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Granary Building puts up fight; other waterfront projects in the works

Tour the Granary Building renovation on Bellingham's waterfront

Tour the renovation going on at the historic Granary Building on the Bellingham waterfront, Sept. 29, 2016. Emergency repairs are being made to weather-proof the building before the winter rains are well underway
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Tour the renovation going on at the historic Granary Building on the Bellingham waterfront, Sept. 29, 2016. Emergency repairs are being made to weather-proof the building before the winter rains are well underway

Workers cutting through almost two dozen grain bins in the tower of the Granary Building have had to fight the extremely hardened Douglas fir walls, which have broken blade after blade on their saws.

The tower of the waterfront building will be converted into offices, incorporating the historic wooden texture of the walls with brand-new views of the islands, once crews are able to cut holes for the windows.

“The amount of timber that has to be cut out is colossal,” said John Reid, architect on the project.

Harcourt Bellingham’s team will continue hammering away at the project into 2017, but the difficulty of cutting into the tower has likely delayed the project by a month or two, Reid said.

Some of the bins were found to have decades-old grain in them, which the birds still seem to like snacking on.

“Maybe it’s like wine,” Reid said, “it gets finer with time.”

While the Granary project is moving along, background work on several projects is well underway, with work on the site lined up throughout 2017.

Other works

Harcourt and Reid recently submitted plans for their second waterfront project: two waterfront condo buildings that will have stepped roofing and angled sides to afford maximum views to the units.

The buildings will go in along Whatcom Waterway, south of the Granary Building and Whatcom Waterway Park, which is planned to be developed next year.

The plan is to have basement-level parking in the buildings, which could be built over 2018 and 2019.

Other work planned for 2017 includes construction of the two main roads through the waterfront: Granary Avenue and Laurel Street.

The city is responsible for installing the two major roads and infrastructure, and has been planning the design for months.

In an update to the Port of Bellingham Commission on Tuesday, the three commissioners were told the road work had been slightly delayed.

Though the city was hoping to bid the roadwork around the first of the year for the first road to be finished by mid-2017, it now sounds more like the first portion of Granary Avenue will be done closer to September 2017, Port Planning Director Sylvia Goodwin told the commission. The delay was due in part to a federal permit process, she said.

Change of plans

Underlying the discussion of what is next for the waterfront are several needed plan updates if Reid and Harcourt’s vision for the site is to be realized.

Harcourt has proposed changing the alignment of the other future streets from a diagonal layout approved years ago to a grid pattern that would match the rest of downtown, and would also recommend changing some connections to the downtown area.

One of the major changes Reid proposed is to replace a rectangular cutout for a future city green with a flowing park that would connect one end of the waterfront to the other, with a wide middle section that crosses the site and tapers on either end.

Ideally, the park would be built around Pacific Northwest History, Reid said, and centered on history from the local tribes to show not just the industrial midlife of the site, but also the full cultural history of this area. He imagines it filled with cedars, Douglas firs and natural fauna, as well as historical photos and information.

To get those changes in place requires an amendment to the “subarea plan,” and the city of Bellingham requires the application for that change by April 1, with about a year expected to process the changes and provide opportunities for public comment. The port and city are working with Harcourt on compiling a possible amendment, but that may not go forward immediately.

The next four proposed projects from Harcourt can all move forward without a change to that plan, port spokesman Mike Hogan said in an email. The proposed projects include the waterfront condos, an office building, a retirement and assisted living complex, and the potential to convert the Board Mill into a hotel and conference center.

However, for the Board Mill hotel proposal to go forward, changes to agreements with Harcourt and Western Washington University need to be made, with commission approval, and the commission will have to sign off on the project.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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