BELLINGHAM - It's taken years to get to this point, but it's time for one more important round of community input about the redevelopment of Bellingham's waterfront.
Last week city and Port of Bellingham staff presented a framework for phased redevelopment of about 237 acres of waterfront to the city's planning commission. Public hearings on the plan are scheduled for 7 p.m. on the next two Thursdays, March 21 and 28, in the Bellingham City Council chambers.
The original March 14 presentation airs at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 17, on the city's television channel, BTV10 (Comcast channel 10 in Bellingham), and is available on its website, cob.org. The city website also has public documents for the community to review.
The report provides a detailed plan of how 237 acres of Bellingham waterfront, much of which was former G-P property, should be redeveloped. The proposed plan for the area, dubbed the Waterfront District, includes five distinct development areas, 33 acres of new parks and trails, and six new city parks.
Nearly 170 acres will be devoted to a "working waterfront," which the report estimates will result in 6,500 new jobs when completely built out. About 37 acres will be developed as a connector to Bellingham's downtown core, which will have urban village characteristics.
The phased plan calls for a steady rate of development over several decades with gradual public investment.
"We have a plan that really works," said Mike Stoner, director of environmental programs for the Port of Bellingham. "It delivers a whole range of community benefits."
The public hearings on March 21 and 28 are not the last opportunities for the community to weigh in on the plan, but it is getting close to the end as some aspects of this project begin to shift into implementation mode. Officials believe they have a basic plan in place and are hoping the upcoming public hearings will lead to some refinements.
"This is not a set plan, but one that evolves," Stoner said. "It will be tested and it will be tweaked. It is not set in stone."
Once these public hearings are done, the planning commission will come up with a recommendation and send it to the city council and the port commission to be debated, leading to possible approval. This phase could be finished by the end of 2013.
Activity is already taking place along the waterfront, with more expected later this year. Cleanup work is under way and a mercury cell building on the former G-P site is slated to be demolished in the coming weeks. Later this year construction of the Wharf Street roundabout is expected to begin. A public boardwalk around the wastewater treatment lagoon could begin in late 2013.
STRIKING A BALANCE ON THE WATERFRONT
In putting together this report, port and city officials say they attempted to strike a balance. They wanted a set plan that would allow for steady development so progress is continuous but not done so quickly that it leaves empty buildings and underused infrastructure. Providing a wide range of uses for the community also was important.
The proposed downtown waterfront area is an example. The area, which includes the Granary Building site and incorporates some of the historic buildings to the west, is planned to have a tight, connected grid system that includes roads and pedestrian trails in small blocks and a design review process that's similar to downtown standards, said Tara Sundin, special projects manager with the city planning department.
Since cleanup there is going well, small parts of the area soon will become available, with construction of some buildings expected to take place in 2015 or 2016, Sundin said. The goal is to make small portions of the property available at a time so that the energy of the downtown core isn't simply shifted to the waterfront.
Along with commercial development and road and trail infrastructure, the shoreline facing the Whatcom Waterway will be cleaned up, restored and available as public access.
The Granary Building was originally considered for demolition, but community feedback and some initial developer interest has put that idea on hold.
"No decision one way or another has been made on the Granary Building, but there has been a good amount of interest in it," Stoner said.
The areas slated for marine-related businesses will focus on providing jobs, with the shorelines allowing for public access. A shipping terminal would remain in place, allowing for possible industrial development.
A new boat marina remains in the plans, something that has drawn criticism from former Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike and others, but port and city officials considered the marina more of a long-term idea.
As for the parks, Cornwall Beach is the biggest at 29 acres. Positioned southwest of the shipping terminal, the beach area provides a public link to nearby Boulevard Park. Along with beach access, bike and pedestrian trails are planned, as well as habitat restoration, lawns and trees. Other public access areas include plazas and children's play areas near the downtown waterfront area and a park near the I&J waterway.
GAUGING PUBLIC FEEDBACK
With the plans laid out, officials are expecting plenty of feedback from the community at these initial public hearings. Sundin said she's taking a wait-and-see approach as to what the main themes will be at the public hearings. She expects public access to the water to be a very important topic, along with connecting the waterfront with the rest of Bellingham.
Stoner added that he's learned over the previous years of public meetings that many members of the community are passionate about very specific aspects of redevelopment, such as a particular building or the restoration of a specific piece of shoreline.
"There have been a lot of great ideas and we expect to hear more of that," Stoner said. "We'll try to take those ideas and weave them into the plan as best we can."
Reach Business Editor Dave Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2269. Read his Business blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/business or get updates on Twitter at @bhamheraldbiz.
SEE PROJECT DETAILS
The March 14 Waterfront District presentation includes maps and charts that detail the five development areas, planned parks, trails, design and more. See it with this story online at Bellinghamherald.com.
Reach DAVE GALLAGHER at email@example.com or call 715-2269.