Lummi Nation has received federal approval to put another 84 acres of property into trust land status, setting the stage for potentially significant economic development on Slater Road near Interstate 5.
The 84 acres is adjacent to 80 acres put into trust land in October 2013, creating 164 acres of property for the Lummis along the Rural Avenue and Kope Road sections near Slater Road. With the pieces now in place, the tribe has reached the point that it can start planning what to do with the property, said Tim Ballew II, Lummi Nation chairman.
In an interview Wednesday, May 13, Ballew said Lummi leaders will take the next few months to listen to the community through a series of meetings and find out what they want done with the property. The goal is to make sure it is a long-standing investment for the future.
“Whatever is decided, the planning process will be responsible and deliberate,” Ballew said. “The Nation wants to ensure that any development adds value not only to Whatcom County, but to all of Northwest Washington.”
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While Ballew said any ideas will be considered, the property has long been thought of as a good place for retail development, given its closeness to I-5 and a nearby freeway exit. If retail is the direction the tribal community decides to go, the goal would be to attract a variety of shoppers, including Canadians who are driving through Whatcom County to other destinations, said Richard Jefferson, CEO of Lummi Commercial Company.
In considering how the property might be developed, job creation and revenue for government services are key considerations, Ballew said. Diversifying the tribe’s revenue stream also is an important consideration; the Silver Reef Hotel Casino Spa is a key economic driver for Lummi Nation, but the gaming/entertainment industry can be vulnerable to economic cycles.
Jefferson said they also want to do something that benefits the entire Whatcom County community. That could include bringing in businesses not currently in the area. In the past, Lummi has courted companies already in Whatcom County, such as Walmart, but Jefferson said the feedback he’s had is that businesses new to this market would be preferable.
The approval of trust land status puts the 164 acres into tribal jurisdiction for most purposes, removing state and local land use controls and taking it off property tax rolls.
The mayors of Bellingham and Ferndale, two communities that lost some urban-growth area property as a result of the federal decision, both had conciliatory reactions to the news.
Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said one of the requests she has made to Lummi Nation is to take a regional economic perspective and that communities work together to bring new businesses to the area, rather than moving existing stores to the site. She also said Bellingham needs needs its own strategy for economic development.
“The (Lummi) Nation is planning ahead, and that’s something we also need to do,” Linville said.
Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen said the city didn’t bother filing a protest, knowing it would be denied. With Lummi Nation as a neighbor, Ferndale would indirectly benefit from successful economic development at the property, he said.
The organization name Lummi Commercial Company was corrected on Thursday, May 14, 2015.