Monday, June 4, 2012

Lookout for Galbraith

The May 26 issue of the Bellingham Herald carried this story on the announcement that over 3100 acres of mostly timberland on Galbraith Mountain is for sale.
That should be no surprise, because that particular property has been for sale a long time, by various owners.
The question remains, for what purpose does this property exist, and for what price?

The current owners would no doubt like to see the property up zoned to maximize potential profits, but under the present circumstances that does not seem likely.
Instead, the major areas designated Commercial Forestry and Rural Forestry seem fit mainly for those purposes, with two main caveats; due care must be taken for any timber harvesting that impacts the Lake Whatcom watershed and/or other local streams, and road building to access the 67 potential home sites currently permissible under County zoning rules.

It would be good to just buy up the residential development rights for any new homes, since these could be removed forever as a threat to watersheds and a burden to access roads and utilities services.

More problematic is what happens to the timbered areas, much of which are still years away from harvesting. When that time comes, expect some controversy over logging operations so close to urban areas.

The idea of using this property for recreation and open space is a good one, providing funding can be found from County, City or other sources. Good luck with that, since the County has just assumed responsibility for 8700 acres of former DNR forestlands, and the City has squandered $3.5 million more than it had to purchase the entire Chuckanut Ridge property, much of which would have come free if some reasonable level of development had been allowed per legal zoning.

The WHIMPs and other local organizations greatly enjoy hiking and biking on Galbraith Mountain, since it is close by and affords nice views of our surroundings. But, to expect these private groups to maintain the area in perpetuity makes no sense, because of time and expense. It is doubtful that the owners can be relied upon to underwrite safe public use for very long; after all they obtained it from Trillium in exchange for debt. The owners own it for one reason; to make money - or at least not to lose any.

So, what to do? Your guess is as good as mine!
But, for starters, make sure the areas inside the Lake Whatcom watershed remain undeveloped.
Then, think about what makes sense, like conceiving of a parks plan that emphasizes World-Class mountain biking, hiking and viewing great scenery.
And, it could link up with the DNR property, too.

All of those things will draw people to Bellingham plus provide enjoyment for area residents.
Maybe Western Washington University has an idea or two about how to develop and maintain an Urban Forest?
Anacortes already has one around Whisper Lake and Mount Erie that could be a model.
Future sustainable harvesting of timber could help finance such an endeavor.

Then, there are other possibilities like siting the new County Jail facilities, water storage tanks, microwave towers, windmills for power generation, observation decks, and the like.
Just a few thoughts to put out there.

All this for only $16 million?
Wonder how that compares to the values the County got for 8700 acres. Oh, I forgot, the County ALREADY owned it and just took it back for the equivalent of $35 per acre. Such a deal!
The City has spent more than that for the 1500 or so acres it has acquired to protect Lake Whatcom from further harmful development, but much of that property was developable, and therefore much more valuable to owners.

The question remains, what is a reasonable true value for the 3100-plus acres of mostly forest lands on Galbraith Mtn, of which maybe 40% is actually in the Lake Whatcom watershed?
Once the residential component is subtracted, the remaining CF zoned lands are taxable at a very low rate - reflecting the time needed for timber to become mature enough to harvest.
Realistically, the current owners ought to be prepared to await that time, so that any compelling urgency to sell is reduced - or artificial. But, that's just my guess.

Maybe there's a young mountain bike aficionado out there who's just became a Facebook multi-millionaire? Know anyone like that to recruit? We could rename the property in their honor.