Sunday, August 07, 2005

Should Whatcom County limit building permits?

August 6 Bellingham Herald has an article about this proposal from a member of the Whatcom County Planning Commission.

The proposal goes as follows:

Set quotas on home-building permits allowed in Bellingham's urban fringe to control the number of people moving into the areas year to year. Also to force even more of the in filling with-in Bellingham city limits, rather than in the adjacent county areas.

Clark County, where Vancouver, Washington (not Vancouver BC) is located, has enacted a ban on any new development until roadways are built to support the growth.

Traffic is the biggest complaint about growth.

I have a better idea.

Instead of total bans on housing construction, maybe people should consider my ideas for limiting car ownership. Subdivisions for people who can live with out cars should be considered. This would address the traffic problem by shifting car trips to things like public transit and bicycles.

My idea is presented in an earlier blog post. Also was in one of my letters to the Herald (July 15). It got a good response as someone picked up the ball and took my ideas further in a July 28 letter.

Reducing car use might also help address the concerns of folks like Building Industry Association of Whatcom County vice president Bill Quehrn who feels building permit limits would just push up house prices even more.

As homelessness grows, afford ability of housing is a big issue. According to the article, Quehrn is concerned about the 25 year old starting out with a new family.

There are places where first time home buyers, as well as most renters, can't afford to live.

I say, "wouldn't it be nice if people didn't need so much space in order to live?" I don't have a family or an automobile. Basically I just live in something like a studio.

Unfortunately, "across the board bans" on housing construction tend to hurt low income people by driving up prices and rents.

Often the owners of already existing houses will see their values skyrocket while renters and first time buyers get chased out.

Are these the kind of people we want to chase out of the area?

The proposal in Whatcom County does try to focus development inside Bellingham city limits, but this city is full of strong "anti growth" neighborhood associations. That task is not politically easy.

Bellingham should grow up instead of out, but there is just about always opposition to something going in next door. Currently, there is a lot of construction visible around town so the flames of opposition are fanned.

Will people, like me, with simple needs be squeezed out when rents climb to the stratosphere?

I don't have kids who cause population growth or an automobile causing traffic. Why should I have to move out just because I don't have lots of money?

So far, my situation remains affordable, but I worry about the future.

I know some anti growth advocates have proposals to tax high income folks and subsidize low income housing.

Sounds okay, but that might be politically difficult as well. Like the in filling of Bellingham. Politically difficult.

Rather than banning all development, as some would want to do, both in town and in the county, here are some better ideas.

Discourage people from having kids. Especially too many kids. Discourage people from driving cars. Encourage high density and "smaller floor space" housing.

Also think about what kind of people we are attracting to this area.

Maybe we should say, "it will not be an affordable place to raise a family." Parts of eastern Washington are still affordable for family living.

Instead, Bellingham could be seen as a place for singles, people with out cars and folks who are into voluntary simplicity.

How's that for politically difficult?

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