BELLINGHAM - Costco has yet to file for permits to build a new, bigger store on West Bakerview Road. But if it does build, the warehouse retailer has committed to paying for its share of a 13-acre stormwater treatment area the city will build northwest of the store site, to serve the Costco, a shopping center and up to 500 future homes.
That's why city officials are eager to learn whether the Whatcom County Council will follow through on its commitment to provide $2.5 million for the stormwater project.
The city could have its answer within a month, and County Council members' resistance to the funding has softened in recent weeks.
County Council members have said they regretted their unanimous vote on Oct. 8 to fund the stormwater system. Led by Sam Crawford, council members debated whether they should have supported a project they said would enable big retail at the Bakerview interchange and worsen already bad traffic congestion.
The county's $1.675 million loan and $825,000 grant to the city aren't final until the County Council approves the contract.
Costco officials have said they want to relocate because the current Meridian Street store is too small. The company has given city officials a timetable for permit applications, construction and store opening (autumn 2015).
In a sign the council might come around and award the money after all, Crawford has said he can see a way to approving the contract.
Crawford's main concern is increased traffic at Slater Road, near the Interstate 5 interchange. On top of the ripple effect from a new Costco three miles to the south, Ferndale and Lummi officials have been negotiating a development agreement for Slater that could include a big-box store.
"I feel it is inevitable that you are going to see significant development out there," Crawford said. "Rather than let the development happen and bear the brunt of extraordinary costs to fix traffic problems, I think it is time to find solutions today."
Crawford said his decision on the stormwater funding hinges on a briefing county engineer Joe Rutan will give the council in late January or early February.
"If the traffic impacts are at a level that we can realistically deal with, particularly at Slater, I want to declare at that point my support for moving forward with ... the stormwater funding we had already committed to," Crawford said.
Bellingham and county officials have said they want to work together to relieve anticipated traffic congestion around Bakerview, including at Slater. Crawford also would like Ferndale, Lummi Nation, the Port of Bellingham and the state Department of Transportation to come to the table.
Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville stated her intention to work on traffic solutions in a Thursday, Jan. 2, email to The Bellingham Herald:
"As was stated at a recent County Council meeting, the city is committed and looking forward to participating in further regional transportation solutions," Linville wrote.
Most County Council members were concerned about the traffic a new Costco would bring. It's still unclear whether a majority of the council will agree to sign the contract, but Ken Mann, another outspoken critic, also has mellowed his stance.
"I am leaning towards approving, especially if county traffic impacts are substantively addressed," Mann wrote Thursday, Jan. 2, in an email to The Bellingham Herald. "I don't like using (county economic development) funds for big-box retail, but it appears this regional stormwater facility will enable more than retail and it will be a net positive for environmental protection."
Like Crawford, council member Pete Kremen was encouraged by Linville's willingness to work with the county on the traffic problem.
"If the city is willing to assist in paying for some of those improvements that will be necessary for the build-out in the Bakerview area, then I'm inclined to continue to support the ... funding," Kremen said.
Council member Barbara Brenner on Thursday, Jan. 2, said she remains skeptical of the city's development plans at the Bakerview interchange after reviewing "a bunch of paperwork" on traffic impacts from the city.
"None of it convinced me of anything," Brenner said. "This just doesn't make sense to me, to add more to an already very busy area for traffic."
MAP OF STORE, STREETS
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Source: City of Bellingham