BELLINGHAM GROWTH SURVEY

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Executive Summary
In May 2004, Applied Research Northwest conducted a survey of 359 randomly selected Bellingham residents. The survey asked about their perceptions of two kinds of growth as well as several policies related to managing growth.

Perceptions of Growth

  • 56% said population growth was either “much too fast” or “a little too fast” while 42% said it was “about right.”
  • 63% said that new housing development was either “much too fast” or “a little too fast” while 31% said it was “about right.”
  • 6% said new housing development was either “much too slow” or “a little too slow” and 2% said the same of population growth.

Awareness of and Interest Regarding Growth

Forty-one percent (41%) of respondents said they had read or heard “A lot” about growth in the past year with 8% saying they had read or heard “nothing at all.” The more people had read or heard, the more likely they were to respond that changes in Bellingham in the past 5 years had affected them negatively.

Similarly, the higher respondents reported their level of interest about growth the more likely they were to report the effects of change in Bellingham over the past five years as “mostly negative” (78%).

Where Should Growth Be Directed?

Survey respondents were asked whether they thought the city should adopt policies encouraging growth in the outskirts (just outside the current city limits), within the city, or some mix of the two. The results suggest some favoring for keeping growth predominantly or entirely within the city limits (42% compared to 28% favoring mostly or entirely toward the outskirts). Although the predominant opinion appears to favor increased growth within the city limits, most respondents did not favor such change when it directly impacted them. Respondents were asked if they would favor or oppose measures that might increase housing density in their own neighborhoods. The majority of respondents said they would oppose such a measure (69%).

Affordable Housing

Respondents were asked how important they thought it was for new housing in Bellingham to include homes in a variety of price ranges, including affordable housing (defined as homes that people with hourly-wage jobs could afford to buy). Nearly half of respondents said they thought it was “extremely” important, with 7% saying they thought it was “a little” or “not at all” important. The majority of respondents (60%) think there is currently “too little” affordable housing, while 7% think there is “too much.”

Protecting Wild lands and Farmland

Eighty percent (80%) of respondents said they thought that protecting wild lands was “extremely” or “very” important, and 75% said they felt as strongly about protecting farmland. With very few exceptions, respondents tended to report equal levels of importance on these items. For example, 78% of those who said farmland protection was “extremely” important also said that wild land protection was “extremely” important.

Quality of Life

Respondents were asked to rate their quality of life in Bellingham. According to this survey, 90% of Bellingham residents report their quality of life in one of the top two categories: “Excellent” or “Good.” Of the minority of respondents who reported their quality of life as “very poor”, “poor” or “fair” most (67%) were renters. Higher quality of life ratings tended to correspond to people reporting “about right” levels of population and new residential growth. However, respondents who reported poorer life quality tended to say growth was either happening “too fast” or “too slow.” This divergence in opinion is a pattern that suggests a wide range of experiences among these residents. Most revealing were the answers of people who reported a poorer quality of life when they were asked whether they have been negatively or positively impacted by recent changes in Bellingham. As might be expected, respondents who reported a poorer quality of life were more likely to say they had been negatively impacted by growth.

Negative and Positive Impacts

About 30% of respondents had lived in Bellingham for less than five years (median time=11 years). The remaining 70% who had lived here longer were asked whether changes over the past five years had personally affected them in a more positive or negative way, if at all. Thirty-six percent (36%) said that the changes had been somewhat or mostly negative, while the majority of respondents (64%) said the change had been mostly positive. Elaborations on people’s responses showed that positive changes included a higher quality of life due to greater variety of recreation, shopping, entertainment etc. Many also mentioned that their businesses were experiencing the benefits of a larger, stronger market, in addition to more and higher quality public services, housing options and a more diverse population. Negative effects reported by respondents predominantly focused on traffic, transit and parking problems. In addition, many mentioned overcrowding and poor housing availability, affordability and quality.

Future Concerns

All respondents, regardless of how long they had lived in Bellingham, were asked what concerns they had, if any, about the future of Bellingham. Many had no concerns (34%), but among those who did, the most commonly mentioned concern focused on housing and building development. That is, respondents reported being concerned with development being too dense, of poor quality or too high priced. The next most common concerns regarding Bellingham’s future pertaining to growth were poor planning and/or public services (18%), and over development (16%).

Conclusion

Findings from this survey indicate a relatively engaged public with mostly positive experiences and a strong interest in preserving the rather high quality of life they have in Bellingham. Although crowding due to population growth was discussed, the bulk of public concern appears to focus on issues of the built environment – housing, roads, transit and traffic, parking and careful management of space.