A major downtown residential project is moving forward after the city approved a waiver that reduces the number of required car parking spaces in favor of more spots for bikes.
The waiver was approved for a project going into 903-929 N. State St., former home of Washington Divers
and other small businesses. The project, known as Stateside, involves building two six-story, mixed-use buildings with 4,151 square feet of commercial space and 164 units for 513 people. It will have 100 vehicle parking spaces and 392 bike parking spaces, according to the decision issued by the city.
Stateside is expected to cater to college students, particularly those attending nearby Western Washington University.
The 100 vehicle parking spaces is reduced from the original on-site requirement of 211 spots. In the decision notice, the city noted that 60 additional parking spots will be available for residents in nearby private/public lots. The proposal also includes new sidewalks, 30 short-term bicycle parking spaces and landscaping.
There are 18 different improvements the developer has proposed to help offset the fewer parking spaces, said Lindsay Kershner, city planner. Other components will be in place to see how the project actually impacts the surrounding area, including an annual report done by a third party on the parking and transportation habits of the tenants.
The city’s parking reduction approval was based on other factors, including the city’s climate protection action plan to reduce the use of automobiles in the downtown core, Kershner said.
Among the 18 different improvements are a bike repair shop, a car share vehicle and improving pedestrian crossing of north State and Laurel streets.
A construction project schedule has not been finalized yet, said Gabriel Grant, a principal at Spectrum Development Solutions. The Seattle-based real estate development company is the applicant on the project. He said they are excited to get started on this pedestrian-oriented project, “bringing student-focused housing to a community with a significant housing shortage.”
Spectrum has built a variety of student housing and other college buildings in the region, including at the University of Washington, according to its website.
More than 25 residents expressed concern about the Stateside project in written comments to the city. Nearly all of those comments focused on parking. Some pointed out the difficulty of finding parking during events such as the weekly Bellingham Farmer’s Market. Some of the letters also noted that since Gather Bellingham on Forest Street opened, they’ve noticed fewer available on-street parking spaces.
The city also received letters from residents approving the waiver proposal, with several voicing the opinion that the steps taken by the developer would promote a more walkable downtown core.
Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said the project is consistent with the city’s regulations, as the developer is offering several measures to mitigate the parking impacts.
“I believe the parking exception is appropriate. I support students having options for housing. We have a critical need for affordable housing in our community, and this will benefit both the single-family neighborhoods and students,” Linville said in response to Herald questions.
Alice Clark, executive director of the Downtown Bellingham Partnership, said that organization is also supportive of the project. Along with the need for all types of housing, including for students, she said that they want to move toward a more walkable downtown.
“This project reflects that direction we want to head,” Clark said in an email.
Bellingham has seen a trend toward off-campus student housing. In recent years Gather Bellingham and NXNW, near the Lakeway Fred Meyer, have added nearly 1,100 beds.
In its parking demand study submitted to the city, Nunes-Ueno Consulting concluded that the proposed project will generate lower parking demand than a typical building of that size in Bellingham. Students drive less, take transit, bike and walk at higher rates than the general population, according to the report’s executive summary. The report also noted “that a large number (approximately 3,000) non-freshmen students who live in off-campus housing in the immediate project area do not own cars.”
The deadline to file an appeal of the waiver is 5 p.m. on Feb. 15. A filing fee is associated with an appeal, as well as some forms to fill out. Those forms can be found online and at the city’s Permit Center at 210 Lottie St.