Costco files for Bellingham building permit after Fred Meyer drops appeal

Shoppers enter the Bellingham Costco store Jan. 8, 2013. City officials are continuing to work on projects designed to clear the way for development of a West Bakerview Road site that could accommodate a new Costco store.
Shoppers enter the Bellingham Costco store Jan. 8, 2013. City officials are continuing to work on projects designed to clear the way for development of a West Bakerview Road site that could accommodate a new Costco store. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

The city will literally help pave the way for Costco to build a new store off West Bakerview Road that would open no sooner than August 2016.

Costco filed for a city building permit Monday, Feb. 9, on the heels of months-long negotiations between the city and Fred Meyer Stores.

Last May, Fred Meyer and Lummi Nation appealed the city’s preliminary approval of wetlands, stormwater and street modifications along West Bakerview to accommodate a new 160,000-square-foot Costco on 20 acres on the north side of the road near Pacific Highway. Lummi Nation dropped its appeal of the environmental review in July.

During its regular meeting Monday night, City Council approved a settlement with Fred Meyer, which agreed to drop its appeal after the city and Costco said they would build new roads and make improvements in the area to address traffic concerns.

As part of the settlement, Costco agreed to build two eastbound left-turn lanes on West Bakerview Road near the proposed entrance, across from the existing Fred Meyer store. Bakerview is currently two lanes in each direction with a center turn lane.

Costco also agreed to build a westbound right-turn lane in that area, and extend a westbound left-turn lane that allows drivers to enter the Fred Meyer parking lot.

For its part, the city will build a road called Mahogany Avenue, connecting Pacific Highway, which parallels Interstate 5, and Northwest Avenue. The road, which is part of the city’s six-year Transportation Improvement Program, is supposed to be built by November 2016 and will be funded in part with $3.5 million in federal and state money.

Costco also will build a five-lane north-south entrance road called Arctic Avenue to get customers to its warehouse, across from the Fred Meyer parking lot entrance. Costco would connect Arctic Avenue with Mahogany Avenue.

In the settlement, the city agreed to “use its best, good faith, efforts” to finish the piece of Mahogany that would connect Arctic Avenue to Pacific Highway within a year of Costco opening, or Nov. 1, 2017, whichever is later.

Costco officials have said they would not comment on the new Bellingham project until the company was ready to file a building permit for the store, expected to be about 162,000 square feet, with 800 parking spaces and 24 fuel pumps. The existing Meridian Street store is 133,000 square feet.

A Costco official did not return a media call seeking comment Tuesday, Feb. 10.

Costco also has agreed to cover a small chunk of the cost of eventual improvements planned for the Slater Road interchange on Interstate 5, about three miles north, outside city limits.

As part of the settlement with Fred Meyer, Costco agreed to prepare a traffic simulation analysis along the Bakerview-Airport corridor, between Northwest Avenue and Bennett Drive before starting construction. Costco also agreed to do a second analysis within a year of opening the new store, to include traffic generated by the new Costco and other development expected along the corridor.

At times, the city tried to include other proposed developments in the settlement negotiations, including 60,000- and 142,000-square-foot developments planned for either side of the Costco site, “but that got too complex,” said Alan Marriner, assistant city attorney.

“This settlement agreement settles Fred Meyer’s appeal of the Costco project,” Marriner said.

The city is currently assessing whether Costco’s building permit application is complete, said Steve Sundin, city planner. For a project of this size, that could take several days, he said. Once the city has determined it has a complete application, staff will start its review.

At Monday’s meeting, City Council also approved selling Costco two parcels off Northwest Avenue, across from Cornwall Church, to be used to mitigate wetland impacts from building the new store.

Costco agreed to pay nearly $500,000 for the parcels to reimburse the city for all its costs in acquiring the two pieces of land. The city will still own the parcels, Marriner said, but Costco will be responsible for maintaining the wetlands.

Costco also will need permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Ecology related to wetlands impacts.