Frequently Asked Questions

about Chuckanut Ridge and Fairhaven Highlands

Prepared by Responsible Development / (Rev Jan 7, 2008)


Questions relating to the Fairhaven Highlands development


1.     As landowners, don’t Horizon Bank and David Edelstein have the right to develop Fairhaven Highlands on the Chuckanut Ridge property?


While it is true that the current zoning for this land allows for 739 units, there is a clear distinction between zoning and permitting.  Zoning relates to potential land use while permitting relates to actual land use based on how applicable laws regulate a specific parcel.  In other words, Horizon Bank and Edelstein have the potential right to develop Fairhaven Highlands, but not the permitted right to do so. 


The Fairhaven Highlands development will impose substantial environmental, social and financial costs on the community. While the developers have the right to ask the community to accept these considerable costs, laws are in place that allow the community to deny this request.  


This project violates the Growth Management Act requirement to preserve neighborhood character,  6 key planning goals of the GMA, and  18 land use policies of the Bellingham Comprehensive Plan.  It also fails to meet the wetland buffer requirements of Bellingham’s Critical Areas Ordinance and the prerequisite considerations of the South Neighborhood Plan.  The proposed development falls under the accepted definitions of sprawl rather than successful infill development, as defined by key organizations such as the WA State Dept of Community, Trade & Economic Development (CTED), Congress for the New Urbanism, and PolicyLink.


Additionally, this development will decimate 60% of a mature urban forest, destroy the connectivity of five Category 1 mature forested wetlands, create severe traffic congestion, overburden the 12th Street Bridge, threaten pedestrian safety, pollute salmon bearing streams, overcrowd our schools, parks and recreational systems, and irrevocably impact the very character of our neighborhoods. 


In his April 3, 1996 letter to the students of Wellspring Community School, even then-mayor Mark Asmundson agreed that the zoning on this property was inappropriate when he stated, “I disagree with the zoning density presently in place, and I do not understand why in 1980 the City Council approved the kind of density that was allowed in this location.”


A better question might be:  Why should the city accept a development that violates so many laws, imposes substantial financial, social and environmental costs, and negatively impacts neighborhood character and the quality of life of thousands of residents?  And why is Horizon Bank pressuring us to do so?


2.     Because the Fairhaven Highlands wetland application was submitted on Nov 18, 2005 (3 days before Council adopted the 2005 Critical Areas Ordinance), isn’t this application vested under the Wetland & Stream regulations that preceded the 2005 CAO?


Based on the “Vested Rights Doctrine in WA State” (Noble Manor v Pierce County), development applications are only vested if both of the following requirements are met:



The Fairhaven Highlands application meets neither of these requirements.


The application is not complete because it:

§  Fails to consider the South Neighborhood Plan prerequisite consideration for the “construction of Chuckanut Valley Parkway collector or widening of Fairhaven Bridge”;

§  Fails to meet the BMC 20.38.050(14) requirement to include a declaration of covenants and restrictions;

§  Fails to meet the BMC 16.60 requirements regarding a clearing permit; and

§  Fails to specify that several landslides have occurred on the parcel in the application’s SEPA checklist.


The application does not comply with existing zoning ordinances and building codes because it:

§  Fails to meet the South Neighborhood Plan prerequisite considerations; and

§  Fails to meet the wetland buffer requirements for Category 1 mature forested wetlands in the pre-2005 Wetland & Stream regulations that preceded the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO).


Because the Fairhaven Highlands application does not meet the vesting requirements, it is not vested and must comply with the wetland buffer requirements of the 2005 Bellingham CAO.


Note that while the 2005 CAO is based on best available science (BAS), Horizon Bank and Edelstein plan to ignore BAS and provide wetland buffers that are only 1/3 the size required by the CAO.  Land Use Policy 144 in the Bellingham Comprehensive Plan states, “Bellingham recognizes the requirement for, and substantial benefit of, incorporating the use of “best available science” in the overall management of critical areas and natural resource protection.”  The Fairhaven Highlands application violates this land use policy.


