Cityto consider latest Seagrass proposal

Published on Thu, Jun 15, 2006 by eg Olson

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City to consider latest Seagrass proposal

By Meg Olson

The Blaine planning commission narrowly voted to again deny the development application for the Seagrass cottages on Semiahmoo Spit.
The final decision on the controversial project now lies with city council, who started their review by acknowledging it won’t be an easy decision.

“We’re going to have to delay any action and go into a work session for more study,” said Blaine mayor Mike Myers at the June 12 city council meeting.

The meeting was preceded by a work session during which Blaine community development director Terry Galvin and contract planner Rollin Harper outlined the issues that contributed to four of seven planning commissioners voting to deny the application. “It’s a cluster of issues, no pun intended,” Harper said. “The main item they were looking for was consistency with the master plan.”

In October 2005 city council upheld a planning commission recommendation to deny the first application for the proposed 70-unit development on Semiahmoo Spit, based on non-compliance with the 1986 Resort Semiahmoo Master Development Plan.

To resolve a judicial appeal of the decision the city allowed applicant Trillium Corporation to submit another application for the project.
In the current application, Galvin said the applicant worked with staff to planning commission, revising their original site plan to try and fit with the planning commission’s interpretation of the master plan, specifically in regard to clustering, building size and density. Three planning commissioners felt they met that goal, but four did not.
“In the master plan it calls for beach clusters and that was really the source of a lot of focus in the planning commission,” Galvin said. The plan calls for 36 to 60 units to be built in the “beach clusters” area closest to the county park, and emphasizes that “massing should be articulated to reduce the apparent size of the clusters of units” in these more natural beachfront areas.

Closer to the hotel the plan anticipates higher density “bay clusters” and “marina clusters” that transition to a higher density village-like atmosphere as they get closer to the hotel area.

The new proposal would cover all of the beach clusters area and part of the harbor and bay clusters. It proposes 10 duplexes closest to the park, 11 four-plexes, and a 16-unit condominium complex adjacent to the existing Beachwalker condominiums.

“They did not see sufficient development clustering,” Harper said of the four planning commission members who voted to deny the application. The catch, he said, was that they needed to rely on a master plan that did not give specific guidelines for clustering and density, but gave only descriptive language and a site plan. “It raises the question how much weight is to be given to an illustration,” Harper said. “Unfortunately the master plan is not clear in terms of regulations. It’s the regulatory document in place, flawed though it may be.”

Where the master plan was clear, planning commissioners also found cause for concern. “There’s clearly a maximum impervious surface limit in the residential area – 40 percent overall,” Harper said.
While the project was under that number for overall creation of impervious surfaces, having put parking underground, planning commissioners also felt the proportion of impervious surface created by the buildings themselves was too great, which meant the scale proposed was not consistent with the scale illustrated in the master plan.

“The planning commission was looking at proportional relationships,” Galvin said. “They were concerned about cumulative impacts and master planning of the area.”

In their report to council Harper and Galvin outlined nine areas where planning commissioners felt the proposal did not meet the intent of the master plan.

The planning commission also discussed issues of community concern, detailed in over 60 items of correspondence included in the record, include such as impacts on birds and water quality, traffic and parking worries, and the potential for flooding in case of a tsunami.
“They did not make their decision based on these issues,” Harper said, but there was discussion of the need to update the 20-year-old plan to reflect community priorities in those areas.

Representing Trillium, Wayne Schwandt said they were disappointed in the recommendation for denial and thought their revised application met criteria for development on Semiahmoo Spit. “The master plan isn’t really designed to provide the final look for development on the spit – it’s a framework plan,” he said.

In revising their original plan with city staff Schwandt said they had created more open space, a public park, view corridors and a softened visual impact with low building heights closer to the park “with the idea of less to greater building heights near the end of the spit.”

Council member Ken Ely wanted to know what made a majority of planning commissioners deviate from the staff recommendation. “Why does one trusted body say aye and another trusted body say nay?” he asked.

“It’s a matter of interpretation,” Galvin said. His department’s role was to review the proposal in light of the existing regulations and they found it “marginally acceptable.”

Planning commission took into consideration a wider record, including strong local opposition. “I respect that and respect their spirit but we as staff need to dispassionately review for compliance,” Galvin said.

Council member Bruce Wolf asked if it would be appropriate for council to meet with planning commission members to discuss their concerns.

City attorney Jon Sitkin said that would be an unusual move, and recommended instead council use the information contained in the planning commission, returning to minutes of their meetings if necessary. “You have that planning commission recommendation but that’s just part of the record in this case and you need to consider the record as a whole.”

Staff will schedule a work session to begin council review of the project. “This is the tip of the iceberg here,” Galvin said. “We’ll take a deeper look.”