Birch Bay asks county for a park

Published on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 by Quinn Welsch

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Looking to the future, a few Birch Bay community members are asking the county to consider purchasing land for a park on Birch Bay Drive.

A group calling itself the Birch Bay Community Center and Beach Park Committee is proposing that the county purchase a parcel located at 7954 Birch Bay Drive, a quarter mile south of the Harborview Road-Birch Bay Drive intersection. The property totals 4 acres of land with 400 feet of waterfront. The land is assessed at $3.75 million and is owned by the Vogt family.  

The group is composed of locals interested in public facilities and has no official status. The group is chaired by Jeff Carrington who is also a commissioner of the Blaine-Birch Bay Parks and Recreation District. 

“What sparked this proposal was the need to have public facilities on the beach: restrooms, trash cans, parking and showers,” Carrington said.

The committee members believe the lack of restrooms and trash cans are responsible for dirtying the beach and stress that the proposed location would fix that. They point out that the Birch Bay Comprehensive Plan listed those public facilities as some of the community’s top needs when it was drafted in 1977. 

The Birch Bay plan was incorporated into the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan in 2004 but, to date, little progress has been made. The only public restroom on Birch Bay Drive is located at the Alderson Road junction and is only open Memorial Day to Labor Day. The county’s comprehensive plan provides up to three parks along Birch Bay Drive (not including Birch Bay State Park). 

But a new park in Birch Bay isn’t a high priority on the county’s agenda. “There is funding available that the county has for acquiring land, but there is nothing budgeted now,” said Whatcom County Parks and Recreation director Michael McFarlane, adding, “This isn’t a high priority.”

Even if a new park was approved it would likely be another five to six years for a full park to be developed with at least four years before public restrooms and parking were built, McFarlane said.

Birch Bay’s primary project right now is the Birch Bay Drive Pedestrian Facility Project, an $11.45 million project aimed at improving walkways along the beach and restoring the shoreline, McFarlane said. “In context of the entire county, that takes priority there. That is the project,” he said. 

If the county does not purchase the location, it’s likely to get snatched up by private developers, Carrington said. He emphasized the importance of the community taking the lead, rather than private developers. “We need to shape this community,” he said.

Patrick Alesse, a business owner on Birch Bay Drive and a Birch Bay Water and Sewer District commissioner, shares that belief, but believes any new public facilities should be closer to the businesses that are concentrated at the south end of Birch Bay Drive. Alesse has lobbied the county for a 10-acre piece of property, assessed at $3.5 million, about a mile south of the committee’s proposed site. 

Beach access would require a bridge over Terrell Creek, which is a salmon restoration habitat. The beach in front of the location is also often closed due to water contamination from upstream. A legal injunction on the property is also preventing its sale. 

Carrington said he is not against the location, but now is not the right time to purchase it. Carrington and the Birch Bay Community Center and Beach Park Committee have provided packets to the county council detailing what they would like to see at a park. 

The committee’s proposal suggests a phased approach to building the park. Their plan would include a recreation building, restrooms, parking for 148 vehicles, playing fields and volleyball courts, an amphitheater and tourist booth. Phase one would be the construction of restrooms. 

“Even with phase one completed, the project would be a home run,” Carrington said.

Carrington said he hopes the park idea to be on the county council’s agenda by April.