BELLINGHAM - A new Fairhaven building project could mean improving one of the city's most popular trails and adding a new public plaza, but it would also mean one more tall building on the waterfront.
Gene and Connie Shannon have submitted plans to build a four-story building with underground parking at 1140 10th St., near the Fairhaven Village Inn and a popular trail for bikers and walkers. The proposed 52-foot building would have retail and office spaces on the first two floors, with the remaining floors being used for residential, most likely 11 one- and two-bedroom apartments, said Bill Geyer of Geyer & Associates, a consulting firm representing the Shannons on this project.
The project is going through the city's Notice of Application period when the public is able to submit written comments on it. The public comment period for this part of the process ends Wednesday, Aug. 8.
The project owners will be seeking a height variance from the Bellingham City Council. The standard height limit for a building in that part of the city is 35 feet, but a variance can be given to the 52-foot height the owners are proposing.
As part of the condition to get the variance approved, the owners must provide some public amenities to offset having a taller building in the district. For this project, the Shannons are proposing to enhance the entrance of the trail that goes from Fairhaven to Taylor Dock, install a public plaza where 10th Street comes to an end for vehicles and put in some additional parking.
The plaza would include a texture that is not asphalt, Geyer said, possibly something similar to what's used in the plaza on Bellwether Way. Other enhancements they are considering include a viewing platform, bike racks and trail signs.
"The goal is to do something that's iconic. It would be viewed as a gateway into the Fairhaven district through one of the city's most used trails," Geyer said.
Gene Shannon said the plaza would serve a couple of purposes: It would help slow down some of the bike and runner traffic as it comes into the Fairhaven district and would serve as one more public venue, something he thinks the area needs. The plaza also would help with any overflow on the nearby Village Green, such as the Wednesday farmers' market if it continues to grow.
The group on this project has already held a pre-application meeting with the neighborhood. According to Geyer, some people liked the project because of the way it makes use of unused property. Others said no more tall buildings should be allowed in Fairhaven.
Building height is a sensitive issue in Fairhaven, and Geyer said they've spent time in design addressing it. Because the building is on a slope, he said it would have less impact on views for the South Hill neighborhood, meeting the guidelines established by the city for that view corridor. He also noted that the variance was given to other buildings that are now a key part of the district, including the Village Books building.
Gene Shannon said the challenge with a mixed-use building with underground parking is making it pencil out financially.
"It's tough to make a three-story building work, especially when it comes to building residential units," he said. "To address the height concerns, we are doing our best to design a quality building."
The building design was done by RMC Architects of Bellingham.
The Shannons originally purchased the property with the idea of one day expanding the Fairhaven Village Inn, which they also own. However, the only way to make it work financially would have been to build a separate building.
"We could find no way to connect the hotel in a meaningful way," Gene Shannon said. "We would have been forced to run two different hotels, and that wouldn't work for us."
The Shannons decided to go with a building with a residential component because they believe the Fairhaven business district needs more people living in the area.
"Fairhaven is a destination location, but it also needs more people living here in order to keep the vibrancy and help the businesses survive," Gene Shannon said. "We are strong believers in having apartments in this area."
Along with the Notice of Application comment period, the plans must go before the Historic Preservation Commission, which will look at the building design and whether it fits in with the district, said Kurt Nabbefeld, a city planner. While height isn't a main consideration for the Historic Preservation Commission, it does look at the building size to determine whether it is in scale with the rest of the neighborhood.
If the Historic Preservation Commission approves the project, it goes to the City Council, which will focus on the height variance. That part of the process is expected to take place around the end of September or early October, Nabbefeld said.
If the council grants the variance, the city planning department goes over the project before deciding whether it goes forward. Construction is expected to take between 10 and 13 months.
While public comment would be allowed at the City Council meeting, Nabbefeld said the best time for the public to raise potential issues is during this Notice of Application period. Written comments can be sent to City Planner Jackie Lynch either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by mail to 210 Lottie St., Bellingham, WA 98225.
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