A steep, wet, and wooded tract, which stirred a Bellingham campaign against the now-defunct Horizon Bank, looks as though it might finally become a city park. Washington Federal, the bank that took over Horizon’s assets, filed foreclosure documents last week that would transfer control of the property to the bank, from a partnership Horizon had formed with a local developer.
A senior vice president for Washington Federal, Tom Kenney said if the bank gains control of the property, it plans to sell it to the City of Bellingham. “We’ve made it clear all along that we want to do what’s best for the community,” Kenney told the Bellingham Herald.
It almost became a housing development. Horizon and its partner, Greenbriar Northwest, proposed shaving off a hillside above the village of Fairhaven, to build 739 multi-story and single family housing units. Locals, organized as Citizens for Responsible Development, maintained a years-long campaign against the project, with Horizon Bank as the target.
When the market for condominiums and apartments plummeted, the bank found itself sinking in a swamp of unprofitable residential construction loans. After a series of warnings from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Horizon became the first US bank to be closed in 2010.
Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike said the city and Washington Federal had agreed to a selling price of $8.7 million for the hilly 85 aces. Horizon and Greenbriar once valued the property at $26 million. It’s assessed for tax purposes at $11.8 million.
The city has $5 million in hand from a parks levy of some years ago, earmarked for the Fairhaven Highlands property. For the $3.7 million balance, Pike told Crosscut, “Responsible Development [the citizens' group] has promised to raise $1 million. We're hoping that Washington Federal will make a contribution. And the rest we could borrow for a few years until we run another Greenways levy.”
Bellingham taxpayers have regularly approved the parks levies and ranks high among cities of its size for its wealth of parks and trails. The city of 80,000 has more than 3000 acres of parks within its boundaries, for a ratio of more than 37 acres per 1,000 population. According to the national Trust for Public Land, Seattle has just less than nine acres of parks 1,000 people, and Portland 23.