We are living in boom times. Residential living units, whether apartments or condos, seem to be sprouting just about everywhere you look, especially in and around Bellingham.

But with overdeveloped Seattle as a cautionary tale just a couple hours south, we need to get it right in our lovely neck of the woods. Urban living in planned communities where you can walk to amenities like grocery stores, shops, and other services, is a logical step, some say, for cities that want to control growth by building within city limits or developments. Planning experts advocate urban villages as the future for city dwelling, where you can work, relax, and play close to where you live.

We took a look at Bellingham’s urban villages, from Barkley Village to Old Town and downtown, from the Fountain District to Fairhaven, to find out the pros and cons of living there, and what our future might hold.

Status Report

City of Bellingham Weighs In On Its Urban Villages

To help control anticipated growth, the city of Bellingham devised a 2016 Comprehensive Plan. The city has put an emphasis on developing urban villages, defined as “activity centers that provide pleasant living, shopping and working environments; strong pedestrian accessibility; adequate, well-located public spaces; a connected street system; and a balance of retail, office, and residential uses.” Some of Bellingham’s urban village districts are thriving, others are slow to move or stalled. Here are some pros and cons of each, as of the city’s most recent urban village status report in December 2018.

*Information below is from the city’s December 2018 Urban Village Status Report

Samish Way

Urban village plan adopted in November 2009
Land area: 69 acres
Estimated population: 315
Housing units: 169; 815 estimated projected by 2036
Pros: Proximity to I-5, downtown and Western Washington University; popular bus route.
Cons: Lack of public gathering spaces or amenities, current rents and land values; ground-floor commercial requirement; decreased walkability.


Urban village plan adopted in August 2012
Land area: 190 acres
Estimated population: 1,194
Housing units: 633; 971 estimated projected by 2036
Pros: Highly desirable location for residential and businesses; evolved village with a number of amenities; transportation hub (Amtrak, Greyhound, ferries); walkable community.
Cons: Increasingly unaffordable due to market demand; lack of parking; restrictive development regulations like height limits.

Waterfront District

Urban village plan adopted in December 2013
Land area: 240 acres
Estimated population: 0
Housing units: None. A 2013 estimate projects 810 new housing units by 2036
Pros: Waterfront location; nearby dense, historic neighborhoods and high-quality large public park and Whatcom Creek; proximity to downtown; beach access; open space for redevelopment.
Cons: Environmental constraints (shoreline setbacks, view setbacks, height limits); current design standards borrowed from other urban villages (not specific to this waterfront); extended time spent planning as lots remain vacant.

Fountain District

Urban village plan adopted in 2010
Land area: 90 acres
Estimated population: 874
Housing units: 398 in 2013; 657 estimated projected by 2036
Pros: Historic commercial center, walkable, close to downtown, on-street parking.
Cons: Limited land supply, small lots difficult to consolidate.


No formal city designation as urban village, but was developed as such and fulfills the same functions
Land area: 259 acres
Estimated population: 417
Housing units: 271; 1,189 estimated by 2036
Pros: High-quality design and place management for residents and businesses; mix of commercial, service, entertainment, and office space; property owner’s investment in public space has further enhanced desirability.
Cons: Wetlands and critical areas may limit buildable area; lack of formal urban village plan promotes coordination between the Barkley Co. and the city on a piecemeal basis; current zoning (industrial designation) may not be suitable for current and future growth needs; city design review regulations and process may be substandard to one already in place.


Most recent development plan adopted in Sept. 2014
Land area: 275 acres
Estimated population: 3,434
Housing units: 1,983; 4,950 estimated by 2036
Pros: Pedestrian-friendly environment; many new businesses opening, healthy entrepreneurship; more diversity, college town; local business experience. Downtown community embraces change; open to new designs, businesses, experimentation, evolution.
Cons: Some design standards need to be reevaluated against current goals for the district; streetscape design requirements are unclear and difficult to standardize due to the variation in different areas of Downtown; emerging Waterfront District is both an opportunity and a risk for downtown businesses.

Old Town

Urban village plan adopted in March 2008
Land area: 51 acres
Estimated population: 142
Housing units: 82 in 2013; 546 estimated by 2036
Pros: Waterfront access and proximity to the downtown Arts District; great location near dense, historic neighborhoods; high-quality large public park and Whatcom Creek; historic properties like train station courthouse and others create character.
Cons: High-impact industrial use not compatible with residential development; historic landfill requires pilings, increasing construction costs; homeless services center creates perception of lack of safety, cleanliness.

To continue reading our Urban Living Feature, click here!

"Some of Bellingham’s urban village districts are thriving, others are slow to move or stalled."