BELLINGHAM - The City council will decide next month whether to consider rezoning the city-owned Chuckanut Ridge from residential to open space.
But a 20-year fight to get the land out of the hands of developers and preserve it as a city park may not be over. An attorney for opponents of a park on what was to be the Fairhaven Highlands development is urging the council not to rezone the property, or else risk breaking the law.
The council won't decide on the rezone itself until mid-2014, at the earliest. The decision tentatively set for Monday, July 15, would be to start internal and public reviews of the proposal to change how the 111 forested acres in South Neighborhood can be used.
Before that, the city Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the rezone and other possible land-use changes at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 27.
The city bought 82 acres of what is sometimes called the 100-Acre Wood for $8.23 million in 2011 - a decision that was toasted by anti-development groups that for years fought proposals to build homes on those acres. The land is bordered by 16th Street and Fairhaven Park on the west, and 24th Street and the Interurban Trail on the east.
What enabled the city to buy the property for half what a developer paid in 2004 was the downturn in the housing market.
City officials are only now ready to consider rezoning the properties as park land after south Bellingham residents in February approved the formation of the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District, which will tax those residents to cover $3.2 million of the cost of the city's purchase.
City officials plan to pay off the other $5 million with Greenways levy money and park impact fees on new southside homes.
Shortly after the election, on March 11, the council voted to apply for the rezone.
"I would like to put this baby to bed, to rest finally, since now we've got the financial mechanism to pay for the rest of it," council member Terry Bornemann said then.
Opposition to the rezone presented itself two weeks later.
"At no point should you consider rezoning Chuckanut Ridge this year, for any reason, for any purpose," said Doug Robertson, an attorney who represents people opposed to the park.
"They have plenty of parks on the south side," Robertson added, addressing the council March 25.
He said part of the land should be sold to a developer to defray the 2011 purchase, he said. The parks district, by maintaining the southside park land, is at odds with the city's goal to provide adequate open space to all city residents, Robertson said.
Siting a park at Chuckanut Ridge without a need or proper planning violates the state Growth Management Act, he said.
"The apparent actions being undertaken at this point are clearly for the benefit of a small number of residents on the south side and will result in a significant detriment to the entire city," Robertson wrote in a March 25 letter to the city.
ATTEND THE MEETING
What: Bellingham Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on a possible rezone of Chuckanut Ridge and other land-use changes.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, June 27
Where: City Hall, 210 Lottie St., Bellingham
More information: Go to this cob.org page.