BELLINGHAM - The City Council cleared the way for home construction on a long-vacant lot in Sunnyland by bending its rules to allow smaller one-story homes.
This one change apparently satisfied the property owners, David Edelstein and Greg Hinton. A week ago their consultant, Bill Geyer, said they would not build on the 4-acre property next to St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church if 1,400-square-foot homes had to be two stories, as required by the city's standards for denser, "infill" housing.
"This was really important to them," interim Planning Director Greg Aucutt told the council on Monday afternoon, Aug. 11. "There's a significant portion of the market that's looking for (one-story) housing" - specifically, less mobile residents who don't want stairs.
The rezone that council approved 5 to 1 on Monday allows 35 single-family homes of different sorts, including attached townhouses. As a nod to residents, who were intent on maintaining Sunnyland's character, the city will not allow townhouses along Illinois Street.
Sunnyland Neighborhood Association representative Patrick McKee wasn't satisfied. The association had proposed 28 larger, "traditional" houses, McKee said.
With smaller accessory homes and cottages, the development "will look very different than the vision the neighborhood had," McKee said.
When council members had their turn to speak, they admonished Sunnyland residents for resisting change and new neighbors.
Councilor Pinky Vargas said the city is hard pressed to find more housing within its boundaries.
"Every time the city tries to make that happen, we get, 'hold on,' 'not so fast' and 'not in my backyard,'" Vargas said. "My plea to the neighborhood and the residents of Bellingham is to step up and be more open and inclusive to finding homes for all kinds of our citizens, and to look for ways to say 'yes.'"
Council member Terry Bornemann cast the only "no" vote, saying the city ignored residents.
"I really believe this is the first step toward going after a whole lot of older neighborhoods ... trying to push something on the neighborhoods that they don't want," Bornemann said.
The punctuation on Greg Aucutt's comments was corrected Aug. 13, 2013.