront development has stalled, the parking fund is drained, parking continues to be a problem downtown, and business owners and residents express growing concern about building even more units to serve potentially disruptive tenants on a single block downtown. Several expressed concerned that an aggregate of 140 units of such housing creates a concentration of troubled households that is abnormal to a cross-section of city residents as a whole.

“Frustration, frustration, frustration,” one business owner confessed to Mann, “that is the continuing theme we, the downtown business owners, continue to face as our city and county councils allow the permitting and building of low-income, alcohol related, mental illness business to occupy what seems like every open or available space and building in the City of Bellingham’s downtown.

“Downtown,” the owners continued, “has been allowed to be a catch-all for all that is unpleasant to deal with. In our neighborhood, we are facing the challenge of having five new or renewed liquor licenses in a two-block, one side of the street situation. Not only has it become dangerous for our customers, it is challenging to promote ones business of a pleasant shopping experience.”

The concern, several business owners and residents noted at the meeting, is not strictly one of people with lower incomes living downtown—most welcomed a populated, livable city center—but of a general lack of support and bad policy in dealing with the issues that arise. City promises and covenants for security, for parking, have not materialized, they noted.

Following just a single slender thread in a complex social fabric, Bellingham Police have long held a policy of focus and containment of disruptive elements downtown. Whether through the systematic closing decades ago of neighborhood corner bars and clubs in favor of their cluster downtown or a catch-&-release consequence of an over-full jail, police policy has had the effect of concentrating those elements in the downtown core, the so-called “Battle Zone.” We can debate the merits of this—hey, that’s where the services are! versus considered use of limited police resources versus the imprisonment at extreme cost of people who might otherwise be assisted through counseling and a handful of chemicals versus the unintended consequences of mixing the mentally ill in with a raucous night life, and all that with the drug culture and a criminal element downtown—but the fact is police policy must be met by responsive public policy. The mentally ill cannot be simply dumped downtown because there is nowhere else for them and police are too understaffed or underfunded or underinterested to bother.

All of this said, statistics are clear that incidents of crime and domestic unrest fall off dramatically when people are safely housed. And there simply is no better remedy for the plight of homeless people than to get them off the streets, where they are frequently preyed upon by criminals and an often bewildering social scene.

Acknowledging the complexity of issues, “the bigger question of long-term vision for this area is important no matter what project is proposed,” Mann said.

Indeed, it’s a meeting that should have happened six months ago.

ICU
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Events
Today
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Wild Things

9:30am|Interurban Trail

Spanish Storytime

10:30am|Lynden Library

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Magnolia Street and Cornwall Avenue

Weird Washington

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Whatcom Humane Society Wine Social

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

PhotoLUSH 2017

6:00pm|Lairmont Manor

Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Always…Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

And I Remember

7:00pm|Village Books

King John

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

International Guitar Night

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

James Hunter Six

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Borealis Wind Quintet

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Cupid's Arrow Final Weekend

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

MBT Rovers Bellingham Technical College
Tomorrow
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Weird Washington

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

PhotoLUSH 2017

6:00pm|Lairmont Manor

Always…Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

King John

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Cupid's Arrow Final Weekend

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Snow Play Day and Survival Skills

8:00am|Mt. Baker Ski Area

Children's Literature Conference

9:00am|Performing Arts Center

What's New in Organic Gardening

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Plant Society Ramble

9:30am|Maple Creek Loop

UFO Primer

10:00am|Syre Hall

FiberFest 2017

10:00am|La Conner Middle/High School

Intro to Ancestry

10:00am|Ferndale Library

Winter Trail Run Series

10:00am|BBMX Park

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Smelt Run

10:00am|La Conner Middle School

Kids Can Cook

11:00am|Community Food Co-op

Washington Beer Open House

12:00pm|Whatcom and Skagit counties

An all-season outdoor expo

1:00pm

Tax Help

1:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Weird Washington

1:00pm|Lynden Library

Raising Pigs

1:30pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Peace Corps Revisited

3:00pm|Lynden Library

Geology Underfoot

3:00pm|Deming Library

Starry Night Chamber Orchestra

3:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Whatcom Writes

4:00pm|Village Books

Wishes for Our Stars Gala

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Varsity Vocals

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Comedy Fundraiser

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Boating Center Fundraiser

7:00pm|Elks Club

Light in the Night Gala

7:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Wetzel's World

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Bayshore Symphony Winter Concert

7:30pm|Central Lutheran Church

Village Books Northwood Steak and Crab
Sunday
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Bayshore Symphony Winter Concert

7:30pm|Central Lutheran Church

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Refugee Talk

2:00pm|Christ the Servant Lutheran Church

Northwest Cancer Summit

2:00pm|Bellingham Golf and Country Club

Sting and Piano Chamber Concert

3:00pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

The Tao of Raven

4:00pm|Village Books

Making time with Oscar

4:30pm

The Irish Rovers

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

see our complete calendar »

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