Surveyto gauge citizens’ willingness to ‘putmoney where its mouth is’

Published on Thu, Sep 30, 2004 by eg Olson

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Survey to gauge citizens’ willingness to ‘put money where its mouth is’

By Meg Olson

Trillium’s Seagrass Cottages development proposed for Semiahmoo Spit is expected to be presented to the planning commission by the end of October, and city council hopes by then to have a better idea of how much community opposition really exists to development on the spit.

At their September 27 meeting council members voted unanimously to pay the Western Washington University Small Business Development Center up to $2,000 for a random, statistically significant telephone survey to gauge what interest there is in having the city acquire the subject property for conservation and public access, and how willing the public is to pay for it.

City manager Gary Tomsic told council members that a number of people had approached his office encouraging the city to buy the property on the spit. “There’s a sense with some members of the public that land should be preserved,” he said. “It’s a legitimate issue but we need to get some sense of whether this is a community priority. Before we move forward as a city we really ought to take the temperature of our taxpayers.”

The Seagrass proposal is now under environmental review and will be reviewed by the city planning commission under Blaine’s conditional use permit regulation. The developer is proposing 36 duplex cottages, or a total of 72 units, on a 22-acre site west of three existing condominium units next to Semiahmoo Resort. The proposal is similar to that included in the Semiahmoo Master Plan, approved by Blaine city council in 1984. “It’s been approved as a concept plan and this is even lower density,” Tomsic said. “There’s a realistic expectation on the part of the property owners they will be able to do something with this property unless there are some fatal problems found in the reviews.”

Tomsic said the survey would ask specifically if public dollars should be used to acquire more non-public lands on the 1.5-mile spit for conservation and public use. “There’s a lot of property on the spit that Trillium doesn’t own,” he said. Whatcom County owns 20 acres of uplands and 270 acres of tidelands on the Semiahmoo Bay side, making up Semiahmoo Park. The city already owns the old wastewater treatment plan site and all the tidelands west of the marina on the Drayton Harbor side.

The city hasn’t approached the developer or property owners yet with even the idea of acquiring the project site, Tomsic said. “That would be premature,” he said. As far as how much the site would cost, he’s guessing almost as much as building the city a new sewer plant. “I’ve heard the number $25 million tossed around,” he said. “If the city gets involved it would be a lot of money.”

Tomsic said the survey should be complete in several weeks and will help council and the planning commission make more informed decisions about land use on Semiahmoo spit.

“It’s important we do this in an objective way and not get caught up in emotions on either side of the issue,” he said.