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Bellingham Herald        Oct. 21, 2009

Bellingham residents blast Fairhaven Highlands development in hearing

By Jared Paben  

BELLINGHAM - Bellingham officials held a hearing to gather comments on a study looking at how the proposed Fairhaven Highlands development could be built.

But the vast majority of the more than 200 people who attended the hearing had already decided that it shouldn't be built.

"I would hope that the (State Environmental Policy Act) process would protect us, and I expect you, Mr. Stewart, to do that, and if you don't, we'll sue," said Frank James, a member of Responsible Development, a group opposed to the project, to the city's planning director, Tim Stewart.

In the packed County Council Chambers, James asked people to stand if they didn't want the project to be built, and maybe a few people remained sitting.

Fairhaven Highlands is a proposed project of 739 homes in a forested area of Bellingham's South neighborhood. The property, also called the Hundred Acre Wood, is located off Chuckanut Drive, east and southeast of Fairhaven Park.

The project is proposed by developer David Edelstein and Horizon Bank.

The hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 20, was to gather comments on the draft environmental impact statement, which studies various options for developing the property. Comments gathered at the hearing and written comments will be addressed in the final statement, which is expected to be published early next spring, city officials say.

Early in the hearing, criticism ranged from detailed comments on specific environmental impacts to attacks on the process.

The statement, written by consultants who work for the city but are paid by developers, reads like a "puff piece" cheerleading for the developers, said David Bricklin, a land-use attorney working for Responsible Development.

"They got paid a lot of money to write this, and it reads like it," he said.

Again and again, the most important environmental impacts from the project are either ignored or buried in the document, which is too long and poorly organized, he said.

The different project alternatives are the heart of the document, but, except for the legally required alternative of not doing the project, all of the options involve building the same number of housing units, he said.

Herbert Brown, a retired biology professor at Western Washington University, said he's used the property for his recreation and research, and he worries about the loss of species and learning opportunities for students.

He has discovered a type of freshwater shrimp in wetlands there, which he described as unique in the city. He also found a rare type of orchid there that's highly sought after and protected in British Columbia.

"I see it as a shame that we'd lose so much of the wetlands and the mixed coniferous community there that holds so many interesting plants and animals," he said.