Bellingham wants developer offers for Aloha, Old Town sites

The Aloha Motel on Samish Way in Bellingham is shown Tuesday, July 28, 2015.
The Aloha Motel on Samish Way in Bellingham is shown Tuesday, July 28, 2015. The Bellingham Herald

Developers can now make their offer to develop the site of the former Aloha Motel and a vacant piece of land in Old Town known as the Army Street property.

The city hopes that developers will break ground on both sites within a year and a half of closing a deal on each property, as part of a push to revitalize the city core.

“Both of these sites have the opportunity to turn those neighborhoods,” said Tara Sundin, community and economic development manager for the city.

Though the city sent out requests for both sites at the same time, they are not tied together.

City planners expect both sites, whether sold or leased, will include a mix of retail space with some residential and/or office space.

They both fall within “urban villages” that have specific plans that guide development.

Both properties are eligible for certain development incentives, including:

▪  A property tax exemption for 8 to 12 years if the project includes multi-family housing.

▪  Reduced transportation impact fees.

▪  Pending City Council approval this year, staff has proposed a graduated credit on local business and operating tax credits in those areas.

▪  Expedited land-use permitting for qualifying projects.

▪  If the project includes certain affordable housing, up to 80 percent of park, transportation and school impact fees could be waived.

Former Aloha Motel (301 and 315 N. Samish Way)

The city bought the site at 301 and 315 N. Samish Way as part of the condemnation of the Aloha Motel, which is set for a month-long demolition starting in late November.

The city used $1.58 million from the low-income housing fund to purchase the site in a settlement with the owners. Proposals for the site are not required to include low income housing, but the sale of the site will need to reimburse that fund if that plot isn’t used for affordable housing.

The city would prefer a project that builds up to the height restriction of 55 feet. One portion of the site is limited to 30 feet high within 30 feet of the nearby residential area.

Darby Cowles, senior planner with the city, said that the Samish Way area is one of the few places in the city where neighbors complain about low building heights.

“They’ve shared frustrations that people are not building higher there,” Cowles said, “which is kind of unusual.”

The city’s request states it would prefer some type of development that will keep the site active both day and night, such as a mix of housing, restaurants and retail.

Army Street (315 W. Holly St.)

The Army Street property has been vacant since a large commercial and residential building on the site called the White House burned down in 1927. The city has owned the site since 1946.

It has a steep drop off, making the back portion of the site difficult to access, but the city now has an easement, which should make it easy to access from Central Avenue, Sundin said.

The Army Street site was part of a handful of properties the city tasked the Bellingham Public Development Authority with redeveloping or selling as part of public-private development projects.

The authority, a public corporation, was formed in 2008, and dissolved in 2014 after failing to make a speedy return on the city’s investment.

However, part of the authority’s work to prepare the site for possible development with the partnership of nearby property owners remains.

Geotechnical, archaeological and environmental reports were performed on the site, along with a market study that found a proposal for high-end office space, apartments and underground parking would not be feasible in the near future.

The owner of the empty neighboring property has said they would be willing to sell, Sundin said.

The city’s request shows it would prefer a building that reaches the 130-foot height limit to go in that space, and include anything from retail and office space to housing or a hotel.

What’s next

Interested parties need to go through the city’s website at cob.org/properties to find documents about the properties and register to get a copy of the request for proposals.

On Nov. 19, the city will offer site tours to interested developers, and proposals are due at 11 a.m. Dec. 18.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-715-2274 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com. Follow her on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.