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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Western and Bellingham Seek Improvement For Student-Neighborhood Relations

A joint proposal from the City of Bellingham and Western aims to improve student relationships with the neighborhoods surrounding the university through a strategy to tackle common areas of dispute between students and local residents.

The plan, known as the “Town & Gown Implementation Strategy,” was introduced to the Bellingham City Council during the June 19 council meeting by the city’s Planning and Community Development Department. The “town & gown” strategy, referring to Bellingham and the university, is set on tackling issues of strife between students and town residents, said Lindsay Kershner, a planner with the department.

“The purpose of this program is really just to fill in the gaps and improve on the programs that are already in place,” Kershner said.

The strategy is based off a similar one used at Colorado State University, Kershner said. Last year, Kershner and other members of the planning department went to Fort Collins, Colorado to inquire about how the system worked for the city.

“What Fort Collins found was after a couple years of having this program in place, their calls to dispatch with noise complaints cut down drastically,” Kershner said.

The Bellingham plan still has items to be worked on before it’s ready to be implemented, said Steve Swan, Western’s then vice president for university relations and community development. Swan has since retired.

It’s been a work in progress for about a year and the exact timeline is unknown, he said.

“We’re still going through a due diligence process to decide what is or will not be put in the agreement [between the city and Western],” Swan said.

Kershner said the action plan identifies five issues the city and university would focus on: litter, parking and traffic, housing, nuisance ordinance update, and noise and parties.

“I’m really proud to be a part of a community where our different city organizations and departments want to work with the college. We are incredibly fortunate to be a community of this size, to have a higher education institution of that quality.”

Roxanne Murphy, Bellingham City Councilmember

Dealing with litter from students would include streamlining litter enforcement policies as well as educating students about proper furniture disposal through events like Western’s Move-Out Madness that provide areas around town to donate unwanted items, Kershner said.

To address parking, the city would look at establishing new residential parking zones in areas where cars spill out into the streets when room isn’t available on the properties, Kershner said. The city would also increase parking enforcement in the fall when school starts and inform students on where they are allowed to park around the Western, Bellingham Technical College and Whatcom Community College, she said.

The plan looks to improve housing experiences by requiring rental agencies and landlords to clearly state zoning restrictions in rental advertisements, including the limit to unrelated individuals who can rent a unit, Kershner said. According to the plan, the city would also create a training program for landlords to teach them about laws related to rental properties, as well as what their obligations are to the city and tenants.

An updated nuisance ordinance would streamline the enforcement abilities of the police department’s enforcement officers regarding litter and parking, allowing them to issue citations instead of misdemeanors, Kershner said.

The fifth action would attempt to reduce noise complaints through a party registration program, Kershner said. The system works by having a student register their party through Western, which then would send the information to police dispatch. If dispatch received a call or complaint, the host would receive a 20-minute warning and in that time, they would have to quiet down or end their party at the risk of receiving a citation, she said.

“A lot of information is given to the person hosting the party when they’re registering about how to deal with issues if something start to get out of control,” Kershner said.

While some councilmembers expressed concerns about spending city money on the proposed programs, others were in support of adopting the strategy.

“I’m really proud to be a part of a community where our different city organizations and departments want to work with the college,” councilmember Roxanne Murphy said.“We are incredibly fortunate to be a community of this size, to have a higher education institution of that quality.”

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