Residents want more recreation, better walkability

Published on Thu, Jun 16, 2011 by Tara Nelson and Jeremy Schwartz

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More recreation, better walkability and maintaining a small-town quality of life were the top criteria expressed by Blaine residents at a recent meeting that focused on downtown development.

The meeting is part of a series of forums  hosted by Blaine planning officials in an attempt gather public input on what the city could do to encourage development in the downtown area.

Several participants, such as Blaine City Council member Harry Robinson, also said they would like to see Blaine become a hub of green and innovative design. One way the city could accomplish this would be to add electric car vehicle charging stations, he said.

“We should decide now if that’s something we want to become known for,” he said. “Green technology is going to be a biggie in the future.”

Others said they would like to see better advertised WiFi access for the Blaine boating community as well as more connectivity between the city’s downtown and wharf districts. 

The most discussed issue during the last meeting was a 2005 study conducted on downtown’s friendliness to pedestrians and development along the railroad tracks just east of the Blaine marina. The study, conducted by community planning specialist Dan Burden, reported the keys to a thriving downtown are a gateway, preserving and maintaining visually pleasing areas and focusing on families and children.

Child-friendly additions could include fountains and playgrounds, said sustainable planning consultant Anindita Mitra, who led the discussion.

 Anything that will attract children will attract their parents, who most likely spend money once they’re downtown, she added.
Mitra said downtown does have a fairly clear gateway, and the city has been making progress in improving the area’s sidewalks and open public spaces.

With regard to development just east of the marina, Mitra said the ability of waterfront property to be built there would require a larger investment because of the building foundations that would be needed, but the increased investment could be worth it for a developer seeking waterfront property.

Mitra cited a geotechnical survey of the area that found the soils could support buildings no taller than three stories, which is the tallest allowed under the area’s zoning code.

However, the city’s requirements to protect waterfront views could slow development on the west side of Peace Portal Drive, said Blaine community development director Michael Jones.

The requirement that views be protected will limit what type of buildings can go there.

Many asked about the status of the long-discussed downtown boardwalk project, which would construct a boardwalk skirting the west side of the buildings abutting the railroad tracks and a footbridge leading to the marina.

Blaine public work director Steve Banham said the boardwalk has been in the city’s planning sights for a while, but the necessary funds have not been available.

The city has spent about $4 million on downtown upgrades, which have included old-style streetlights and the plazas at the ends of H and G streets. Another $1 million in improvements are planned for H Street in 2012. Discussion continues on improvements to downtown Blaine.

Jones said city staff will make recommendations based on the input gathered at the meetings and present it to the public during a final meeting at 7 p.m., Tuesday, June 28, at city hall.

The proposals will then go before the Blaine planning commission and city council for final approval.

“There will be plenty of other opportunities for public comment,” he said.