CityScape: A Closer Look At Its Developer / Facebook post, Whatcom Hawk, Wendy Harris

cityscapeYesterday at 12:45am September 22, 2105  Wendy Harris

The Bakerview apartment complex project is interesting for reasons beyond the scope and undesirable location of the project.

The developer, Madrona Bay Real Estate Investment, LLC, has one employee, Morgan Bartlett, Jr., who owns other properties in town, including Bakerview Square. He has been tracking development in this area closely, and first intended to build a hotel.

According to its website, Madrona Bay Real Estate Investment “acquires and develops commercial and residential real estate, and retains ownership through subsidiary companies. We oversee all aspects of the acquisition/development equation, from contract negotiations, project feasibility, capital procurement, design/architecture, and construction, to the final stage of successful management. Madrona Bay manages its own properties through RPM.” This gives the privately owned company plenty of time to develop a very comfortable working relationship with city staff.

Mr. Bartlett announced plans for CityScape in the Herald, with some specificity and detail, including the anticipated date of occupancy . He advised the paper that he, “plans to meet with the city soon to go over the plans and start the permitting process. He is planning to break ground next spring and have people moving in around March 2017.”

That made me question whether, like Costco, this was handled as a private backroom deal. For example, this project involves destroying undeveloped land that contains wetlands. Prior to the public process required by law, did the city and the developer meet and agree upon the terms of mitigation? Such an agreement and understanding would provide the developer with a rather solid basis for knowing the projected occupancy date.

The process of reviewing plans with the staff begins with what is known as a pre-application process. And that requires a written application which is a matter of public record, and which leaves a public record trail. Normally, developers do not release plans and conceptual renderings to the press at such an early formative stage. I am also aware that deals were being made by Public Works and Ted Carlson for the properties surrounding Costco with regard to infrastructure and road design, etc, through the public notices released by the city.

I do not know anything about this developer, but I know it is unlikely that Mr. Bartlett shares the liberal values of city residents. The Madrona Bay website lists many charities to which the company participates. The charities primarily assist children and youth. Several of these charities are connected to Christian organizations that provide aide to third world countries, such as World Vision and Childcare International. These charities have been criticized as not being open about the fact that they are proselytizing in exchange for aid when soliciting donations and of violating Red Cross protocol regarding religious conversion. Another charity, Young Life Ministries, has been criticized as cultist and unaccepting of gay members, as well as sending kids to camp without advising them that it was religious until they arrived and could not leave.

The Environmental Working Group lists Bartlett, on an webpage entitled Who Owns The West, as someone who benefits from a 132-year-old federal mining law that gives away precious metals, minerals, and even the title to the land itself for less than $10 an acre. Morgan Bartlett Jr owns the minerals under an estimated 160 acres of claimed land in Arizona, giving him more total land holdings (claims and patents) than 80.4% of all other mining interests. He would have acquired ownership of precious metals and minerals on U.S. public land for about $2 per acre, and maintains possession of the claim with a small per-acre fee, typically $5 each year. Morgan Bartlett Jr pays no royalties to the federal government for metals and minerals mined from this land.

I do not have proof, as we did with Costco, that backroom deals occurred, but it seems at least possible, and more evidence may appear as the development process moves forward, officially. But I also thought that as incentives and subsidies for developers become a larger and larger priority for the city, people should have a better idea of where their tax dollars are going and who it is that are developing the new mega apartment complexes.

Read Wendy’s post on the Whatcom Hawk Facebook page here.

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