BELLINGHAM - A private developer's plan to build an off-campus college dormitory has aroused the ire of residents of the Puget Neighborhood.
They say the city isn't doing enough to soften the blow the apartment buildings and their 576 residents would have in this neighborhood consisting mostly of individual homes.
The city has already received dozens of criticisms of the project called University Ridge, proposed by Ambling University Development Group of Georgia. The public has another opportunity to speak, at a hearing before the city hearing examiner, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11. The meeting will be held in City Council chambers in City Hall, 210 Lottie St.
The city agreed to consider four Ambling applications together, including plans for protecting wetlands and accounting for the steep slopes on the site, at 4413 Consolidation Ave., between Puget and Nevada streets.
The developer is also asking for an exception to a 35-foot height limit that would be imposed on two of the four buildings. Ambling's request to build up to 58 feet is OK with the city Planning and Community Development Department because this would allow for a less intrusive footprint on what has long been a forested hillside.
The Puget Neighborhood Association Board said in a statement finalized Monday, Sept. 9, that the planning department's recommendation to the hearing examiner doesn't do enough to address neighbors' concerns. A traffic study, which led the city to conclude that no road improvements would be needed, is inadequate and should be redone, the association said. The developer should be required to add street lights and sidewalks to some side streets that are bound to get busier with several hundred added residents.
"It's not in the next six-year plan to improve these streets," said Mona Danforth, a Puget Neighborhood resident. "For a good three blocks of Nevada there is nothing. You have to walk in the street, you absolutely do, in order to get down to (bus and other) services."
The neighbors also want more assurances that the steep slopes can handle the construction work and the heft of the buildings, and that wetland habitat is adequately protected.
A call to Ronald T. Jepson and Associates, the engineering firm that represents the project locally, was not returned.
Dave Ivie of Nevada Street envisions a worst-case scenario of college students being loud, committing crimes and forsaking their bicycles for their cars. The city recommended that the developer be required to maintain 24-hour, on-site management at the dormitories, but Ivie doesn't think that will be enough to maintain order.
"The local police might as well set up a cop shop in the (dormitory) clubhouse," Ivie wrote in a Sunday, Sept. 8, email to the city.
Residents also are wrestling with the realization that the Puget Neighborhood might become something other than what they thought it should be.
"I believe we all accept development is likely and is going to happen," Danforth said. "We're hoping for people with children and who want to contribute to the neighborhood. We want neighbors, and these are not neighbors. This is a very specific culture of people. ... They are going to rip the heart out of what we consider a neighborhood."
The planning department's recommendation says University Ridge is beneficial because it would fill a vacant lot within the city and would put a lot of people close to a bus line. While the property is mostly surrounded by single homes, the land is zoned "multi-family."
The hearing examiner's decision on Ambling's applications may be appealed to Whatcom County Superior Court. The approvals won't be in effect until after any appeal is resolved.
To read a copy of the revised plans for University Ridge, click here.
For more information about the proposed University Ridge development, go to this cob.org webpage.