Community voices come together

By Noah Harper

Over 25 people voiced their concerns on the fate of the HomesNOW! Unity Village project in Fairhaven, during the Bellingham City Council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 7. 

Marcus Dee, program director for HomesNOW!, came to the meeting in hopes of rebuilding relationships with the city after recent shake-ups following the accusations that Board President Jim Peterson misspent $8,000 of funds.

“We are here tonight, I am here tonight to try to normalize relationships with the city,” Dee said. “One thing I think we should all prepare ourselves for is we are going to try to petition the city to extend our stay [in] Fairhaven.”

Unity Village residents echoed the goal of extending the lease of Unity Village for another year.

“I’ve heard a lot of fear, given light of what’s happened with some of the staff recently. I just want to remind you or urge you that this isn’t a time for fear this is a time to be bold,” said Criss Clemens, a Unity Village resident. 

“It was really bold for Doug to confront the president and vice president of HomesNOW!, it was bold for us to keep running our little tiny home village, and it’s insanely bold for us to ask you to extend our contract. Let us stay at this current site for another year. Let us get over this blow that we recently suffered. Give us a chance to get settled enough and find where we are going to go next.” 

HomesNOW! Unity Village permit would allow them to stay on 210 Mackenzie Ave. in Fairhaven for another year with the possibility of extension, if the permit was accepted. Unity Village has been open around one month, as they cut the ribbon on Sept. 14. They do not normally ask for an extension so early in the life cycle, said council member Michael Lilliquist.

“The most difficult part is the fact that in discussion with the community and the neighborhood our intention would be to not renew [the permits]. In order to extend their permitted use of the property, in my mind, we really want to go back and talk to the community,” Lilliquist said. 

Legally speaking, the city council does have the authority to extend the lease of land for Unity Village, but Council Member Liliquist believes it’s not entirely up to the council to decide this. Unity Village should also have its opinion heard, Liliquist said.

The council did not vote on any extensions during the course of the meeting.

Another topic discussed at the meeting was the possible collaboration between the YMCA and public pool Arne Hanna. 

The collaboration involves the Bellingham YMCA attempting to move their pool operations out from their current facility and into the Arne Hanna property. The YMCA would have to lease out the space from the city and offer to oversee the management of Arne Hanna, Lilliquist said. The long-term plan is for the YMCA to expand the pool potential of Bellingham, adding more spaces for swimming activities.

Concerns were raised about the YMCA’s ability to keep the competitive swimming community alive if they took over operations of Arne Hanna.

“Arne Hanna is a vital part in the competitive swimming community,” said community member Cassandra Reid. “If the YMCA took over the pool there would not be competitive swimming because the pool would be too hot.”.

Community concerns are also from the YMCA’s short-term plan. The plan involves the YMCA closing their own pool and adding four recreational warm-water lanes in an already overcrowded facility, said master swimmer Brad Jones. Arne Hanna currently hosts swim practice for all the high school teams, Bellingham Bay Swim Team and the Masters Swim Club.

“Every single group that currently uses Arne Hanna is currently maxed out,” said Jones. “The Masters group there is often five to six people in a lane in the mornings … One [high school] team has to go use the YMCA or practice at 8:15 at night.”

Swimmers are often injured as to the overcrowded lanes.

“Overcrowded lanes have caused multiple concussions and broken arms just from kids hitting each other,” Jones said. “Closing down the pool at the YMCA will be bringing all of their members over and it’s going to make it more crowded.”

An earlier version of this story did not clearly state that the permit had not been extended.

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