BirchBay commercial guidelines ready for review

Published on Thu, Jul 5, 2007 by ara Nelson

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Birch Bay commercial guidelines ready for review

By Tara Nelson

The unincorporated area of Birch Bay is moving closer to adopting design standards that could help protect its natural habitat, preserve character and quality of life, according to proposed guidelines submitted to the Whatcom County Council last month.

A Northwest Collaborative (ANC), an architectural and bioregional planning firm hired by Whatcom County planning and development department, released a set of proposed design guidelines for commercial development in the Birch Bay urban growth area (UGA) in early June, which will be reviewed for possible incorporation.

The two-tiered proposal includes design guidelines for three distinct commercial districts in an attempt to align the character and quality of future developments with community preferences. Part of that suggests locating two major general commercial shopping areas on the corners of Blaine and Alderson roads and Birch Bay-Lynden and Blaine roads and include design features such as front-facing buildings and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and vegetation.

A third commercial area on the corner of Harborview and Birch Bay-Lynden roads would serve as a ‘town center’ with eight-foot vegetated medians, sidewalks with six-foot setbacks from the curb, improved pedestrian crossings, front-facing buildings with 35-foot setbacks and rear parking.

The plan also included measures for conservation of residential areas within the core commercial areas such as Birch Bay’s cottage district, as well as design guidelines for public art, signage regulations, shoreline restoration, road improvements, tree retention, energy-saving design standards such as green roof systems, bioswales to minimize stormwater, and porous concrete surfaces.

“It’s an idea of what could be,” she said. “It is fantastic for a potential city to understand what the possibilities are and what you can do with some good planning. We’re really, really pleased we’ve had this opportunity.”

In a regular meeting of the Birch Bay steering committee last April, former Whatcom County planning and development director Hal Hart said although the actual development of a town center could take as long as 15 to 17 years, the plan will provide some basic building blocks such as consistency in design and public spaces preservation, which could help facilitate incorporation in the future.

“The thing that’s going for this area is the incredible amount of new investment that’s occurring right now,” he said. “So we’re hoping to use that momentum.”

The 1997 Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan recommends guiding development within the distinct geographic areas of the county. Birch Bay‘s sub-area plan was adopted in 2004 and recommends that the county address design issues in Birch Bay.
The entire report can be found by visiting Whatcom County’s planning website at