BELLINGHAM - Mayor Kelli Linville didn't get any assurance from the Whatcom County Council that a stormwater project for a new Costco and neighboring developments would actually happen.
The stormwater control system for 80 acres of commercial and residential development near the West Bakerview Road interchange remained in jeopardy after Linville and Bellingham's public works director pitched the project on Tuesday, Nov. 12, to council members.
The council had appeared sold on the idea a month ago, when it unanimously approved a $2.5 million grant and loan for the stormwater system through the county's Economic Development Investment program.
Some council members had second thoughts after they reflected on the traffic impacts of two major proposals: a 160,000-square-foot Costco and a 142,000-square-foot retail center next door - not to mention at least four new hotels in the area.
Costco, the retail center and other developers would be able to buy into the city's regional stormwater project to avoid finding a way to deal with runoff individually. Costco and the shopping center's developer have expressed interest in using the facility.
Council member Sam Crawford reiterated a point he'd been making over the past month: He didn't want to "enable" major development in a busy corner of the city unless he was convinced improvements about to be completed at the Bakerview interchange would handle the extra traffic.
What Crawford had hoped to hear from the city but didn't were specifics about how bad traffic backups would become after all the developments were in place.
"I'm a little unclear as to why we're not seeing the numbers," Crawford said after Public Works Director Ted Carlson's presentation.
Carlson said a second westbound lane and other interchange improvements will carry the expected traffic load through 2030. Linville said in an interview after the meeting that this type of calculation accounts for any anticipated development.
The council did not plan to bring up the stormwater funding at its full meeting on Tuesday night, but the door remained open for the council to reverse its decision in the next few months.
Bellingham hasn't secured the $2.5 million yet, because the council still must approve a final contract with the city for the $1.675 million loan and $825,000 grant. The total cost of the project is $4 million, with the rest paid out of a city fund.
"We're not going to move forward, or at least some of us aren't ... until we have more information on this," Crawford said.
The meeting between city and county grew tense after Crawford said it wasn't important from the county's perspective that Costco remain in Bellingham. Cities generally covet stores that bring in as much sales tax revenue as Costco. Officials with the retailer have said its 133,000-square-foot store on Meridian Street is too small.
Crawford acknowledged that Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen and representatives of Lummi Nation were in the audience for Linville's presentation. The tribe and Ferndale have both shown interest in luring Costco to property along Slater Road.
"There's other economic opportunities out there for these same retailers," Crawford said.
"The idea that Costco could go anywhere is absolutely true," Linville said in the interview, "but one of the strong commitments I've had as mayor is, I'm most interested in retaining and expanding the businesses we have" - whether Costco or other businesses.
The mayor said she doesn't have a "Plan B" if the county doesn't come through with the $2.5 million for the stormwater project.
"We are counting on the merits of this project standing on their own," she said.
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Source: City of Bellingham