Bellingham council nears approval of waterfront plan

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDNovember 4, 2013 

bellingham waterfront aerials

This view of Bellingham's waterfront, looking eat at Squalicum Harbor and the site of the former Georgia-Pacific Went Inc. paper mill, was taken June 11, 2010, from a Northwest Sky Ferry flight to San Juan Island.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

BELLINGHAM - City Council moved closer to preliminary approval of a master plan for waterfront redevelopment Monday, Nov. 4, after a majority of council members voted against some significant changes proposed by Jack Weiss.

In perhaps the most dramatic proposed change, Weiss moved to delete any mention of a major new bridge to the waterfront from the bluff at the end of Commercial Street, as well as the "Commercial Street Green" between lanes of the planned new section of Commercial Street that would be built between the bridge and the water.

The ambitious Commercial Street project is not expected to become a reality for many years, but it has been a main feature of a redeveloped central waterfront as envisioned on numerous planning maps over the years. The waterfront master plan labels the 100-foot-wide Commercial Street Green as a "view corridor" that preserves a view of Bellingham Bay from the existing downtown, as adjacent real estate develops.

Weiss contended that the land set aside for the Commercial Street Green would not become a beloved new city park, since it would be bordered on all sides by busy streets. As a substitute, Weiss suggested devoting the same amount of real estate to what he called a "town square" between Bay and Commercial streets, just inside the new waterfront development area.

In a memo to his colleagues, Weiss described the town square as "a community meeting place, something that the downtown central business district is sorely lacking and wanting."

Two of the five council members present for Monday's committee discussion said they shared Weiss's views to some extent, but it was too late to change the plan in such a dramatic fashion.

Council member Michael Lilliquist called the Commercial Street Bridge and Green "flawed ideas," but added, "We can't get rid of them at this point."

Stan Snapp agreed, saying that the green would be a poor use of park acreage.

"I don't like it," Snapp said. "I think it offers very few opportunities for park-like activities."

But nobody seconded Weiss' motion, and it died.

Earlier in the meeting, Weiss mounted unsuccessful arguments to lower 100-foot height limits now proposed in some waterfront areas to 75 feet, and to reduce the size of the Cornwall Beach park area earmarked for some kind of commercial development from a 300,000-square-foot maximum to 30,000.

The council is in the midst of a series of lengthy committee sessions reviewing plans for rezoning and redevelopment of 237 mostly empty waterfront acres, including Port of Bellingham property formerly owned by Georgia-Pacific Corp. Once the daytime committee review is complete, the plans will go to the full council for final review and vote at a regular Monday evening council session.

The council has scheduled another committee session for 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 7.

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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