Residentsvoice concerns over wharf district plan

Published on Thu, Feb 15, 2007 by ara Nelson

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Residents voice concerns over wharf district plan

By Tara Nelson

Better beach access, pedestrian walkways and more mixed uses are some of the improvements that visitors to Blaine’s harbor can expect in upcoming years, according to a joint plan unveiled by the city of Blaine and the Port of Bellingham last week.

At a public meeting Wednesday, Blaine residents crowded a small room at the Blaine harbor office to hear Blaine city staff and port officials discuss their preliminary master plan concept for the redevelopment of Marine Drive, also known as Blaine’s wharf district.

The plan includes zoning amendments to allow mixed use residential in some areas, more open spaces and bike paths, and the construction of a pedestrian bridge that would connect Blaine’s boardwalk to a future park near the boat launch at the end of Milhollin Drive.

Other plans include a possible realignment of the parking lot at Marine Park to better utilize views, improved signage near the access point at Marine Drive and Peace Portal Drive, and more commercial development near the end of the peninsula.

Blaine community development director Terry Galvin said the city and the port have been working collaboratively on a plan that was originally developed in 1998 and will be incorporated into the port and city’s comprehensive plans for Blaine harbor in the near future.
“We got together and we said, ‘Why don’t we take the marina, the park, the road and the public area and take a look at it from that broader perspective,’” he said. “I think this plan has tremendous opportunity to link the upland area with the marina itself.”

Mixed uses
Port planning and development director Sylvia Goodwin said she thinks, over time, Blaine could develop a market for a mix of businesses that could include a small hotel, dining and retail establishments as well as increased marine and industrial uses.

“I could definitely see a nice restaurant in there somewhere, probably a few retail businesses as well,” she said. “Right now, there are not a lot of places where you can come in on your boat where you could go within walking distance to buy a raincoat, a six-pack of beer or a sandwich.”

Goodwin said the current zoning of much of Marine Drive is marine commercial and restricts other commercial and residential uses in certain areas. Creating a mix of residential, commercial and non-marine uses along the east and central portions of Marine Drive could help create a population base that would help businesses thrive, while at the same time adding security to the area, she said.

“For every job, you want one residence and if you can do that, that creates a good vibrancy,” she said. “You don’t want more retail than customers. We believe that if there were more residents living within walking distance, those businesses would thrive. Retail alone doesn’t cut it.”

Residential uses would not be allowed, however, near the west end of the spit near Westman Marine because of the potential for industrial noise and “fragrant” smells from fish and crab processing, she said.

Galvin said the city and the port has also been working with the state department of ecology to develop several pocket beaches where visitors can have access to the shore.

“So we can actually for the first time get down on the beach and get our toes into the sand and let the kids go nuts for a little while,” he said. “As it is now, we don’t have access to the water. I think that would be a tremendous asset to us as community members.”

Goodwin added that the plan was developed to preserve views from H and G street intersections on Peace Portal Drive, which look out toward the water tower and the lighthouse planned for the end of the spit.

“Those views have always been a part of the downtown history and we wanted to make sure as we develop that area that we don’t block them,” she said.

Residents’ concerns

Blaine resident Tommy Ryser suggested allowing temporary parking for recreational vehicles (RVs).

“There are about a dozen parking spots for recreational vehicles,” he said. “That could generate tourism and should be promoted. It could help the economy.”

Galvin said he had looked into RV parking in the past but had encountered strong disagreements from some in the community.

“There are a number of people who don’t want to see RV parking in there,” he said. “So that’s something we’re looking for more input on.”

Another woman expressed concern about protecting the area’s migratory bird population.

“Twice a year, we have thousands of migratory birds stopping here, and right now I don’t think the signage is good enough to make sure people are aware of the necessity of giving birds a chance to rest,” she said.

The most vocalized issue was the proposed closure of the pier at the end of Marine Drive to vehicles, of which the majority of audience members said they opposed.

Goodwin said that while the plan is still in the development phase, the pier is in need of serious upgrades. She added that because the pier was built out of a former railroad trestle and filled in with gravel, the entire structural support system of the pier would need to be replaced.

“We’re going to do some further investigating on cost and if we can get grant funding and if the city wants to divert road funds from other parts of the town to build a road that doesn’t go anywhere, then that’s something we will look into,” she said. “If we can find the money, there’s no problem with having it stay open. But it’s really a financial issue and that is how much will it cost and where will we get the money to upgrade it.”

Blaine resident Ron Snyder received an applause for his comments in support of keeping the pier open to vehicles.

“The road to Mt. Baker goes nowhere. The road to Paradise and Mt. Rainier goes nowhere,” he said. “So the road in Blaine that goes to the end of the pier, that is our Mt. Baker, that is our Mt. Rainier.”

Blaine resident Laurie Hart agreed. “Street ends are very well preserved in Blaine,” she said. “I can’t think of a bigger, more important street end than the end of Marine Drive.”

Goodwin said the next step is for the city of Blaine and the port to work together to complete the plan and finalize development regulations along with a cost estimate of repairs for the replacement of the wooden planks at the end pier, as well as future and continual road improvements to the road by the city.

A second public hearing on the draft plan is scheduled for later this spring after which it will go to the port commission and the city council for adoption as early as September 2008.

“If it is adopted, it will probably be at least three or four years before we start to see development in this area,” she said. “Once we get the plan done and the zoning to allow it, then it really becomes a market issue.”