Bellingham waterfront plans face City Council this summer


Bellingham Waterfront

Part of the Bellingham waterfront, including Whatcom Waterway in the foreground and the wastewater treatment lagoon, looking down from Western Washington University March 15, 2013 in Bellingham.


BELLINGHAM - Plans for bringing the city's 237-acre industrial waterfront back to life are ready for final review by City Council.

The plans envision a waterfront where existing marine industries will continue to operate, but they also provide a blueprint for transforming a wide swath of industrial land that has been dormant since Georgia-Pacific Corp. shut down its pulp and paper operations. The pulp mill closed in 2001, and the tissue mill turned out its last rolls of toilet paper in 2007.

Today, the Port of Bellingham owns the G-P mill site, and the city also controls some nearby waterfront parcels. Nearly all the waterfront acres are slated for extensive environmental cleanup work to clear the way for 33 acres of new parks and trails, commercial buildings, shops and apartments.

The plan would allow construction of 10- and 20-story buildings on some portions of the site, although the actual size of new buildings will depend on whether developers think tall buildings will be worth the cost. Full development of the area is expected to be the work of future generations.

The City Council is scheduled to review redevelopment plans in committee sessions during the day on July 15, at times still to be scheduled. A public hearing has been scheduled for a 7 p.m. Aug. 5 council session, and further discussion of the plans is likely at later meetings before a final vote is taken.

The plans now proposed are the result of years of debate and negotiations between City Hall and the Port of Bellingham. Mayor Kelli Linville and her staff worked out the current draft proposals with Port Executive Director Rob Fix and his staff. Those plans won't be final until the City Council and port commission also agree.

The plans took a major step forward on June 6, when the seven-member Bellingham Planning Commission unanimously recommended City Council approval. The planning commissioners took their vote after a detailed study of the plans during a series of 10 public meetings.

Fix said the commission did a thorough job, and he was pleased that waterfront plans got a unanimous endorsement.

"The 7-0 vote is a good vote of confidence in the plan," Fix said.

The commission also recommended a long list of changes to plan details. Among other things, the commission suggests:

- creation of off-street trail connections between the Bellwether area and the trail that the city plans to build on the breakwater around the old G-P waste treatment lagoon, on a route that does not conflict with industrial operations.

- another trail connection from the south side of Whatcom Waterway and Log Pond area to Cornwall Avenue, as long as such a trail would not interfere with industries and shipping.

- improved short-term moorage options for visiting pleasure boats.

- addition of language reinforcing the importance of saving, if feasible, three old buildings on G-P property: the Granary, the board mill and the alcohol plant.

- addition of language to reinforce the commitment to marine trades jobs in the Colony Wharf area along Whatcom Waterway, in hopes of keeping those marine industries from being crowded out by other industrial or commercial operations that do not need water access.

- less stringent parking requirements for smaller-sized and lower-priced housing developments whose residents may not need as much parking.

The port's Fix said he has no problem with any of the planning commission's ideas.

"None of the changes they've mentioned are show-stoppers," Fix said.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or Read his Politics blog at or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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