Developerhitting rough patch

Published on Thu, Nov 10, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Developer hitting rough patch

By Jack Kintner

For the second time this year, Bellingham developer Joel Douglas has had a major project shut down by the city of Blaine. Last June, his Palisades project in the 800 block of Peace Portal Drive was red-flagged by the city before any construction began when Douglas’s subcontractors allegedly began work on the site without the proper city permits.

And again, last month, his 22-unit Seascape Condominium building on the site of the former Westview Motel was stopped in a dispute with the city over a nine and a half foot strip of land along 4th Street, on the eastern edge of Douglas’ property.

Without that strip, there’s not enough room for cars in some of the garages to back out without encroaching on city property. Douglas has been working on this and other matters with city staff for months, having sent in and hand delivered so much material it’s kept in a special box under the counter in the planning department office.

But after all this work, having not gotten satisfaction from city staff, Douglas plans to take the matter up directly with the city council Monday, November 14.

In a letter dated last Wednesday, November 2, he asked for time on the council agenda to address eight specific agenda items all having to do with “ongoing delays to the Seascape project, caused by various actions or decisions by the city.” Item number 4 reads, “We will enter into the record a summary of exhibits and commentary which we will ask the council to review and to which they ought to respond. This will be a good faith effort to correct the lot-line adjustments for which we will want only the facts and only the truth. This submission will be about 50 pages.”

At issue is the amount of land the city wants to trim off the eastern edge of the triangular parcel to widen 4th Street into a standard 60-foot right of way.

The city claims that Douglas agreed to trade the land last spring to satisfy a Local Improvement District (LID) assessment on the property that former owner Don Richmond hadn’t paid. “We made sure the value of that strip of land and the amount owing on the LID were roughly equal,” said city manager Gary Tomsic, “and then we agreed to it, and Douglas signed the deed.”

Tomsic went on to say that to get the 60 feet “we measured 30 feet from the center of the street.” Currently, the west side of 4th Street narrows south of the intersection it forms with Alder street, one “point” of the triangle of land formed by 4th and Alder streets as well as Peace Portal Drive that is the construction site.

Douglas maintains that the city is holding him to a slightly different configuration of the property in question than the one Tomsic originally described to him in 2003, before he bought the property. Last week Douglas said in a letter that the deed he signed for the property last spring “varied in this single, erroneous detail from the information I was presented by [Blaine city manager] Gary Tomsic in his letter to us of June 9, 2003.”

Tomsic’s only response was that, “Joel is responsible for what he signs. For the stop order to be lifted we need an up-to-date site plan, and an approved vacation of the city property he needs for his garages.” Tomsic added that Douglas can continue to work in the building since the stop work order only applies to the site.

This is the second time that a stop order has been issued on this project. An earlier one applied to construction that began on top of the foundation walls before a building permit had been issued, but that problem was solved three days later. This latest stop work order was issued last month as Douglas was preparing to pour concrete in what city officials contend is a city right-of-way.

In the meantime, Douglas is unable to hook up to storm drains and is battling with standing water in the basement of his new building. He said that the stop work order is costing him $2,800 per day, and his attorney, William Pardee, wrote to Tomsic on October 17 saying that “to date total estimated losses [from delays] exceed $250,000.” The letter went on to blame the delays on city staff assigned to Douglas’s project, saying they were “...disinterested or too busy. At the very least [they are] inexperienced and refuses to even look at the problems on our site.”

However, according to the city, it’s the sheer amount of material Douglas brings in or faxes and requests for information he files that are the primary reason the necessary approvals on his project are delayed. In a letter dated September 30, Gary Tomsic wrote that the planning staff “have logged over 300 hours of staff time addressing changes to this project.” Later in the same letter he said that “by having staff take time to answer over 200 faxes and redundant/conflicting correspondence, our review time is increased, which once again delays approvals.”

Nearly four weeks later Tomsic wrote to Douglas discussing the disputed property and noted that he had “walked by your site this morning (October 26) and noted that you have already encroached on the city’s property and are preparing to pour concrete on the same property that we are discussing in this letter.”

That same day a stop work order was issued. Tomsic’s letter concluded with “... we have yet to complete our review of your latest proposed amended site application. Among other things, [staff] has been working on the several requests for public information that you have submitted and has not had time to start his review of your latest site plan amendments.”

Once this is all sorted out the building itself promises to be a pleasant place to live. The units vary in size from 1,463 to 2,000 square feet. All are on one floor and have windows front and back, on both the west and east sides, and sliding doors onto generous decks that face Drayton Harbor. Each unit has at least one gas fireplace, and the larger units have two. Both the floors and common walls between units are doubled to provide sound proofing. “We specified Milgard sound control windows and cast iron blackwater pipe to reduce noise even more,” Douglas said.
Hot water is supplied to the whole building and is metered next to a shut-off valve in each unit “so there’s no tank to leak in your unit,” Douglas said. There are hardwood floor options, gas forced-air heat with a heated floor in units that have a master bath, cable and dish TV hookups and individual garages with electric doors. The building will have two elevators, each of which serve just two units on each floor.

Seascape Villas will be managed by Larry Bellamy, a Vietnam veteran who won a Bronze Star as part of an infantry battalion in a 12-month tour that ended in 1971. Bellamy came to Blaine in December, 2003 to manage the Westview Motel, the facility that Douglas’ Harbor Lands Company bought two years ago as a 1.5 acre development site. People who purchase one of the 22 condo units will get to know Bellamy well.
“He’s going to be our concierge,” Douglas said, “the guy who does everything from errands to feeding your pets to checking on your place when you aren’t there.”

“My job will be to make sure that the place stays at a particular standard,” Bellamy said, “to do what it takes to make sure the tenants have no problems.” He then gave a short tour of the facility, which was just about to be dry-walled, pointing out locations for shared amenities like a business center, a guest room for overflow visitors and a 12 by 7-foot outdoor spa.