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Bellingham residents take a stand for trees

More than 300 trees comprising an urban forest could be removed to make room for townhomes.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — Developers want to build townhomes in Bellingham, but to do so they would need to take down some of the city's tallest trees.

"It's heartbreaking," said Bellingham resident Michael Feerer.

Like Dr. Seuss' "Lorax," Feerer said, "speaks for the trees."

"Well," he said, "somebody needs to in this community."

The trees he is currently speaking for are the 327 that would come down to make way for 68 new townhomes near the Bellingham Golf and Country Club. Some of the trees are 124 feet tall, making up a living, urban forest.

"They're 70 to 100-year-old trees,"  Feerer said. "There aren't very many patches of that in our urban fabric anymore."

Feerer and his group, the "Whatcom Million Trees Project," are circulating a petition aimed at convincing a hearing examiner to save at least some of the trees. They contend now is not the time to be killing off mature, second growth trees amid a climate crisis.

The developer, Seattle-based Stream Real Estate, boasts a lengthy environmental pedigree on its website, claiming to have planted more than 2,600 trees since 2012. 

Feerer said the company has pledged to preserve 73 trees and replace whatever is taken down with even more trees, but he believes that will make little difference.

"Trees are capturing carbon. Older trees capture more carbon than younger trees, and they continue to grow in their carbon capturing rate. It will be well over 50 years before they begin to catch up to the carbon capturing and other bio-service abilities of these trees here, which are mature," Feerer said.

The city has a 1.6% vacancy rate and a median home price of $575,000 - well above what many can afford.

Feerer wants to be clear.  He does not oppose all of the housing - just some of it - specifically, eight "luxury townhomes" that are about twice the size of the others. Feerer believes removing just those few would make a big difference.

"With that adjustment, that gives the site plan more space to position those homes and protect many more of the trees. It won't preserve all of them, but it will preserve some of them, and that's all we're asking."

If all goes the developer's way, the trees will start coming down next summer.

KING 5 reached out to both the developer and the City of Bellingham for comments, but none were received by the afternoon of July 3.

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