BELLINGHAM - Construction of a 42-unit apartment building for homeless and low-income people should begin within the next month, and a lawsuit seeking to revoke a permit for the building is likely to be settled this week.
A nonprofit called the Association of Bellingham Merchants and Citizens formed in September 2013 to challenge the project, to be built downtown on Cornwall Avenue. Doug Robertson, a Bellingham lawyer who represented the association in its appeal, said on Tuesday, April 15, final settlement documents should be completed Wednesday or Thursday.
The lawsuit, filed against building developer Catholic Housing Services and the city, claimed city planners should not have issued a permit for the project, and did not adequately review the impacts the building and its tenants would have on the neighborhood. Of the 42 apartments, 32 would be slated for homeless people, including some with mental illness and addictions.
The association argued in its suit that the city should have required Catholic Housing Services to make parking available to the public. The one-acre project site is now a parking lot.
Perhaps an even bigger concern for the merchants in the association was that another low-income housing project downtown would be bad for business.
Documents filed with the state show that the people involved in the association include Bellingham attorney Bradley Swanson; David Johnston, an owner of Leopold Retirement Residences and part owner of the Herald Building; and Kae Moe, co-owner of Kulshan Cycles.
"The project as approved will significantly diminish the value of surrounding real estate, interfere with and devalue existing businesses ... and negatively impact the interface between the central city core and the future development of the waterfront," the group's appeal said.
Nearby business owners have criticized the Cornwall proposal since it first gained publicity two years ago. They said residents at existing Catholic Housing Services apartments, such as Kateri Court and the Grocery Building, smoke, loiter and otherwise discourage customers from coming into their shops.
Robertson and Carrie Richter, a Portland-based attorney representing Catholic Housing Services, said they could not comment on the specifics of the settlement until it was completed.
The Bellingham City Council approved an outline of the settlement in a unanimous vote on Monday, April 7. According to a city memo, the agreement at that time called for the association to drop its lawsuit. Catholic Community Services would sell an unused portion of the lot at 1122 Cornwall Ave. to a member of the association at fair market value.
Construction of the 42 units is expected "within a month," said Steve Powers of Catholic Housing Services on Tuesday, April 15. Richter, the attorney representing the service agency, said the timing of construction had more to do with the good weather than with the settlement. The court appeal did not include an order to hold off on construction, Richter said.