Marin condominiums edge toward sale

Published on Wed, May 16, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Five years after all work stopped on the unfinished Marin condominiums, a potential buyer may be less than two weeks away from owning the multimillion dollar project.

Blaine City Council member Clark Cotner said the potential buyer is eager to start work on completing the unfinished Marin condominium building just west of the Semiahmoo Resort. The potential buyer, who has yet to be named, is part of a firm that fixes up distressed properties around the country and makes them ready to sell.

“Hard times are their good times,” Cotner said. “I’m really excited about it because the [unfinished building] is just a blight on the community.”

The original owners, Andrew and Wanda Shaw of British Columbia, poured $26 million into the project before being forced to hand the property over to Seattle Bank after defaulting on an $18 million loan. Only one of the three planned towers, expected to bring 54 high-end condo units to west Blaine, was finished. The list price for the property is $10 million.

The Marin project has been stalled for five years, but local realtor Mike Kent said Blaine and Semiahmoo residents should expect a flurry of activity around the property in the next three months. Kent confirmed the sale of the completed and unfinished buildings will close within the next two weeks, but could not offer any details on the party interested in buying the property.

Cotner said the potential buyer told him work could start on the unfinished building in a little more than a month. The interested party also plans to market the property and put condo units in both buildings up for sale.

Kent said the condos, once on the market, will most likely be snatched up rather quickly. He predicts some current Semiahmoo residents will buy condos in an effort to downsize, but said the most interest will come from across the border.

As evidence of this, Kent said a condo tower across Boundary Bay in White Rock is already 63 percent sold, though construction is only halfway done. Kent said those condos are going for between $1,000 and $1,500 per square foot, while he expects the Marin condos to sell for between $300 and $400 per square foot.

The individual Marin condos range in size from 1,056 square feet to 2,230 square feet. The former owners were planning to ask between $600,000 and $1.8 million.

Before any construction can begin, however, the potential buyer will have to apply for new building permits from the city of Blaine since the original permits expired years ago. At the May 14 Blaine City Council meeting, community development director Michael Jones said the potential buyer is seeking some relief from having to pay building permit fees again when his firm eventually starts work on the unfinished tower.

The base building permit fee for a project worth at least $1 million is $5,600, Jones explained. After that, the city charges $3.50 for each $1,000 worth of value. Jones estimated the value of construction on the unfinished tower to be $4 million, which means the potential buyer will have to pay about $20,000 in building permit fees.

Jones said Marin’s potential buyer approached the city about possibly paying less fees since he plans to complete the unfinished tower as it was proposed five years ago. Jones floated the idea of a new city fee that property owners would pay on unfinished projects they wish to complete, but on which the previous owner has already paid building permit fees. This fee would amount to roughly half of the already-paid building permit fees.

At the city council meeting, Cotner spoke in favor of this, which would require a council vote to implement. He told city staff and his fellow council members that the potential owner seems determined to finish the project.

“They’re going to do it, like, right now,” Cotner said, in reference to the potential buyer’s timetable for completing the unfinished condo building.

Other council members, however, were more skeptical. Blaine mayor Harry Robinson said he’s concerned about the potential buyer seeking a break from the city. He said this may mean the potential buyer might not have enough capital to finish the project.

“If they can’t afford the permitting fees, then they shouldn’t be considering buying the building,” Robinson said.

City council member Ken Oplinger also said he was less inclined to support instating the new fee. He said the potential buyer should have known the exiting permit costs involved when they put an offer on the property with the intent to finish it.

Though city council members declined to take any further action on the new fee, Cotner said he does not expect that to stop the potential buyer from completing the project.

“[The potential buyer] came across as a ‘gonna get her done’ kinda guy,” Cotner said.