Bellingham OKs off-campus dormitory development with fewer beds

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 24, 2013 

University Ridge Bellingham

The University Ridge project, proposed by Ambling University Development Group of Georgia, would build four apartment buildings at 4413 Consolidation Ave., between Puget and Nevada streets in Bellingham.

CITY OF BELLINGHAM — COURTESY TO THE HERALD

BELLINGHAM - A developer of off-campus university housing will be allowed to build a slightly scaled back version of the dormitory complex it proposed for the Puget neighborhood.

In a decision issued on Wednesday, Oct. 23, the city's hearing examiner approved, with conditions, the four-building complex on 11 forested acres at 4413 Consolidation Avenue. What had been proposed as a development with 576 bedrooms that would be rented to college students was reduced by Hearing Examiner Dawn Sturwold to at most 528 beds.

If the developer, Ambling University Development Group of Georgia, sticks with its plan to build 164 units, that would mean at most 492 occupants. Sturwold ruled that each unit could have no more than three bedrooms, in part because the development as proposed did not fit in with the immediate neighborhood, which contains mostly single-family homes. The three-bedroom limit would enable the buildings to be converted into conventional apartments.

The hearing examiner appeared responsive to the concerns of neighbors who criticized the proposal in written comments and at a Sept. 11 public hearing.

"The use, at the requested level of intensity, is not compatible with the essential character of the neighborhood," Sturwold wrote. Negative impacts would include "traffic congestion and safety hazards, spillover of parking onto residential streets, noise and loss of privacy."

The hearing examiner required 24-hour on-site management, a zero-tolerance policy for bad behavior, and a shuttle service to the Lincoln Creek Park and Ride five blocks away, Western Washington University and the downtown.

The developer received an exemption from the 35-foot height limit for the two east buildings closer to Puget Street. The five-story buildings may be 58 feet tall if they rise no higher than the level of Puget Street.

Mona Danforth, who lives on Nevada Street north of the project site, wasn't convinced a single manager could handle more than 500 college students if they wanted to get together in what she called a "flash mob." She had in mind the Oct. 12 riot near the WWU campus that caused thousands of dollars of property damage and led to five arrests so far.

"We've had two flash mobs in the last two months in Bellingham with young people," Danforth said. "There's always this group that gets violent when they're asked to break up."

Before it can build, Ambling must get building permits from the city and a critical-areas permit for the hazardous slopes on the property.

Parties to the decision, including some neighbors, have 21 days to file an appeal in Whatcom County Superior Court.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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