Bellingham apartments aimed at WWU students could be built this summer

Apartments primarily for Western Washington University students could start going up this summer at the site of a Seventh-day Adventist Church, a spokesman for the developer said.

The building with furnished rooms for up to 419 students, between Forest and Garden streets at Ivy Street, is undergoing design and environmental reviews at the city planning office. A building permit, and a demolition permit for two church buildings, could be issued by the summer.

Schematic drawings on file at City Hall show a five-story building with a two-level parking garage below.

The building will include some dormitory-style four-bedroom, four-bathroom units, which were prohibited in a proposed university housing complex on Consolidation Avenue in the Puget neighborhood. The developer of that project, called University Ridge, backed out because it couldn’t house as many students as it had planned.

Dorm-style apartments were allowed in the Forest Street project by the City Council in a new downtown plan adopted in September.

The project’s owner likely won’t need to pay property tax on the building for the first eight years, under another city program meant to encourage residential development downtown. Developers and city officials say that apartment buildings have sprung up in downtown Bellingham over the past decade or so thanks to the property-tax exemption.

“It’s probably one of the better policies the city has adopted to encourage residential development,” said Bill Geyer, a Bellingham planning consultant who represents the developer, Rael Development Corp. of Newport Beach, Calif.

The public can comment on the environmental review of the Forest Street project until March 30 by emailing city planner Chris Koch, ckoch@cob.org.

The project goes before the city’s Design Review Board at 3 p.m. on April 21 at City Hall, 210 Lottie St. The board will recommend to the planning director whether or not to approve the project.

The Bellingham Seventh-day Adventists will move out of the 1957 church building at 910 Forest St. in late May or early June, pastor Brandon Korter said. The church’s sale of the property to the developer is pending, he said.

A large majority of the congregation voted to relocate and build a new church. The cost of upkeep on the two Forest Street buildings on the church lot was becoming excessive, Korter said.

“This is nothing new for the four Adventist congregations in Whatcom County,” he said. “This has been forthcoming for literally three decades.”

Services will be held temporarily at the church’s school, Bakerview Christian School on Waschke Road north of Bellingham. The church will build a new sanctuary on a vacant lot next to the school, Korter said.