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Bellingham Community Boating Center gets major rent reduction

Instructor Laura Jackson, left, and camper Marek Smutney, 9, paddle to shore during a Community Boating Center sail and paddle sports class Wednesday, August 5, 2015, on Bellingham Bay. Behind them are campers Luna Perry, 9, and Nica Robertson, 10.
Instructor Laura Jackson, left, and camper Marek Smutney, 9, paddle to shore during a Community Boating Center sail and paddle sports class Wednesday, August 5, 2015, on Bellingham Bay. Behind them are campers Luna Perry, 9, and Nica Robertson, 10. pdwyer@bhamherald.com

The Bellingham Bay Community Boating Center will save about $9,000 a year in rent under a new lease approved earlier this month by the Port of Bellingham Commission.

The nonprofit educational center is based out of a building off 555 Harris Avenue in Fairhaven. It offers classes and rentals during the boating season, and year-round dry storage for non-motorized boats, including kayaks, canoes, small sailboats and the like.

The center got permission to reduce its rent from about $900 per month to about $142 per month when the Port Commission voted 2-1 on Aug. 16 to approve a new 10-year lease. The lease, negotiated by staff, reduced the rent to be closer to the rates charged for water-dependent users on state-owned lands.

Commissioner Dan Robbins voted against the lease reduction.

The center is located on state Department of Natural Resources aquatic lands, and is leased through the Port of Bellingham.

“I’m certainly not opposed to the educational component of the center,” Robbins said during the Aug. 16 meeting. “It just seems like the lease rent is ridiculously low for that.”

The lease for roughly 16,000 square feet on land, at 10 cents per square foot per year, is still higher than neighboring properties that are considered water-dependent, said Steve Walker, the center’s executive director.

State law requires that non-water-dependent users pay more than water-dependent ones.

“The new lease rate will not be quite as low as that paid by other state-owned aquatic land tenants in Bellingham Bay whose vehicle parking, lawnmower repair, hazardous waste storage and executive office suites are deemed by DNR and (Port of Bellingham) to require placement on the shoreline,” Walker wrote in an email. “However, the new lease payments for the CBC, an 85% reduction from existing, will dramatically reduce overhead and help the Community Boating Center sustain its small-watercraft education programs and services to the citizens of Whatcom County for years to come.”

During the Aug. 16 meeting, commissioner Mike McAuley said that “from a community benefit standpoint … I see this as an asset that only the Port of Bellingham provides on the bay.”

“When we have facilities like this, where the public has a lock on the land, essentially a monopoly, then this public benefit can only be allowed if the port allows it,” McAuley said. “Supporting the CBC and its educational component is something that the port can be a part of.”

This story was updated at 10:22 a.m. Aug. 30, 2016 to clarify where Steve Walker’s quote was written.

Samantha Wohlfeil: 360-715-2274, @SAWohlfeil

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