Councilgrudgingly approves Seagrass project

Published on Thu, Jul 13, 2006 by eg Olson

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Council grudgingly approves Seagrass project

By Meg Olson

Blaine City Council has approved the Seagrass II development for Semiahmoo spit by the same 4 – 3 split that the planning commission recommended denying the project.

At their July 10 meeting council members Bruce Wolf, Ken Ely and Charlie Hawkins voted against the project, saying it would take more concessions from the developer, specifically fewer units near the neck of the spit, to earn their vote.

Bonnie Onyon, Jason Overstreet, John Liebert and Mike Myers voted in favor of the 68-unit development, accepting a non-binding commitment from developer Trillium Corporation to look at shifting density closer to the tip of the spit at the end of a nine-month review of the area master plan.

In Onyon’s case, the vote to approve the project was not enthusiastic. “If we’re willing to accept there’s going to be something here, we have to decide what we can live with,” she said. In an effort to find a solution the majority of council members could live with, Trillium vice-president Wayne Schwandt came to a work session prior to the regular council meeting ready to deal.

In a June 26 work session Wolf had indicated he would support the project if some of the density could be moved away from the neck of the spit, which he felt was necessary to bring the current proposal in line with the 1985 master plan for the development of the Semiahmoo Resort.

Schwandt came back with an offer to remove two of the eight duplexes proposed for the area adjacent to the county park, but only if, following a review of the master plan, the city and the developer can agree to “opportunities for transferring density out of the Seagrass Cottages II development area.”

If such an agreement were not reached by the beginning of next year the developer would proceed with the plan for eight duplexes.
“I don’t want it to be contingent on an agreement down the road,” Ely said, holding up the diagram of the proposal for six-duplex clusters. “I say build this and we’ll talk.”

Recognizing the project needed to make economic sense for the developer, Ely asked if the project would “pencil” with the lowered number of duplexes next to the park. “It will pencil depending on what happens with the rest of the spit,” Schwandt said.

Wolf also wanted a commitment to limiting the duplexes to six, citing the planning commission’s concern that the amount of building footprint at the neck of the spit was not consistent with the vision of lower density in the 1985 master plan.

“The building footprint was too big with eight units and I won’t vote for it,” he said. “Six units is not too big.”

Less intractable about the number of units, Onyon still wanted a more solid deal. “I feel a little queasy about the uncertainty,” she said. “Would we be able to hold Trillium to a more measurable thing?” She suggested a commitment to the six duplexes as part of Seagrass in exchange for a commitment from the city to allow four additional units as part of the development at the end of the spit.

Hawkins, who has expressed the strongest opposition to the project as a whole, said he was not inclined to simply trust the developer to limit density on what Schwandt described as their highest value property in the project. “Holding it over our heads like a sugar plum almost seems like extortion,” Hawkins said.

In regular session audience members calling for a building moratorium echoed Hawkins’ statement. Lois Franco suggested that a revised master plan should come prior to any planned unit developments being approved, including Seagrass.
“Developers are shoving forward with their plans without considering the interests of the community as a whole,” she said.

Liebert and Overstreet, on the other hand, felt Trillium had done more than enough to accommodate council and citizen concerns. “What I hear is ‘thank you very much, can we have more?’ And that carrot keeps moving forward,” Overstreet said.

More delays and more demands could put the city in an actionable position, he added. “We’re not acting in good faith if we keep moving that carrot.”

While he shared the view of many in the audience that the ideal was to preserve the spit rather than develop it, “this is private property,” Overstreet emphasized, and a 20-year-old plan gave those who owned it the right to build on it.

In regular session Onyon made a motion to approve the project with six-units in the cluster of duplexes, holding approval of the remaining two in abeyance until the master plan update is complete, as had been suggested by city attorney Jon Sitkin earlier. Schwandt had indicated that Trillium was opposed to that avenue.

“We do not want to prolong Seagrass,” he said. “We want to put Seagrass away.

Following a discussion with Schwandt prior to the regular meeting, Blaine community development director Terry Galvin said both the community and the developer could benefit from more flexibility, and suggested approving the project as-is with a condition that no construction begin on the duplexes until the updated master plan sets forth the options for density transfer to other areas.

“If you create a really different scenario there’s more potential alternatives than just the elimination of two duplexes,” he said.
The deadline for the update to the plan would be March 30, 2006. “Come April 1 if they didn’t like what was in the master plan they could pull the trigger on the eight units,” Sitkin explained. “Or they could potentially trade some or all for some extra height. That would be part of the master plan.”

Onyon changed her motion to reflect the new approach, and city manager Gary Tomsic cautioned that the non-binding nature of the agreement was a de facto approval of the project with the eight duplexes.

“It seems to me like you’re just approving the plan and they move forward,” Tomsic said. “You can put higher density somewhere else and they can still move forward.”

“That’s what it is,” said a resigned Onyon tipping the split vote in the applicant’s favor. “I just think we need to move ahead. This could be a never ending story.”