Cityplanners take another look at Seagrass project

Published on Thu, Mar 9, 2006 by eg Olson

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City planners take another look at Seagrass project

By Meg Olson

The Blaine planning commission has begun to chew over a new application for the Seagrass development on Semiahmoo Spit, and is choking on the same bone that led to the denial of the first Seagrass application: Does it match the projections approved by the city in the 1985 Semiahmoo Master Development Plan, and does it need to?
“This master plan clearly anticipates a development of a certain size and I want to assure myself what’s being proposed falls into that,” said planning commissioner Harry Robinson at a March 1 work session. “I think a lot has changed and now we’re talking about something totally different and I have difficulty trying to reconcile that.”

The new Seagrass II application is asking for fewer units than the original application, assembled in fewer buildings. The first Seagrass application had called for 35 duplexes on 22 acres and Seagrass II is asking for eight duplex lots and 13 four-plexes – 68 rather than 70 total units.

In their denial of the first application, planning commissioners and city council had cited the first design’s lack of compliance with the Semiahmoo Master Plan’s “clustered” representation of residential development in that area, scaled to be compatible with the “dunes environment.”

“This is kind of where we were last time,” said commissioner Sue Sturgill. “What determines the intent of the plan?”

The staff report accompanying the new application states that the “configuration of the proposed development is generally consistent with the residential zones described in the Semiahmoo Resort Master Plan,” though it does raise some concern over the scale of the larger buildings which might not be “scaled to achieve a beach house image,” as the master plan describes.

“One interpretation is that the master plan was illustrative but general,” said city contract planner Rollin Harper. “The other end being that this spit diagram shows a blueprint. There’s quite a bit of room for disagreement on that issue. Part of the dilemma is it gives us these pictures, these numbers, but doesn’t tell us if it’s meant to be prescriptive.”

Robinson’s objection is that the current proposal mixes development plans for what the master plan considers three of the four different residential areas proposed for build-out on the spit. “What we’re starting to look at is the development of the spit in its totality,” he said. “Is what we should be looking at the entire buildout?”

In their submissions to the city Trillium Corporation, the project proponent and owner of most of the undeveloped land on the spit, submitted a conceptual plan for the entire area with a final count of 375 residential units. The 1984 master plan projected from 260 to 375 residential units. Today there are 33 units at the Beachwalker condominiums, 54 more will be added with the approved Meritage project next to the hotel and Seagrass would add 68 more. The conceptual design calls for an additional 220 residential units at higher density in what is now marina parking and marine services areas, and 60,000 square-feet of additional commercial space. Parking needs would be met primarily with two underground lots totaling over 400 new parking spaces.

“We’re all concerned with the cumulative impacts at the end of the spit. You hear it from the audience, you hear it from staff – we need to look at the big picture and that will help to clarify the proportional relationships,” said Blaine community development director Terry Galvin. Of the 16 members of the public who wrote to express concern over the project, four asked for an update to the existing master plan reflecting buildout and current conditions prior to approval of Seagrass and several others wanted a new environmental impact statement. Half of the letters submitted indicated concern for environmental protection of the Spit’s delicate ecology, while four asked that scrutiny be given to proposed parking and stormwater facilities.

Blaine planning commissioner Ken Oplinger said beyond the issue of conceptual consistency with the 1984 plan he wanted to make sure issues like total impervious surfaces for the area were addressed, as well as an overall strategy for managing stormwater. “As buildout occurs you could have stormwater leaking from one site into another,” he said. “It’s almost better to do the whole spit.”

Galvin said the existing master plan called for benchmark reviews to the document. “At 50 percent you take a look at environmental, social, transportation impacts and you make adjustments” he said. “This development is right on the edge of triggering a new look at all of that. The alternative would be incremental development and hodge-podge solutions.”

Despite concerns over how the current proposal would fit in with the development of the whole spit, city planning staff are recommending the planning commission recommend approval to city council, if the applicant can meet 24 conditions of approval as well as the 21 conditions attached to a mitigated determination of nonsignificance issued following a review under the State Environmental Policy Act. Conditions include analyses of impervious surfaces in relation to the proposed buildout, establishment of a homeowners association to manage and fund a stormwater facility, protection for migratory birds and public access to the water.

At the recent work session planning commissioners could only comfortably sign off on seven of the conditions and will plan future work sessions to refine their recommendation. “We can always revisit any of these issues,” said commission chairman Jeff Arntzen. “No one should feel hemmed in.”