Semiahmoo neighbors supportcity direction

Published on Thu, Jul 12, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Semiahmoo neighbors support
city direction

By Meg Olson

“We’re not there to debate or argue,” said Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic to 25 Blaine residents at the first in the city’s community meeting series. “You’re here to identify issues, not to judge. We’re here to listen, not to defend.”

He needn’t have worried. The July 11 meeting at the Semiahmoo fire station, attended mostly by west Blaine residents, was as much a booster session for the current government as a sharing of ideas to help Blaine grow. “All of these issues were talked about,” said resident Martin Conyac at the close of the meeting, after having read a list of goals he hopes to see the city reach in 20 years. “Our city council and our mayor and our city staff are right on top of it. They’re doing it – just let it happen.” His comments were greeted by loud applause from his fellow citizens.

If a common civic vision of Blaine’s future came out of the meeting, Conyac’s list provided a clear snapshot of it: A beautiful seaside town with visual and physical access to the water; a town which preserves its natural, maritime and historical heritage; a town with a main street of colorful, inviting businesses and no trace of the bordertown image; a town that welcomes business and development by providing tax and fee breaks; a safe community with adequate services and infrastructure, and a unified community.

Most discussion focused on how to overcome the challenges of today and get to the Blaine of tomorrow. Sewers and water quality topped the list of current problems, with downtown development a close second.
“It’s the big kahuna of problems in the city,” said Tomsic after outlining the status of a network of city projects addressing different aspects of the failing sewer system. “It’s the cloud that hangs over everything we do.” Tomsic said upgrades to lift station #1 required by the state department of ecology were a top priority. A wastewater advisory committee had come up with a preliminary recommendation to put overflow storage in a long tank under Marine Drive and make improvements to the lift station at its existing location. Stopgap upgrades to the existing plant at Semiahmoo would also be undertaken while the city continues to pursue a long-term regional solution. “I’m fairly confident we can put this package together,” Tomsic said, “but we could be looking at a ten-year time frame. We could be where we are for a long time.”

Citizens were supportive of city efforts but concerned that all the effort not go to a long-term solution at the expense of improvements needed to support growth now. “It seems to me, if you’re staring a moratorium in the face, that’s where your money needs to go,” said Don Francis.

Some audience members questioned the logic of the east Blaine annexation and wondered if the city couldn’t de-annex the area to allow growth in more logical directions. “From a planning perspective I don’t think it was a good annexation,” Galvin said. “Some developers didn’t pull through on their promises and we’re left with a bit of a problem. There’s certainly an option to de-annex the area and there has been some discussion of doing that up to Harvey Road.”

The face of downtown Blaine was something everyone wanted to see spruced up. “There’s a nice little art shop, a restaurant, a bookstore, everything looks really nice until you get to where that old restaurant used to be,” said Ellen Wear. “It’s disgusting.”

Unkempt empty buildings and weedy vacant lots were seen as strong impediments to a successful downtown, and audience members had plenty of suggestions to get rid of them. Wear suggested cleaning out the weeds in vacant lots and tossing in wildflower seeds. Brent Brentnall suggested a program similar to one in Concord, Massachusetts where the city picked up some of the cost of improving downtown storefronts. “It certainly changed that town in two weeks,” he said.

City community development director Terry Galvin said a new city tourism plan developed through the Blaine Tourism Advisory committee had identified 47 specific projects to clean up the city and bring in business. Committees had been formed to carry those projects out and city clerk Shirley Thorsteinson is part of it. “Just slapping some paint on sometimes would help,” she said, rattling off a list of clean-up projects. “We’re excited, we’re pro-active and we’re looking for volunteers.” Getting the adult bookstore out of downtown was brought up as an obvious way to improve Blaine’s image, and Tomsic said a zoning solution was being pursued.

Galvin is completing initial design work on a boardwalk on the west side of Peace Portal Drive businesses between G and H streets. “If we have pedestrian access to that beautiful view it will singularly attract a lot of business that otherwise isn’t going to happen,” he said. Tomsic also outlined some initial discussions with Trillium Corporation and the Port of Bellingham to improve facilities along the water all around the harbor. “You have to imagine a necklace of events and things to do all around Drayton Harbor,” he said.

Besides a pretty downtown, audience members wanted to see the city give financial breaks to encourage businesses to locate in Blaine. “Unless you can provide some sort of way the city is going to help them succeed, why should they come here?” asked Mike Hyerman. Tomsic said the city had looked at startup costs for businesses here and in other communities. “Are we more expensive? It appears that we are in some areas but not as much as some people might think,” he said. “We’re now trying to look at each cost and determine if it’s fair and can we adjust it.”

Whether Blaine needed an airport, what the city’s theme really was, how to encourage the arts and oysters were all suggested, and all accepted as part of the puzzle of Blaine’s future. Getting all the pieces and people to work together was identified as potentially one of the biggest challenges. Alana Lea described the growth of Port Townsend into a tourist mecca as a slow process where isolated projects came together to form a compelling package. “Blaine is so beautiful,” said Alana Lea. “It’s as beautiful as Port Townsend, it just isn’t finished.”

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