Bellingham seeks comment on converting '100-Acre Wood' to park land

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 14, 2014 

Chuckanut Ridge

In February 2013, voters in southwest Bellingham created the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District, shown here on Feb. 4, 2013 and elected five commissioners to raise property taxes within the district to repay a $3.2 million loan, plus interest, from the city Greenways endowment fund. According to a draft conservation easement, the 82-acre property could be used for nature-oriented, recreational or educational purposes.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - The "100-Acre Wood" has everything it needs to become a park except official designation as park land.

What might amount to a technicality will come before the city Planning Commission for a public hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 15.

The city is taking comment on its proposal to convert 114 acres of forest south of Old Fairhaven Parkway and east of Chuckanut Drive from multifamily residential to public park land. The properties include 82 acres the city bought for $8.23 million in 2011 called the 100-Acre Wood, or Chuckanut Ridge.

Environmentalists fought for 20 years to wrest Chuckanut Ridge from developers and preserve it as a park. The collapse of the housing industry finished what the environmentalists started. Horizon Bank, a partner in the Chuckanut Ridge development, failed. The bank's assets went to Washington Federal, which ultimately sold the property to the city.

When the city geared up for the long process of rezoning the land in early 2013, developers came out against the rezone. Representatives of the real estate industry said the rezone would give south Bellingham more park land when the north side of the city has a proportionally small share of the city's parks. Real estate advocates also said the rezone would be inappropriate given the demand for new housing in the city.

Arguments from a year ago to maintain the land for housing may have been rendered moot. The city signed a conservation easement on Jan. 3 that places strict limits on how the land can be used. The only residence allowed would be "an apartment for a residential caretaker," the easement states.

Converting the land to a park became possible after south Bellingham voters approved a property tax in February 2013 to cover $3.2 million of the city's purchase. The rest will be covered by Greenways levy money and park impact fees on new southside homes.

The city had received no formal public comments on the rezone proposal, according to a report to the Planning Commission dated May 2. Thursday's public hearing will be held at City Hall, 210 Lottie St.

The hearing will not be about how the park land will be used - what recreational amenities it should have, or how habitat should be preserved. The city will hold meetings on the new park's plan at a date that has yet to be scheduled.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or 360-715-2289. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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