Hearingset for Brown and Cole traffic mitigation

Published on Thu, Apr 13, 2006 by ara Nelson

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Hearing set for Brown and Cole traffic mitigation

By Tara Nelson

The Whatcom County hearing examiner has scheduled a hearing to decide whether Brown and Cole stores should be forced to make road improvements to accommodate their new shopping center proposed for Birch Bay.

Last month, Brown and Cole, through its parent company, Mayflower Equities, appealed a decision by Whatcom County planning department requiring the company to improve a busy intersection at Birch Bay-Lynden and Blaine roads, or wait for the county to do the work before they could open.

The two-phase project includes four new buildings, a 45,000-square foot grocery store and a 24,800-square foot retail and commercial center during the first phase. The second phase will include five new buildings and 38,200-square foot retail space. A preliminary traffic analysis submitted by Brown and Cole estimated an additional 6,900 vehicle trips per day would be generated by the new development.
Douglas Robertson, an attorney for Brown and Cole stores, appealed an addendum to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review issued by Whatcom County planning department, claiming that changes were made to the stipulations of the SEPA review without sufficient time for public comment. Robertson also claimed that the stipulations within the addendum would create an ‘enormous’ expense and make it “impossible for the project to proceed.”
Robertson could not be reached for comment.

Current mitigation measures for traffic impacts imposed by Whatcom County, include road improvements such as an additional right-of-way to the southwest corner of the intersection, a new traffic signal or roundabout, a left-turn lane for westbound Birch Bay-Lynden Road traffic, a right-turn lane for eastbound traffic into the parking lot and a fee based on the additional estimated vehicle trips per day.

The 2005 Whatcom County comprehensive plan requires that road improvements are made in concurrence with developments and warns that congestion and inadequate road conditions can have hidden costs to taxpayers both in the form of increased traffic accidents and subsequent emergency services as well as potential lawsuits to the county. This could be a particular problem for the Birch Bay area because it is an unincorporated community and therefore has no method of ensuring developers pay for the impact they create.
Hal Hart, director of Whatcom County planning and development, said county officials added the new stipulations after Brown and Cole submitted a second engineering analysis with new information and that the changes were necessary to maintain minimum safety levels for traffic capacity on county roads.

“If it generates that much traffic, it’s our duty to make sure we’ve evaluated the site for safety,” Hart said. “We’re looking at ingress and egress and how it adds to the traffic. The question becomes what is Brown and Cole responsible for.”

The intersection currently functions as a “C” level on the county’s A-to-F traffic rating system. County officials determined, however, that without improvements, those roads would function at an “F” level, meaning below Whatcom County’s minimum acceptable level of service.

“An F rating is a failure during a peak time of day,” he said.
Adding to the complexity is the issue of limited county funds for road improvements, he said. “The county has a six-year road plan and that intersection isn’t one of the ones scheduled for updates and improvements,” he said. “The real issue is the county telling Mayflower if they want it right now, they have to pay for the whole thing.”

Hart said the county is looking into a plan that would help reimburse developers who pay some of the upfront costs of road improvements in the form of late-comer fees. “So if anyone else is coming in that contributes to the intersection, they will owe a pro rata share going back to the developers,” Hart said. “We’re really looking at a public/private cooperative venture and I’m really hoping we can organize something like that for that intersection. The bigger issue, though, is how do we create safe intersections in concurrency with development when there’s only so much county money to go around and county engineers to do the work?”

Other requirements include a turn out and space for a bus shelter, which will be provided by Whatcom Transit Authority.
The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 26, at the Whatcom County Courthouse in the council chambers. For more information, call 676-6907.

Brown and Cole’s proposed grocery store at 4565 Birch Bay-Lynden Road is not affiliated with Scott’s Market Fresh, which is scheduled to open in August as part of Far North Ventures’ Birch Bay Square re-development at 3400 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, formerly known as the Peace Arch Factory Outlet.