Church property in Bellingham could be used for student apartments

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 16, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - A church-owned site on three acres at the edge of downtown is being touted as a good place for a large, privately developed housing project for college students.

The property at 910 N. Forest St. is the longtime home of the Bellingham Seventh Day Adventist Church. It is now being offered for sale to potential developers by the local office of KW Commercial, a nationwide real estate brokerage.

Jim Browder, a broker with KW, said the property would be ideal for Western Washington University student residences, in a location between the university and downtown.

"We've got a ton of response already," Browder said. "Basically, it's a perfect site for student housing."

An information packet being distributed to potential buyers says the site could accommodate about 200 units with living space for about 550 people. The packet also suggests the site could be used for luxury apartments or condos, or an assisted living residence for the elderly.

The property is listed on the Whatcom County tax assessor's rolls at a value of about $2 million.

Another KW broker, Allen Stockbridge, said he could not disclose the church's minimum asking price, but said the assessed value would be at the low end of the range of offers he expects to see for the property.

Redevelopment of the site depends to some extent on final City Council approval of new land use and building regulations contained in the Downtown Development Plan. A draft of that plan is now under review by the city Planning Commission.

Darby Cowles, a senior city planner, said existing density limits for the church property would allow no more than 130 units on the site, but the draft plan would increase that to about 200, while also reducing requirements for on-site parking spaces.

While the draft plan would increase the number of dwelling units that could be built on the property, it also contains a height limit of 45 feet - three or four stories - that would rule out a high-rise structure.

Cowles said she expects the City Council to take up the draft downtown plan in June, with a public hearing to be scheduled as part of the council review. A final vote on the plan is likely in August.

Sean Hegstad, chairman of the church's building committee, said the congregation expects to use proceeds from the sale to build a new church on property next to the affiliated Baker View Christian School, near the intersection of Smith and Waschke roads.

If the new city plan is approved and a buyer for the Forest Street property can be found late this summer, construction of residential buildings there could begin as soon as spring 2015, broker Stockbridge said.

But the timeline for starting construction is complicated a bit by the need for a new worship space for the Seventh Day Adventists. Hegstad said it would probably be about a year after the sale closing before the church could start construction of a new building, although the congregation might be able to continue to use the Forest Street building for some period while construction of a new development is underway there.

POTENTIAL HOUSING PROJECT

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com . Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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