Proposed retreat may shake up plan

Published on Thu, Nov 27, 2003 by Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

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Proposed retreat may shake up plan

By Rebecca Schwarz Kopf

Birch Bay is the fastest growing area in the county and projects announced recently show no slowdown in sight. And one of these projects, a proposed 10�acre retreat, is making some waves.

�There�s a lot of growth happening in this area,� said Kathy Berg, vice president of the Whatcom County sponsored Birch Bay steering committee. �And a lot of that growth is taking place in the Birch Point area, an area that until now hasn�t seen as much development as the rest of Birch Bay.�

At the last steering committee meeting held November 12, plans for a 10-acre retreat to be constructed on Birch Point Road waterfront property were discussed with Ellen Shea, creator of The Chrysalis Inn & Spa in Fairhaven. Shea, who does not yet own the land, wants to construct a retreat environment where guests can �nurture their body, relax their mind and refresh their spirit,� she said, in a place that�s more than a typical bed and breakfast.

�This place will be secluded and intimate, filling a need we have to truly get away, occasionally, leaving hectic lives to relax and rejuvenate,� Shea wrote in a letter to the Whatcom County Planning Commission. �The acreage is secluded and completely fenced allowing for total privacy and little impact, if any, on neighboring properties.�

According to Shea, full service retreats, as well as spa services will be available. The land she intends to keep fenced in, and the existing house is about 12,000 to 13,000 square feet with only three bedrooms. She would like to construct an additional 12 guest rooms, either in the form of cottages or multiple buildings, for a total of 15 overnight guest bedrooms.

The project, she said, would benefit the community by reducing the amount of development on the site, which could have potentially 22 to 32 homes in the future.

�I would rather see this 10-acre project than a bunch of homes built there,� Berg said after the meeting. �It puts some more time into our plan, but it�s already been three years now, so what�s a little longer?�

The Birch Bay community plan recently completed did not include Shea�s plans, and the area she is seeking to build is currently zoned UR4. She is requesting the property be rezoned to resort commercial.

�People have questions about that,� said Alan Friedlob, co-founder of Smart Growth Birch Bay. �That�s why I set a meeting up to discuss the issue.�

Friedlob facilitated an afternoon meeting held at the Semiahmoo Golf Club last Sunday with residents of Birch Point and Semiahmoo Drive to clarify any questions concerning this project and to come to a general consensus concerning the issue.

Because Shea is requesting a rezone, and due to the size of the project, residents are concerned that it will need additional provisions and possible buildings, and other projects could move into the area as well. The consensus among those at the meeting was against it, according to Friedlob.

The Whatcom County planning commission meets Thursday, December 11, and is scheduled to discuss the project then, when it considers the adoption of the Whatcom County comprehensive plan which includes the Birch Bay sub-area plan. In the meantime, Sylvia Goodwin of Whatcom County planning has recommended a public hearing be held for the project.

Real estate guru Mike Kent, who represents the sellers, said an offer was made on the property in September and it was accepted. A chunk of land was recently sold, so the current price of the land is $3.4 million.

�Ellen�s plan is to have 15 beds � not cottages, beds. In order to create this, she�ll need a zoning change,� he said. �She�s working with the county and with neighbors in the community to accommodate their needs. She�s creating a new entrance so as to not disturb neighbors.�

Shea came forward voluntarily to the steering committee with her plan and is sharing information with the community. She was not invited to the meeting held on Sunday with Birch Point and Semiahmoo Drive residents.

�Ellen is doing this all voluntarily,� Kent said. �It saves her time because if it doesn�t work out, she�ll find out now.�

Shea said the location was really a perfect spot for the retreat, as it�s surrounded by very high cedar hedge. She wasn�t aware of the property until September, thus no project information was available sooner.

When asked what kind of feedback she had been getting from the community, Shea said she really didn�t receive any except from the steering committee meeting.

�Most of the people at that meeting liked the project,� she said.

Interesting history
The property itself has an interesting history. �This is perhaps one of the most expensive properties within Whatcom County,� he said. �There is a saltwater aquarium, a lot of mohogany and granite.�

The owner was a Vancouver man who died in a car accident 18 months ago. The property has been on the market for four years now, and there have been numerous offers made on the house � some of them even illegal.

�We had one man with forged U.S. treasury property,� Kent said. �The property has a lot of interesting history.�

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