Local Election

Ferndale council candidates weigh in on city’s development

The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015.
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. The Bellingham Herald

With two City Council seats being contested in the general election Nov. 3, the topic that seems to be separating the challengers from incumbent council members most is the possibility of a new retail center coming to Ferndale.

Positions 3 and 4, occupied by Keith Olson and Paul Ingram, respectively, are both being contested. Glenn Stewart is trying to unseat Olson, and Teresa Taylor wants to take Ingram’s seat.

Ferndale City Council is a nonpartisan office with four-year terms. It is a part-time position, and council members will earn $583 per month in 2016.

Olson and Ingram have downplayed some concerns about a new retail center, hoping voters will allow them to continue carrying out their plans for city growth.

Olson, a retired supervisory federal agent, served on the council for one term beginning in 2006. He lost re-election before taking the position 3 seat in 2012. He said he would like the chance to continue the work the council has done the last few years.

Ingram has served more than seven years on the council. He has said he’s running to complete his “bucket list” for the city, which includes improving the parks system and building a Thornton Road crossing to connect the most densely populated residential area to the Portal Way freeway interchange.

Ferndale City Council is a nonpartisan office with four-year terms. It is a part-time position, and council members will earn $583 per month in 2016.

Olson’s challenger, Glenn Stewart, is a former chairman of San Juan County Democrats, and worked for decades as a manager for retail stores. He supports a low-income water assistance program and a minimum-wage ordinance. Stewart is critical of the path taken by the council in recent years and said he would like to see some “fresh blood” on the council.

Teresa Taylor is a project manager for Lummi Indian Business Council. She says her work in the community would help her identify critical issues in the city. She added that she has experience with government from working with the Lummi council and says putting her on the City Council could improve relations with Lummi Nation.

All candidates say they support a metropolitan park district, a measure on the November ballot that would create a new taxing district within the city to raise money for parks and trails.

New retail center

With plans having been submitted to build a retail development of over 120,000 square feet on property near Interstate 5, the four candidates have varied views on a big-box store potentially coming to town.

Stewart says he has worked most of his career in management for big retail stores and has seen first-hand how the stores can negatively affect cities. He questioned the City Council for prioritizing big businesses and capital projects over small businesses.

“This council claims to be all about small business and families, but in practice they have a propensity for big business and large capital projects,” Stewart said.

As for his concerns specifically regarding the new retail center, Stewart said he “was in the room when these companies made decisions and ordered me to go out and destroy these cities.” He eventually got out of managing retail companies, he said, after watching employees continue to be marginalized.

Olson, however, has said new retailers coming to the city would boost sales tax revenue, which he said is the best way to fund a city in this state. He said he doesn’t follow the argument that a new retail center would hurt small businesses.

“Everybody keeps using those sound bites,” Olson said. “But they don’t name any business that would be closed.”

Taylor, like Stewart, is concerned that a large retail center might hurt small businesses. She has doubts about a new retail center providing enough assistance with the city’s infrastructure and roads.

Ingram, however, said the city has already prepared for a new retail center.

In 2012, the city approved traffic impact fees for an area around the Main Street interchange at I-5. The fees would be paid by any business that moves into the area, but the largest stores, such as a big-box store, could earn a rebate of up to 50 percent on the fees, depending on the sales tax accrued by the store.

Ingram said a new retail center likely would hurt small businesses, but said some would adapt and others wouldn’t. He noted that applications with information about the size of the building, traffic impacts, and how the building would be used do not include what business is coming.

Development and road improvements

One project the council has been trying to get done is the Thornton Road crossing, which would connect Thornton to the roundabout at Second Avenue.

That, Ingram said, would take pressure off of Main Street, add development in an area already zoned for commercial retail, and offer more shopping options.

Olson agrees that the Thornton Road crossing is a good idea.

“The city seems to be growing up more to the north and to the west, and that would really alleviate traffic,” he said.

Taylor, when asked how the city should plan for growth, said the city should make a comprehensive economic development plan that would look into how more development would impact roads, water and housing.

Stewart was more critical of how the city, in 2011, approved the renovation of the former Ferndale Library into a new police station. He said the council should have a better plan for what it wants Ferndale to look like in 20 years.

Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or wilson.criscione@bellinghamherald.com.