Blaine Planning Commission approves proposed Chada Thai expansion

Published on Wed, Apr 18, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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The owners of the Chada Thai restaurant on Peace Portal Drive will be allowed to expand their kitchen and build a basement after getting the necessary permissions from the Blaine Planning Commission.

The proposed renovations ran counter to city of Blaine design regulations for the downtown area. The regulations were enacted in 1999 and call for a turn-of-the-last century design motif, but site restrictions made it difficult for the renovation to comply.

“Normally, I would not approve of [these changes] at all, but they’re kind of in a box,” Blaine planning commissioner Sue Sturgill said at the April 12 planning commission meeting.

The plans call for a 986-square-foot kitchen addition and a 940-square-foot basement, totalling 1,926 square feet. The renovations needed to comply with six separate regulations, Blaine community planner Alex Wenger said.

The turn-of-the-century design standards include rules designed to promote pedestrian-friendly storefronts, which means buildings constructed right up to the property line and avoidance of long, blank walls. Given the layout of the property, the owners requested design variances from the planning commission.

“Because of the existing building, that would require dramatic changes from what [the property owners] wanted to do,” Blaine community development director Michael Jones said.

The landowners contracted with Bellingham-based Arbour North Architects to design the additions, which include expansion to the south and west sides of the property. Architect Jed Clark said at the planning commission meeting that the building’s owners had no idea the city would enact design standards that would limit expansion of the building 17 years after the owners bought the property.

“This building is so totally out of compliance that my recommendation is to just let it be,” Clark said.

Commissioners were wary of the design departures, fearing they would detract from the overall look of the downtown area and suggested the building could be painted a color found in the turn-of-the-century design standards palette.

Commissioner Richard May said he was also concerned the addition could block the view of the harbor. Wenger pointed out any development on the west side of Peace Portal Drive would block the view, which is why the city established parklets at the ends of streets intersecting Peace Portal Drive.

“[The project] is going to detract from some views, but that’s the nature of development,” Wenger said.

Planning commissioners eventually voted 6-0 to approve the renovation, but added the conditions that the building be painted a color taken from the design standards color palette and the addition of a window or design feature to break up the blank wall on the east side of the addition. Clark said these conditions would not be a problem.

Jones said the turn-of-the-century design standards have been implemented in a number of buildings over the past few years, citing the Black Forest Steakhouse building. Jones pointed out that a property owner in a similar situation as the Chada Thai owners could cite the decision as a precedent.

“Variances decisions are difficult to translate from property to property, but they are precedent setting in nature,” Jones said.