Lummi Island land trust starts building 1st home
Kintner, The Bellingham Herald
LUMMI ISLAND, WA- When Don VanValkenburgh came to Lummi Island 22
years ago, finding a home was not an expensive proposition.
"You could always make money reef netting, and find a place
to live, sometimes for as little as $65 a month," he said.
VanValkenburgh, 64, is one of a growing number of the island's year-round
residents who are in danger of being forced off the island by higher
housing costs. But thanks to the 5-year-old Lummi Island Community
Land Trust, VanValkenburgh instead is about to start work building
his own house in a new development of affordable houses called the
Being able to buy his own house on a modest income has validated
his earlier career choices, said VanValkenburgh, who learned to live
simply while attending high school at a Franciscan monastery. He worked
in banking for a while, but left that for a career in prison counseling
before moving here, to what he calls "a good place for kids,"
when his son, Bren, was born.
"I was raised for the priesthood," said the jovial Ohio
native, "but even though I chose not to follow that, the Friars
gave me a strong sense of the value of community and of choosing quality
of life over possessions."
Sticking with that has become difficult, he said, as the island housing
costs have risen. "I could buy into the system more," he
concluded, "but how can you buy into a system that doesn't reward
your work? How can it be wrong to choose community and family companionship
over simply making money?"
Polly and Carl Hanson moved to Lummi Island in 1971 after living
through Mercer Island's rapid development.
"It's usually about water," said Polly Hanson. "Once
Seattle city water became available on Mercer Island, we saw it go
through a turnover in residents. It was no longer diverse and complete,
a place where people live, work and play. And now we're beginning
to see this here."
The land trust
Samya Clumpner, then a 23-year-old Fairhaven College senior in need
of an internship project, already had been living on Lummi Island
for four years when she talked to Hanson and others who were concerned
about the island community losing its diversity as housing costs rose.
Someone suggested a community land trust such as those in the San
Juan Islands, but that would need someone willing to dedicate time
Clumpner said she "offered to do the work if these people would
act as my board." She secured development grants and the land
trust was chartered in 1998, with Clumpner as its first executive
director, "although I didn't get paid until 2000," she said
with a grin.
After some occasionally frustrating years of planning and preparation,
the land trust broke ground Saturday on the Cedrus Cooperative, a
complex of nine houses on a 5-acre tract the trust purchased on South
The nine households, including three young families, one couple and
five single people, were selected from applicants that had both good
credit and an income of 80 percent or less of the median income of
Whatcom County. The land trust retains ownership of the land and will
lease it to the residents, who are called leaseholders. The houses
will range in size from 900 to 1,500 square feet.
"It's a co-op in that all nine households qualify for one mortgage
and administer their shared facilities together," said the land
trust's outreach coordinator, Michele Morrissey. Part of the initial
investment, Morrissey added, is in the "sweat equity" new
owners put in by working 800 hours during 11 months to build their
houses, under the direction of a general contractor.
Clumpner was born in Lebanon to teachers at the American University
"Samya is Arabic," she said. "It means one who forgives."
She resigned as the land trust's executive director in May to return
to school this fall at the University of British Columbia, where she
will pursue a master's degree in community and regional planning.
Saturday's groundbreaking event also was a chance for the 85-member
land trust to thank Clumpner for her years of work on their behalf.
She was given a birdbath made of concrete and driftwood that two board
members promptly filled with water after its unveiling.
"Water almost stopped us," said Hanson, "because of
the county's standard formulas for water usage per house. They said
we needed a second well, but we said we'd be frugal and could make
it with one, and asked for a variance."
Colleen Berg, who worked with Clumpner for a few weeks before taking
over as executive director, explained that the variance was granted
based on conservation measures that the new community will practice.
"State law says only six houses are allowed on a well without
going through the lengthy process of obtaining water rights. We'll
have nine, but each house will be metered and the cooperative itself
will monitor water use."
The whole concept is about living simply, Berg said.
"Besides water conservation, the houses have small footprints,
cars are parked on the edge of the space rather than driving through
it, and the wetlands around the edges are preserved with trails rather
than plowing them under for a lawn," she said.
Saturday's event closed as people gathered in a circle around an
area marked off with tape where the first house will be built. The
board members stood poised with shovels as prospective resident Giving
Rains asked that people hold hands. She prayed in the silence that
followed, in part saying, "We have been gifted with this piece
of land and now become its stewards. May we be ever sensitive to each
Jack Kintner is a free-lance writer. For questions or story ideas,
contact Jim Donaldson, Hometown editor, at email@example.com
or call 715-2288.