Ordinancecould shift growth north

Published on Thu, Feb 15, 2007 by ack Kintner

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Ordinance could shift growth north

By Jack Kintner

Bellingham’s ordinance banning so-called big box stores, aimed at keeping businesses like Wal-Mart out of town, could have dramatic implications for northwest Whatcom County, according to realtor Mike Kent.

“They’re going to find a place in Whatcom County,” he said, “the only question is where. With Bellingham now out of the picture by its own choice, that could be a major shift in how things end up happening in our area.”

Kent has been instrumental in setting up a marketing group that includes many of the major players who are developing the Blaine-Birch Bay area, and it is from this perspective that he was speaking about the possible effects of the world’s largest retailer looking for a place to build in western Whatcom County after being shut out of its largest city.

“We began meeting last June, and decided to call it the Rising Tide Marketing Group after the idea that if we collaborate we can all benefit, like a rising tide lifts all boats,” Kent said.

The roll call includes developers like Ken Imus, Jim Bovenkamp, Jim Kaemingk, Gina Weigum, Art Weiner and Bill Grant, plus Pam Andrews from the Trillium Corporation, the Ware family who are developing Birch Bay Square and others from the Bank of the Pacific, “Birch Bay’s only bank,” Kent said.

Getting such competitors as these together is unusual, Kent said, and is a function of the scale of business in this area.

“You won’t find this in Seattle or Vancouver, and in fact we’ve been told that by people from these markets. But a whole room full of visionaries like this can not only create some valuable efficiencies and eliminate duplicated efforts, it’s greatest value has been in seeing where the voids are in the marketplace.”

One void in the marketplace Kent mentioned as an example, as did Imus, is the locale of potential retail centers in the rapidly developing area between Blaine and Birch Bay.

Both men agreed that there is still considerable unbuilt development potential in the area, and that the comparative lack of urban regulation in unincorporated areas is one reason why development seems to be proceeding more rapidly in Birch Bay than within the Blaine city limits

On the other hand, Kent said, “the county can get a little overloaded. Windermere wants to put in a building at Birch Bay Square, and last year we were told that approvals would take only two months, but it actually took 11 months to complete the process. That’s another reason, though, to meet together, so we can help each other streamline our part of the process.”
“Could Blaine have missed the boat?” Imus wondered. “Because if Birch Bay Square continues to grow, and the retail center in Jim Bovenkamp’s development works out, and Brown and Cole build their store on Blaine Road, who will need downtown Blaine?”
Kent added that this is one reason why the location of a Wal-Mart could have major implications.

Imus was careful to point out that he was not expressing a preference so much as trying to look ahead as developers have to do, anticipating the trends, “which is what makes this Rising Tide group so interesting.”

Blaine, on the other hand, talks about getting the city going but it can be frustrating, he said, mentioning the delays his son Jim has faced in getting his 3 Knots condominium project on Peace Portal Drive approved.

On Monday, the city council spent nearly a half hour with Imus trying to determine which side of his building is the legal front side and what that meant for height restrictions.

During the discussion city officials admitted that there had been some confusing communications over the issue but resolved to clear up misunderstandings.

Aside from Imus, Weiner and the Trillium Corporation are the only other developers involved in projects inside Blaine that are also members of the group.

Ken Hertz, with a 400-acre development on H Street in east Blaine and Doug Connelly, who plans a large residential development on east D Street, are not participating at this time.

Imus, whose local roots go back to his mother, Mary Gillespie Imus, a member of the first class at the Whitehorn School on Point Whitehorn, said that Weiner’s Harborside Place project at H and Peace Portal “is crucial for downtown Blaine.”

Kent said one of his projects he hopes to promote within the marketing group is to plant birch trees all over Birch Bay, something Birch Bay never had historically.

According to local archaeologist Al Reid, Captain George Vancouver saw red alder trees and mistook them for black birch like the ones in his native England.

“That’s OK, because paper birch are prettier trees anyway,” Kent said with a smile.