Port of Bellingham hearing Tuesday on waterfront development plan

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 18, 2013 

BELLINGHAM - The Port of Bellingham will take comments on a plan for redevelopment of the waterfront at a public hearing Tuesday, Aug. 20.

The hearing is part of separate but parallel tracks the port and the city are on to approve the plan, possibly by the end of the year.

Tuesday's meeting starts at 3 p.m. in the conference room of the Harbor Center building, 1801 Roeder Ave.

The draft plan, completed in December 2012 and available on both the port and city websites, proposes a mix of parks, public beaches, industry, retail and residences on 237 acres of mostly industrial waterfront adjacent to downtown.

Contamination on the site and market constraints guarantee a gradual build-out, but some development can be seen on the horizon. Port officials are in preliminary discussions with developers interested in a 10.8-acre parcel on the northeast end of the site, in and around the Granary Building.

City officials say they are determined to provide some public access to the waterfront as soon as possible.

The Tuesday hearing serves a role similar to that of a hearing held 15 days earlier by the City Council. At that hearing, which took almost two hours, the council heard a call for a community benefits agreement that would ensure the community's values become part of the final plan, said Kate Blystone, Whatcom chapter director of Futurewise.

The coalition of labor and environmental groups asking for the benefits agreement would like to see a certain percentage of living-wage jobs, the right to unionize, habitat protections, and accommodations for pedestrians and bicyclists, Blystone said.

Several speakers at the city hearing also said they wanted another chance to speak. While Tuesday's hearing is in front of a different body, the port commission and City Council both must approve the waterfront plan.

"Tuesday is a good opportunity for the public to tell the Port Commission what they think about the draft master plan," port waterfront project manager Mike Stoner said in an email.

Blystone, who said she is likely to speak at the hearing, said it's important to address the port specifically about environmental cleanup.

"They have most of the control over the cleanup process, so it's important for us to let them know that we want the highest cleanup possible," even more than what the state is requiring, she said.

After the hearing, port commissioners will schedule a series of discussion sessions about waterfront redevelopment. The City Council has set its schedule for similar sessions, with the next council meeting devoted to waterfront planning on Sept. 9.

Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2298.

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