It’s likely that more than 200 new apartment units intended to house Western Washington University students will be added to the multi-family market inventory in the fall 2014/spring 2015 timeframe. Called “The Grove at Bellingham”, the project is being developed by Campus Crest Communities, a developer of student apartment housing based in Charlotte, North Carolina. The new apartment community will house over 500 students and will include commercial space on the ground floor as well as a parking garage.
It was originally thought that over 700 new apartment units would be added to the apartment market inventory when another development in the Puget neighborhood – the “University Ridge” project – was approved by City Council in October 2013, but with a limitation which the developer considered to be a deal-breaker. University Ridge was being developed by Ambling University Development Group, another student housing developer based in Atlanta GA.
This should put a little less pressure on owners of apartment buildings in the vicinity of Western Washington University, but it could cause vacancy rates to rise by a few percentage points in the area, creating more housing options for students. Although it should also be noted that vacancy rates in Bellingham’s multi-family market are currently considered extremely low compared to both state and national standards at approximately 1.5%. Vacancy rates of 5% are considered normal by most multi-family market analysts.
The University Ridge Project would have housed approximately 528 Western Washington students, but was pronounced dead in April 2014, when the developer pulled out due to a deal-breaking requirement imposed by the City of Bellingham’s hearing examiner Dawn Sturwold in October 2013. The project was widely contested by Puget neighborhood residents who felt it would cause traffic congestion and safety issues in the neighborhood. It was comprised of four apartment buildings which would have been developed on 11 forested acres at 4413 Consolidation Ave. The hearing examiner’s requirement would have forced Ambling to limit each dorm-style unit to no more than three bedrooms and three bathrooms, so the complex could be converted into traditional apartments if the student-housing model wasn’t working. Ambling’s original plan had 4 bedroom units in it, which they claim made a significant difference in the project’s profitability.
“The Grove at Bellingham” meanwhile has had much less opposition from the Puget neighborhood, apart from traffic concerns expressed by residents of Lakeway Mobile Estates, located across the street from the development. “All indications are this is a much more suitable location for such a facility,” said Gaythia Weis, president of Puget Neighborhood Association, according to a Bellingham Herald article. There have also been some concerns about drainage of Lincoln Creek which runs through the lot next to the development and could cause flooding where the creek disappears into the ground near Fred Meyer.