Waterfront plans on simmer at Bellingham council meeting

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 17, 2013 

WATERFRONT TOUR

Port of Bellingham staff answer questions during one of three Waterfront Twilight Walking Tours on the former Georgia-Pacific site on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013 in Bellingham. The tours were given to explain future possible uses on the Downtown Area and Log Pond area of the Waterfront District.

ANDY BRONSON — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - City Council member Jack Weiss and Mayor Kelli Linville got into a stew over waterfront redevelopment plans at a Monday, Sept. 16, committee session.

The plans are a regulatory framework for development of 237 mostly empty waterfront acres, much of which is owned by the Port of Bellingham. More than half of that acreage was the former site of a Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp and paper mill. The company handed its real estate over to the port in 2005 as production was phased out.

Weiss expressed annoyance at feeling rushed to approve long-simmering waterfront plans without enough time for questioning and study. He argued that public impatience with the slow pace of redevelopment should not be allowed to rush the council's deliberations.

"People are hungry right now for something," Weiss said, adding that Linville and her staff had prepared a "stew" to satisfy that hunger, "but the spices have not been added to that stew."

Linville replied that if the council moves ahead to approve broad land-use plans, the details of redevelopment can get council attention later.

"You make the stew," Linville said. "You decide you want to add a little more paprika, jalapeno, whatever."

The mayor also agreed with Weiss that city residents are getting impatient.

"I think people are hungry," Linville said. "I hear people say, 'Will I still be alive ... when we get to do something on the waterfront?'"

Earlier in the meeting, Weiss expressed frustration that overall land-use plans were up for council approval before plans for streets and utilities have been prepared. Linville said the land-use plan for the waterfront will embody the council's development goals, and those goals will dictate the details of street construction and other important matters.

"When we plan, we don't plan for specifics," Linville said. "We plan for goals."

Weiss wasn't satisfied.

"I would propose that we put the whole thing on hold" until there is more certainty about street and utility plans and costs, Weiss said.

Council member Cathy Lehman, who was chairing the committee session, asked Weiss if he wanted to make a motion to stop the waterfront planning process.

"No, of course not," Weiss replied, saying he wanted more details to be added as the plan review moves ahead.

City Economic Development Manager Tara Sundin told Weiss that additional research will be done to provide the information he wants, before detailed decisions are made about streets, parks, trails and habitat restoration.

Sundin said the waterfront plans now facing the council are similar to the land-use plans that already exist for other city neighborhoods. Those plans outline broad land-use policies in those neighborhoods, and the details of what is actually built in those neighborhoods is supposed to follow the policies.

Council member Michael Lilliquist noted that the street designs in the waterfront plan portray streets with bike lanes next to vehicle traffic, rather than the separated bike paths that many cyclists prefer.

Public Works Director Ted Carlson told Lilliquist that the current plan doesn't commit the city to that design, but it does place a clear emphasis on accommodating pedestrians and buses as well as bicyclists. Separate bike routes could still be required when streets and paths are actually designed.

Weiss made it clear that he doesn't feel comfortable with an informal end-of-year deadline for final council approval of waterfront land-use plans.

"If it doesn't get done today then we carry it over to the next session and the next session and the next session," Weiss said.

Sundin said the pace of approval was up to the council.

"We're not trying to rush you," she said.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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