WWUstudents issue Birch Bay design recommendations

Published on Thu, Jun 8, 2006 by ara Nelson

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WWU students issue Birch Bay design recommendations

By Tara Nelson

More connected roads, walkability, and the preservation of Birch Bay’s charm were the top priorities expressed by Birch Bay area residents in a new urban design plan released by Western Washington University (WWU) students Saturday.

In a meeting of the Birch Bay Steering Committee’s design standards subcommittee, students from Western’s sustainable design and urban planning departments presented a loose set of concepts and design guidelines for future improvements and expansions to the unincorporated community of Birch Bay.

The group was led by Nick Zaferatos, a WWU professor of urban planning and environmental policy, WWU professor Bob Andrew, and Alan Friedlob, chair of the Birch Bay Steering Committee’s shoreline enhancement subcommittee, who served as community adviser to the group.

The 45-page report included recommendations for transportation, commercial centers, residential and public spaces and was based on input from Birch Bay residents.

Pedestrian priority
The group recommended a number of speed limit reductions and other implementations with regard to transportation that would create a place where pedestrians and other non-motorized transportation take priority over cars.

Recommendations include lowering the speed limit on Birch Bay Drive to five miles per hour; Birch Bay-Lynden, Blaine and Alderson roads to 35 miles per hour, narrowing vehicle lanes, and adding vegetated medians, sidewalks, and bicycle lanes.

Several audience members expressed conerns about traffic bottlenecks on an already congested stretch of Birch Bay Drive.
Lauren Balisky, a student of sustainable urban planning at Western, said that the current congestion could be corrected by the implementation of a grid system that included a 25-mile per hour north-south connector road running parallel to Birch Bay Drive and a 20- to 25-mile per hour East-West road connecting Blaine Road to Birch Bay Drive.

Preserving Birch Bay heritage
The plan recommends development of the commercial and town center preserve the historic beach feel that defines Birch Bay as well as create a community focal point and gathering place.
To accomplish this, the plan calls for a central pedestrian, park-like boulevard that might create a “strong connection with the Birch Bay waterfront.” The center would be located just south of the former Birch Bay golf course at the intersection of the north-south road and Birch Bay Drive between the Oceanbreeze condominiums and the Sandcastle resort.

The center would provide shopping and dining areas, and create a centrally-located civic building would act as an anchor to bring more people to the town center, thereby helping to make the area economically viable year round.

Mixed use zoning in the commercial center where residential units were located above downtown businesses would ensure activity at all hours, thereby creating a strong deterrent to criminal activity.
Buildings were also recommended to be no more than three stories high to maintain views, natural lighting and airflow.

The focus of downtown development, however, would center around Birch Bay’s waterfront and the design team proposed removing all parking around the bay and replacing it with a “natural feeling” pathway and bicycle lane that would eventually continue the entire length from Birch Point to Point Whitehorn.

The pathway would require the removal of concrete scrap material and the planting of native vegetation to help stabilize soil and prevent erosion.

Low-impact design
Environmental sensitivity was a top priority expressed by Birch Bay residents and the plan recommends a number of low-impact features based on the LEED green building rating system.

Those include more public transportation, easier access for non-motor vehicle transport, and buildings made with renewable sources., as well as roadside rain gardens, or vegetation planted above a layer of loose pea gravel to absorb and filter urban runoff naturally before it flows into the bay.

The water collected by the rain gardens could also be used for a possible fountain at the end of the boulevard, the report said.

What people are saying
Mauri Ingram, project manager for Trillium Corporation, said she liked the idea of incorporating more green features into the community design – even if the initial costs are higher.

“People don’t realize that while sustainable features may cost more initially, they can often allow us to reduce cost in other areas,” said Ingram.“When you think about all the benefits, the cost really isn’t that horrendous.”

What’s next
Jeri Smith, chair of the design standards subcommittee of the Birch Bay steering committee, said the plan will be submitted to committee for further review and will be available for public comment during their upcoming meetings.

The next meeting is 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, June 27 at the Birch Bay Bible Community Church at 7039 Jackson Road. Copies of the plan will be made available to the public. For more information, visit www.biz.birchbay.net/bbsc.