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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Old-growth trees live another day as controversial Bellingham townhome development hits pause

Retired University of Washington professor Jerry Franklin lays a hand on a Douglas Fir whose bark had help during fires at Cedar Flats Research Natural Area near Cougar, Wash., on April 21, 2021.    (Steve Ringman/Seattle Times)
By Rachel Showalter Bellingham Herald

BELLINGHAM – The developer of a proposed 68-unit townhome development in north Bellingham has rescinded a purchase and sale agreement to buy the property, effectively canceling plans to move forward with the project.

The project is proposed as an infill development on land next to the Bellingham Golf and Country Club and has drawn criticism for its plan to remove 327 trees from the site. The project would use what was once the east edge of the golf course property along Meridian Street, which is currently heavily forested and home to hundreds of old-growth conifer trees.

Stream Real Estate had planned to buy the land from the Bellingham Golf and Country Club but terminated its agreement due to declining real estate values as a result of the rapid increase in mortgage rates, according to a message sent from the country club to members last week.

Michael Feerer of the Whatcom Million Trees Project, a group dedicated to preserving trees in Whatcom County, has been outspoken about the group’s concern over the proposed tree loss and started a petition to oppose the project. Feerer said the group is supportive of building affordable infill housing locally but doesn’t believe this project proposal strikes a fair balance.

“We and much of the community (i.e. 1,472 petition signers) are relieved that the maxed-out, ill-conceived Stream development proposal will not go forward. It had many problems that went even beyond the unnecessary loss of 320+ mature trees, some of the tallest conifers in northern Bellingham,” Feerer said in a statement to the Bellingham Herald.

Although the development does call for the removal of hundreds of trees to make room for the townhomes, the existing proposal still preserves 73 existing trees on site. Stream Real Estate had planned to mitigate the tree removal by planting 474 replacement trees, both on site and on the golf course property.

The Bellingham Golf and Country Club has still decided to complete the last remaining component of the permitting process for the project to eventually develop the site, according to Ali Taysi of Bellingham-based AVT Consulting, the permit consultant company for the project.

“The design review/infill toolkit permit was already approved and issued by the city,” Taysi told the Herald. “So yes, Stream has canceled their plans and moved on, but the club has picked up the permit and plans to complete it.”

The club said in its message to members last week that their real estate agent recommended they “keep the property off the market at this time, as land sales are currently very slow.” The message also said the club’s board of trustees plans to monitor the real estate market and review its options in 2024.

Feerer told the Herald the Whatcom Million Trees Project hopes to work with the country club as they move forward to develop the parcel to find a solution to “protect many more mature trees and provide needed affordable infill housing for our community.”

“All are possible with good planning,” Feerer said.