Why should the city subvert its own land use policy to approve a development that violates best available science?  Why is Horizon Bank planning to do so?


3.     If Fairhaven Highlands is not developed won’t these units need to be built in other neighborhoods?


No.  According to the Bellingham Land Supply Analysis, the South neighborhood is projected to add 691 new housing units by 2022.  Excluding Chuckanut Ridge, the South neighborhood has 269 acres of vacant or re-developable land.  If these 269 acres in the South neighborhood accommodate just over 2 ½ units per acre, then all 691 units can be accommodated and none will need to be built in other neighborhoods.


The city’s land supply analysis also indicates that 91 “developable” acres in the South neighborhood will be preserved as parks and other public facilities.  Even if the 65 developable acres of Chuckanut Ridge are preserved, another 26 acres will need to be preserved in the South neighborhood according to the city’s land supply analysis.



Questions relating to the preservation of Chuckanut Ridge


4.     Is Chuckanut Ridge so environmentally significant that it should be preserved?


Yes.   According to the Bellingham Wildlife & Habitat Assessment, there are only 29 Significant Habitat Conservation Areas in the entire city.  Of those, only seven represent privately owned lands yet to be protected by the community.  The Chuckanut Ridge Interurban 100 Acre Woods is one of those seven.


There are at least 13 land use policies in the Bellingham Comprehensive Plan that are specifically designed to protect our environment by limiting development (see LU# 6, 7, 8, 24, 55, 126, 127, 128, 129, 144, 145, 146, and 147).  In particular, land use policy 145 states, “Citizens value those plant and animal species that help characterize our community and establish our unique identity, such as those listed in the 1995 Wildlife & Habitat Assessment Plan.”   According to this study:

§  The Chuckanut Creek Watershed contains the most intact habitat area in Bellingham.

§  Chuckanut’s wildlife represents both species richness and diversity, unmatched in the City. 

§  The greatest diversity of amphibian species documented within the City is concentrated here, in addition to the last remaining wild salmon and steelhead population in Bellingham.  These are of City-wide significance. 

§  Future planned development within the watershed would severely impact the primary function and value of its habitat for wildlife.

§  The total area of the Chuckanut Ridge Interurban 100 Acres Woods is significantly valuable habitat.

§  Preservation of Chuckanut Ridge’s wetland and upland habitats, as well as the Interurban corridor, are necessary for the function of this area to support current species composition, which require both wetland and terrestrial habitats. 

§  Chuckanut Ridge’s attributes include: significant intact wetland/upland complex, the greatest diversity of amphibians in the City, species rich and abundant breeding and resident birds, red fox and other uncommon medium-small mammals, a Sitka spruce community (rare within the City), fawning areas, presence of species of concern and species of local significance, major corridor connecting Padden and Chuckanut watersheds.


Additionally, according to an article by population biologist and Huxley College of the Environment professor, John McLaughlin, Ph.D.:


§  Chuckanut Ridge contains a network of mature forested wetlands, which exceed criteria defining category 1 wetlands − the most valuable kind. The wetlands contain cedar trees exceeding four feet in diameter.

§  The area has class 5 nurse logs supporting mature trees which require nearly 1000 years to develop.

§  Habitat diversity and quality at Chuckanut Ridge are high, but the site’s regional importance is exceptional.  This importance can be quantified by measuring ecological connectivity. The connectivity of Bellingham south of Lakeway Drive would decrease 70% without Chuckanut Ridge. For this reason, the site functions as a “keystone habitat.” Ecological connectivity of southern Bellingham would substantially collapse if Chuckanut Ridge becomes developed.

§  Chuckanut Ridge is important to other Greenways functions:

§  Wetlands and streams there contribute water quality and quantity to Chuckanut and Padden Creeks.

§  Chuckanut Ridge provides an important aesthetic function as a prominent forested gateway to the city.

§  When evaluated by key criteria, Chuckanut Ridge scores 43.7 out of 48 possible, or 91%. This score substantially exceeds all other projects proposed for Greenways funding.

