With a revamped commission in place after November’s election, the Port of Bellingham is running a full-court press to settle its long-term design for the downtown waterfront.
The port is hosting an open house from 3-7 p.m. Wednesday to talk about proposed changes to the waterfront district master plan, which involves much of the former Georgia-Pacific property near downtown Bellingham. The open house will be at the Granary Building at 1208 Central Ave. The event will include several breakout information stations where the public can talk to officials from the port, city and the Harcourt, the Irish-based developer working on the project. You can also send written comments to email@example.com or speak at the upcoming port commission meetings on Tuesday and Feb. 6.
Port staff also have been busy providing presentations and tours to local groups.
Community input will be considered as port commissioners decide Feb. 6 which of the two options they will go with. A decision needs to be made then to give staff time to submit an amendment proposal to the city by April 1. The city’s review process is expected to take up to a year and also will involve public input.
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The decision falls on a relatively new group of commissioners. Ken Bell and Michael Shepard were sworn in Jan. 2 following November election victories. Bobby Briscoe is currently in his first term, having started in January 2016.
In a December meeting, Briscoe appeared satisfied with the two options, saying they were an improvement over previous proposals. In phone interviews, both Bell and Shepard said they supported the two options, noting that once a plan is in place, further work can be done with the details. Neither expressed interest in scrapping the current options and starting over, because that would further delay the process by at least a year.
“A lot of what I’m hearing, especially from people 40 and under, is to get this project going,” Bell said. “They want this area to be (first) used by their kids, not their grand kids.”
Shepard said the two options do a good job connecting the north and south parts of the property through parks, something he said many in the public want. While he was campaigning for commissioner, Shepard said what was made crystal clear to him is the public is interested in the project, but people weren’t getting enough information. He believes the current push with public presentations is helping solve that issue.
The two options focus on the layout of roads and parks on the property.
One option is nicknamed the Waypoint Connection and attempts to improve pedestrian flow throughout the property. With this design Waypoint Park, currently under construction on the Whatcom Creek Waterway, becomes a more central feature – marking the starting point for park goers to either wander along the waterway or cross Granary Avenue and walk in a park setting most of the way down to Cornwall Beach. It also means more of the larger building development would take place in the central part of the district, said Brian Gouran, the port’s Waterfront District project manager.
The second option is nicknamed the Maple Street Connection and more closely resembles the original proposed changes from Harcourt, which is handling the first phase of development. This design would feature a larger public plaza at Bay Street, but the serpentine park would cut across the central part of the district. Gouran said this plan creates different ways for the public to connect with the park rather than a single flow seen in the Waypoint option.
The proposed changes do not impact the work currently under way on the property, which includes Waypoint Park, the Granary Building remodel and the construction of two roads, Granary Avenue and an extension of West Laurel Street.