King Mountain neighborhood development calls for infrastructure updates
Bellingham officials are planning for a development surge in the King Mountain and Irongate neighborhoods, and want to give people who live and work there a glimpse of the future — as well as seek ideas to help shape further growth.
That area, generally north of Interstate 5 between Meridian Street and Hannegan Road, is poised for growth as plans advance on some of the city’s larger open tracts of land.
“It’s literally creating a recipe for what this area is going to become in the future,” said Chris Comeau, transportation planner in the Public Works Department.
There’s potential for 3,000 housing units — including homes, duplexes, apartments and townhouses, he said in an interview.
Comeau said King Mountain was part of the city’s urban growth area that was annexed from Whatcom County a decade ago.
“All of this was forested countryside 40 years ago. The challenge is to bring old, narrow rural roads up to urban standards,” Comeau said.
“The important thing is that all of this development needs to be supported by adequate transportation facilities,” he said. “In Bellingham, ‘adequate’ means ‘multimodal,’ ” for bicyclists, pedestrians and bus riders — as well as cars.
That means converting rural roads with narrow shoulders flanked by drainage ditches into urban streets with curbs, gutters, bike lanes, bus access and crosswalks.
Creeks and wetlands dot the area, creating potential environmental conflicts, Comeau said.
Residents’ input sought
These next development steps are an extension of neighborhood plans that city officials created with input from residents and in public meetings going back more than a decade, he said.
“We’ll be asking them what they think and we’ll be going over a lot of the issues,” Comeau said.
King Mountain is 635 acres that became part of the city in 2009.
It’s one of the city’s smaller neighborhoods, with 1,133 total housing units, according to April 2019 figures at the city of Bellingham website.
Housing is about two-thirds single-family homes and the rest a mix of apartments, duplexes and manufactured homes.
It’s served by several Whatcom Transportation Authority bus routes, including No. 331, which is one of the Go Lines that offer more frequent service.
Focus on James Street
Comeau said that James Street is the current focus of transportation and development studies for potential projects that will take 10 years or more to complete.
Road construction around James Street and Woodstock Way that occurred from 2014-2016 is an example of how that road will look in the next decade or so, he said.
Within a few months, construction is set to start on a new road that will link East Orchard Drive and Birchwood Avenue, connecting King Mountain with the Cornwall Park neighborhood and adding a new east-west route crossing I-5.
And a roundabout is under consideration for the James Street-Bakerview Road intersection.
“Orchard, in particular, is going to change traffic circulation in this area,” Comeau said.
Parks, trails, fish passage, power lines and utility cables have to be addressed as roads are improved and more housing is built, he said.
“We’ll have to mitigate every square inch of impervious surface,” Comeau said. “Environmental regulations did not exist then, like they do today.”
None of this will happen overnight, he said, but it will mean significant changes for an area that historically averaged about one house for every 5 acres.
“My biggest hope is that (residents) understand that the city has been and is paying attention to what is going on in this neighborhood,” Comeau said.