BELLINGHAM - City officials are continuing to work on projects designed to clear the way for development of a West Bakerview Road site that could accommodate a new Costco store.
In a recent interview, Mayor Kelli Linville acknowledged that city officials are still talking to Costco about the area north of the Bakerview Fred Meyer store. And city staffers continue to do the groundwork for development of wetland mitigation and stormwater control facilities that would be needed for major new construction in the area.
Also in the works are about $3 million worth of street improvements in and around the West Bakerview-Interstate 5 interchange.
But Linville stressed that, with or without Costco, these projects need to move ahead to encourage development of what she calls "employment lands."
"Whether or not Costco comes, it is our last opportunity to develop those kinds of employment lands within our existing city limits," Linville said. "We were talking about some of this stuff before Costco was talking about relocating."
The city wants to be able to offer sites that are close to ready for development, when and if investors are ready to move.
"If someone wants to submit a permit, we don't have to start from scratch," Linville said. "I want to have our employment lands ready to be developed, when somebody is interested in being there."
The city could build a stormwater facility and wetlands mitigation for the area, and then recover its upfront costs from developers though the permitting process, Linville said.
"Wetlands mitigation" refers to legal requirements to create new wetlands that function as wildlife habitat when existing wetlands are filled for development.
Linville said she wants that mitigation to be done in a way that is both cost-effective and beneficial to the environment. She thinks the development of a single mitigation site for an entire area is more likely to achieve both goals, instead of taking a piecemeal approach as different parcels are developed.
Linville would not speculate on the likelihood of a larger Costco store on Bakerview to replace the existing one on Meridian Street. The existing store often seems to be bursting at the seams, partly because of its popularity with Canadian shoppers.
"I'm not going to talk about their business and they're not going to talk about our business," Linville said.
Linville also made it clear that she hopes to avoid any move of big-box retailers outside the city limits. That probably would mean a significant hit to city sales tax revenues that pay for a wide range of city government services.
"We are anxious for Costco to maintain their base in Bellingham," Linville said.
Costco spokesman Joel Benoliel said the company would not comment, and that won't change until the company is ready to submit permit applications.
"We're probably looking at 300 prospects right now," Benoliel said. "We just don't comment on them until they become real."
Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.
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