Committeepresents a variety of airport plans

Published on Thu, Jun 8, 2006 by eg Olson

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Committee presents a variety of airport plans

By Meg Olson

A committee formed to study alternative uses for the airport property is looking at the inclusion of an airport in two of the three land-use scenarios proposed by consultants.

At a June 5 meeting consultants Julie Bassuk and Gerald Hansmire of the Makers Architecture firm and Paul Sorenson of BST and Associates presented the group with results of interviews with stakeholders and their draft market assessment, analysis criteria and land use diagrams for the 30-acre existing airport and the land proposed for an airport expansion.

“The next step will be to take comments from this and really analyze the alternatives,” Bassuk said.

The committee was initially formed following voter approval of a ballot measure asking the city to study the feasibility of closing the airport. Their investigation was described by city manager Gary Tomsic in December 2005 as one leg of a three-legged approach to studying the airport’s future: a feasibility study to be conducted by city legal staff, the alternatives study and a study of the economic benefits of retaining the airport, to be undertaken by the airport commission.
Bassuk explained that during their first meeting with committee members, they recommended that the airport not be completely excluded from their analysis.

“Although the majority of our efforts are focused on alternatives, it would be very difficult to relate the benefits and costs of those alternatives if you didn’t have a baseline,” Bassuk said.
City manager Gary Tomsic said while it was important for the overall analysis of the airport question, the committee would not focus on the option to retain the airport, looking instead at the other uses for the facility.

Sorenson’s market analysis, looking at trends in all sectors on both sides of the border and locally in Blaine, made a preliminary finding that market demand would support 50 to 100 acres of additional industrial land and another 1.5 to six acres of retail development.
The main growth in the industrial areas, Sorenson predicted, would come one-third from the manufacturing sector, one-third in transportation-related uses, and the other third in wholesale trade.
His analysis was based on the prominent industries that exist in Blaine today and predicted growth in those sectors. It also took into account the industrial land supply in the county.

Blaine only has two percent of the available industrial land in the county at this time, he said, and a combination or rising prices in Bellingham and infrastructure issues at Cherry Point, the two largest reserves, “are driving users to look at other areas like Blaine and Ferndale,” he said.

If another 50-100 acres of industrial land was developed in mixed uses, Sorenson said, “that would increase your job base by 350 to 450 jobs by 2020.” This represents a 25 percent increase over today’s employment figures, he added.

The retail demand would come from Blaine’s booming population. “Blaine’s been growing pretty rapidly, much faster than other communities,” Sorenson said. “Blaine could attract 26,000- to 70,000-square feet of retail at the airport site within 20 years.”

He pointed specifically to the corner of H Street and State Route 543. Sorenson also looked at some potential for office and institutional use of the land, which he qualified as secondary.

In her presentation to the committee Bassuk presented three possible land-use diagrams incorporating the additional retail and industrial demand.

The first option would be to leave the 30-acre airport as is, with the land to the south and east meeting the demand for industrial land.
“You do have that space for the industrial demand but you don’t have a great site for the retail,” Bassuk said.

In the second alternative, an expanded airport is shifted to the south, opening up an additional 10 acres for retail between the existing shopping center and the truck route. The industrial demand could be met along Odell Road, with 33 acres within city limits and 71 outside but in the city’s recognized urban growth area.

The third alternative, with the elimination of the airport, would see the same 10 acres of retail become available and 100 acres of industrial land could be created from the airport property and property to the east and south of the shopping mall.

Based on several days of interviews with both proponents and opponents of the airport, Bassuk said they identified certain priorities to rank the three alternatives by.

“Taxes and jobs were very highly rated,” she said, as was creating resources that support cottage industries. Less important was encouraging development that would not compete with downtown and protecting the airport in general. Aesthetics were also ranked as less important than economic benefits.

Bassuk said when they come back to the committee in July they will have begun to fill in the criteria chart, comparing the three land-use alternatives in terms of everything from jobs to public safety. ”We’re hoping to provide a framework and lay out some options and present them to the committee and for city council to make a decision,” she said. “It’s going to be a gray area and a judgment call but at least we can lay out all the information available.”

Committee member David Vargo asked that the committee get together for a discussion of the material presented and the criteria being used prior to the next meeting with consultants. “Let’s make sure we’re asking the right questions,” he said.

That meeting will be June 14, and consultants will make their next presentation in July. Vargo also asked that consultants get a better understanding of projects currently in development that would modify the conclusions they were drawing from 2003 industrial land-use numbers. “Commercial growth right now is huge,” he said. “Every piece of land up the I-5 corridor has either been purchased or is in feasibility study.”

From the audience, Eugene Klein, owner of 48 acres south of the current airport property, asked simply that the city decide and do it quickly. “You can’t keep dragging it out for years and no one knows what’s going on,” he said.

Klein had echoed what Bassuk identified as a common concern from all sides of the airport question. “The lack of decision, this back and forth about what to do with the site, that has perhaps the most negative impact,” Bassuk said. “The hope with this study is the city can move beyond that.”