§  Chuckanut Ridge clearly should be a Greenways priority.


Furthermore, the Army Corps of Engineers has determined that seven wetlands on the Chuckanut Ridge property are under the jurisdiction of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.  The Corps recommends that these mature forested wetlands be preserved due to the maturity of the systems and that the hydrological connections between wetlands be maintained.


According to a recent Time Magazine article entitled Why Cities are Uprooting Trees, urban trees are critically important in absorbing carbon dioxide, removing particulate matter from the air, preventing floods and keeping temperatures at livable levels.  A large tree achieves 60 to 70 times the pollution removal of a small tree, and the crown of a large tree is also a freestanding anti-flood reservoir.  Chopping down a large tree substantially increases the volume of storm water a city must manage.  What would the impact be of chopping down thousands of the mature trees within Chuckanut Ridge, many of which are more than 70 years old?  This article concludes that the most immediate answer is the preservation of urban forests like Chuckanut Ridge.


A better question might be: Does the city actually plan to honor the visions, goals and policies that it established to protect the environment and preserve quality of life, or does the city plan to give them “lip service” only while residents continue to suffer the severe consequences of irresponsible development?


5.     Doesn’t the southside already have enough parkland and open space?


According to the most recent neighborhood population data available from the city, the average Park & Open Space Level of Service (Park LOS) for all neighborhoods combined is 37 acres per 1,000 people.  Chuckanut Ridge is located in the southwest region of the city, encompassing the South Hill, South, Happy Valley, Fairhaven and Edgemoor neighborhoods.  This southwest region has a park LOS of 28 acres per 1,000, below the citywide average of 37. 


In order to accommodate the growth in the five southwest neighborhoods, including the Fairhaven urban village, the southside will need additional land for parks and open space.  As indicated in the answer to question 3, the South neighborhood is expected to add 91 acres of developable land to its park system by 2022, and Chuckanut Ridge represents only 65 developable acres.


The Chuckanut Ridge parcel is clearly the best choice to provide the recreational resource needed to accommodate this growth.


6.     Won’t it be too expensive to acquire Chuckanut Ridge?


In order to answer this question, we must first consider the substantial financial, social and environmental costs to develop Fairhaven Highlands.


In a study by Eben Fodor, a nationally recognized urban planning specialist, the cost to the public of developing Fairhaven Highlands would be more than $9 million (after adjusting for revisions to the city’s park impact fee).  This study specifically considered the actual costs of infrastructure necessary for this development, including fire protection, roads, schools, and parks.


Fodor’s report did not quantify the social costs caused by severe traffic congestion or the threat to pedestrian safety at the Fairhaven Middle School intersection.  Nor did it evaluate the environmental costs of destroying a mature urban forest and five Category 1 wetlands, polluting two salmon bearing streams, and irrevocably impacting the very character of our neighborhoods and quality of our lives.  It also did not consider the intangible value of Chuckanut Ridge to our local schools and to Western Washington University as a key nature preserve for purposes of study and education.  The value of Chuckanut Ridge to this generation and to all future generations of Bellingham residents is priceless!


The actual price to acquire Chuckanut Ridge has not been determined.  However, it is clear that the property’s value has decreased because of the strong community opposition to development of this property, the limiting factors imposed by environmental conditions, and the depressed market for new homes.


Even when a price is finally agreed upon, cost must be considered in relationship to the value received.  The creation of Central Park in New York, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and Stanley Park in Vancouver provided immeasurable enjoyment for generations of residents of those cities.  On a smaller scale, Whatcom Falls Park, Boulevard Park, and Lake Padden Park have helped make Bellingham one of the most livable cities in America.  Imagine what New York, San Francisco, Vancouver and Bellingham would be without its great parks and open spaces.  No one would consider selling any of those sites for development.  Chuckanut Ridge is one of those places that must be preserved.  Its value to the community as a recreation site and a nature preserve is beyond measure.  Future generations will be right to condemn us if we do not preserve this unique gem.


We cannot afford not to.