Chuckanut Community Forest District
Overview & Frequently Asked Questions
On August 15, 2011, Bellingham City Council voted unanimously to purchase an 82 acre parcel located on Bellingham’s Southside for parks and open space. Known locally as Chuckanut Ridge or the Hundred Acre Wood, the property has seen considerable informal use as a park for many years. With its healthy second growth forest, Category I wetlands, and peekaboo views, the property serves as the wooded backdrop for life on the Southside. The community has cherished these woods for many years— expressing this love each time the property has been threatened by development. The property was specifically targeted in the last two Greenways levies. But until recently, the City was unable to negotiate a purchase of this cherished community asset. All that changed with the failure of the property’s former owner Horizon Bank, when its assets were transferred to Washington Federal.
Recognizing an important opportunity, the City of Bellingham acted swiftly to negotiate a purchase from Washington Federal for just one third of the original asking price. In order to close the deal, and bring to an end twenty years of community struggle to preserve this land, Bellingham City Council voted to purchase the land using a combination of Greenways III Southside acquisition monies, Southside Park Impact Fees, and a $3,232,201 inter-fund loan from the Greenways III maintenance endowment.
The financing package allowed the City to honor its commitment to acquisition projects in other parts of the Southside and the rest of town, leaving allocations for other projects and parts of town intact.
When it approved this financing plan, the City Council looked to the citizens to find a way to finance the loan repayment, holding the property as collateral for the loan. It has been clearly stated that, if the loan is not repaid, a portion of the property will be sold. A group of Southside citizens organized to develop a plan to repay the loan. A number of potential funding options were considered. From these discussions came a proposal to ask the residents of Bellingham’s Southside to create a Metropolitan Park District (MPD) that would levy a small property tax dedicated to repaying the inter-fund loan and preserving these stunning forested hillsides for the residents of Bellingham to enjoy— forever.
Through the summer of 2012, the Chuckanut Community Forest Steering Committee circulated a petition asking for the creation of the MPD to be placed on the ballot. The intention of this ballot measure is that the Chuckanut Community Forest District (CCFD) will levy a small tax of .28 per $1,000 of property tax valuation for 10 years. State law requires 15% of the registered voters in the proposed district to sign such a petition in order to qualify for the ballot. The group turned in 1,664 signatures to the county auditor–hundreds of signatures more than needed to qualify for the ballot. The petition was duly validated and the creation of the Chuckanut Community Forest Park District will be on the February 12, 2013 ballot for the consideration of District voters.
What is a Metropolitan Park District? Authorized by the legislature, a Metropolitan Park District is simply a structure that can be formed for the management, control, improvement, maintenance, and acquisition of parks and recreational facilities. A Park District is similar to a cemetery district, drainage and diking district or other special utility that is authorized by the state to raise funds for and maintain commonly owned assets for a specific purpose.
Why do we need it? If we citizens cannot raise the funds to retire the loan, a significant portion of the property will be sold. This past summer the Mayor proposed a partial re-zone of the property that would have left 25 acres in multifamily zoning. While this proposal was subsequently withdrawn, it is a clear indication of the intentions of the city regarding meeting their obligation to repay the loan. At current allowable density, more than 300 units could be built on that acreage. Given the sensitive nature of the extensive wetlands on the property, a sale for development would compromise the ecological integrity of the most sensitive areas as there will be few appropriate places for trails and other recreational activities that do not affect the wetlands.
What neighborhoods will be affected by the creation of the CCFD? The South, Fairhaven, Edgemoor Neighborhoods, and much of the Happy Valley and South Hill Neighborhoods will make up the Chuckanut Community Forest District. The District will include the following precincts: 250, 251, 252, 256, 257, 258, 260, 261, 262, 263, 264, 265 and the portion of precinct 259 west of I-5.
Who will run the CCFD? The Park District will be governed by an elected five member board, your neighbors, all living within the proposed District. There are candidates running from every neighborhood in the district. You will have the opportunity to vote for them on the same ballot upon which the CCFD is created. If the CCFD ballot measure does not pass, then the election of the board is voided. Any resident that resides within the District can run for the District board.
How will the CCFD mesh with Bellingham City Parks? It is envisioned that the CCFD would be managed by Bellingham City Parks under an inter-local agreement with the MPD. The agreement would spell out the terms of the payment to the City and ensure long-term protection of the property. The CCFD board will encourage developing a management plan that allows for recreational use of the property while conserving the it’s unique ecological values. Bellingham City Parks would then manage the entire park.
Doesn’t this create another layer of government? While a Park District is technically a government (like a cemetery district), it need not create more bureaucracy. There are many park districts operating successfully within cities around the state. Since the purpose of this district is to repay the loan used to purchase the property, very little infrastructure will be needed to manage the district, because Bellingham City Parks would manage the land in keeping with the inter-local agreement.
How will it be paid for? If formed, the Chuckanut Community Forest District board of commissioners would levy a small property tax of up to 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation on property within the District boundaries for 10 years.
Will the Greenways Endowment be repaid? Yes, the Greenways Endowment will be repaid the loan amount of $3,232,201, plus interest. The estimated payback total is $3.4 million.
Couldn’t the Southside pass a Local Improvement District (LID) to pay for this cost? No. State law is very specific about what these various funding mechanisms are allowed to be used for. LID’s are for capital and infrastructure improvements, not property acquisition or loan payments.
Aren’t there other ways to pay off the loan? Preservation of this property has been a popular desire among southside residents for more than 20 years. Greenways III funds have already covered roughly half the cost. It seems fair to ask those who live nearest the forest, those who enjoy daily the green backdrop it offers to life on the southside, those who benefit the most from its preservation, to come together and pay the rest of cost. Opponents suggest 1600 southsiders hand $2000 IOUs to the city. That’s just not realistic. They suggest selling density rights. Where will the receiving area be? Finally, they suggest selling a “small portion”. How small a portion will it take to generate $3.2 million? We believe it would destroy the ecological integrity of the park. Supporters have worked toward purchase for years. This is the last, best hope for permanent protection. We need a proven method.
Will a park district be around forever? Park Districts have a track record of doing what they set out to do. Then, they can be terminated by two methods. With far fewer signatures than for district creation, a vote can be forced on termination. Or, the district commissioners can vote to do it themselves. Most candidates for the commission have stated this intent upon completion of paying off the loan.
How much of the Greenways III levy went to buy this property? The Greenways III levy will raise $40.1 million. $4.5 million went to the Chuckanut Community Forest. That came from the portion of the levy intended for south Bellingham. The other $3.2 million was loaned from the Greenways Endowment Fund. This is what must be repaid, including interest. The $12.1 Million designated for north Bellingham acquisitions was not used.
Will the CCFD Commission have power over all southside parks? The Bellingham Parks Department will continue to run all parks, as they have always done so well. A Memorandum of Agreement is currently being drafted by Parks to formalize agreement regarding management of the Chuckanut Community Forest, after passage of the district.
Will the Commissioners be paid? State law provides that option. It also allows for commissioners to waive that option. It is the intention of all six candidates recommended by the Steering Committee to volunteer for the commission, just as they have volunteered their time for years to protect this beautiful forest.
How can I help? You can help ensure the passage of this important, citizen-driven ballot measure. Contact us if you would like to volunteer.
- Talk to your Southside friends and neighbors about the Forest District and encourage them to VOTE YES.
- Volunteer for the campaign: we need help with doorbelling, phone calling, and more.
- Display a yard sign showing your support for the campaign.
- Donate: We need to raise $1,500 more to pay for campaign expenses. You can donate with a credit card via our website, www.chuckanutcommunityforest.com or by mail at the address below.