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Was the property tax to buy Chuckanut Ridge fair and legal?

A view of Chuckanut Ridge from Feb. 4, 2013. A judge rejected a group’s claim that the park district created to help purchase the land and the tax for it were illegal.
A view of Chuckanut Ridge from Feb. 4, 2013. A judge rejected a group’s claim that the park district created to help purchase the land and the tax for it were illegal. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

The effort to dissolve the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District and end the property tax that went with it has failed.

In July 2014, a few property owners in the district filed a lawsuit, alleging they were unfairly taxed and that the park district, created by voters in February 2013, was formed illegally.

Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Deborra Garrett didn’t agree, ruling against them Tuesday, June 21.

She found the park district was validly formed by voters, was a valid park district and had the authority to enact the property tax.

John and Mary Ferlin of Ferlin Family Living Trust, J & M’s LLC, Brooks Manufacturing Co. and Roosevelt Land Co. filed the lawsuit.

They argued, in part, that levying a tax for a public park on a small segment of the city was illegal.

They sued the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District, Whatcom County and Bellingham.

I’m pleased with the result and happy for all the people on the south side of Bellingham who’ve worked so hard to bring about the preservation of this property.

Robert Carmichael, attorney for Chuckanut Community Forest Park District

Voters in what was roughly southwest Bellingham formed the park district to tax property owners.

The money is being used to repay the $3.2 million loan from the city Greenways endowment fund that helped pay the $8.2 million price tag for Bellingham’s 2011 purchase of the 82-acre Chuckanut Ridge, also known as the Hundred Acre Wood.

The lawsuit also argued that the district was improperly formed to serve as a financing tool to repay the loan and not for parks purposes.

Many area residents had long opposed housing construction on the site and worked for years to block development or to convince city officials that it should be acquired as public park or open space. The property is southeast of Fairhaven Park and 16th Street and west of 24th Street and the Interurban Trail.

The levy now charges 26 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. That’s $78 per year for a home assessed at $300,000.

“I’m pleased with the result and happy for all the people on the south side of Bellingham who’ve worked so hard to bring about the preservation of this property,” said attorney Robert Carmichael, who along with attorney Simi Jain represented the park district.

Park district officials said they have so far spent $99,000 defending against the lawsuit.

It might not end soon. Pete Dworkin, attorney for the property owners who sued, believed his clients will appeal the judge’s decision.

“We disagree with the ruling. We think we should’ve won,” Dworkin said.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea

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