Blaine Planning Commission mulls downtown zoning


Blaine Planning Commission is ironing out the details of its downtown zoning recommendations for building height and parking requirements that it will eventually send to Blaine City Council.

Planning commissioners told Alex Wenger, director of the city’s Community Development Services (CDS) Department, during their March 14 meeting that they wanted to see a rendering of what increasing building height on the west side of Peace Portal Drive could look like before moving forward in the public process. Wenger said after the meeting he hopes to show several renderings at the April 11 planning commission meeting.

Planning commissioners green lighted CDS Department’s downtown parking recommendations that would allow developers to reduce their on-site residential parking if they pay a fee to assist with downtown transportation improvements.

Planning commission will likely hold a public hearing on the parking requirements during its April meeting and then hold a later public hearing on the building height recommendations.

Discussions on changing building height and parking requirements in downtown Blaine have been ongoing since 2022, when some developers said they wouldn’t be able to get a good return on their investment with current zoning regulations. An ad hoc downtown advisory committee began discussing those requirements in January 2023, ultimately recommending the city reduce the required residential parking by half, build a municipal parking garage, and increase building heights if developers pay for extra amenities.

Planning commission, which has reviewed the ad hoc committee’s recommendations, is considering applying the building height recommendations to the downtown core, but excluding an area near the Salishan neighborhood.

Under this plan, building heights could be increased by 12 feet. If developers want to increase the building height, they would be required to build affordable housing or pay a public improvement fee. Wenger told planning commission that even though other cities have a mandatory affordable housing clause, city staff wanted to give developers another option because some developers don’t know how to find subsidies to build affordable housing.

Residential parking changes would apply to the entire downtown, with additional parking relief for developers in the waterview district, which is mostly the west side of Peace Portal Drive. Developers could potentially opt for a 50 percent reduction in residential parking in the waterview district.

If developers want to reduce their on-site residential parking to a minimum amount set by the city, they would pay an in-lieu fee that would go toward transportation improvements downtown. Blaine City Council would set the one-time fee and could adjust annually based on demand.  Developers who build to current parking standards wouldn’t pay the parking mitigation fee.

The planning commission supported sunsetting the parking reductions when about 120 parking stalls were transferred from private property into the public right-of-way as a means of capping the number of private residential parking on the right-of-way. The first batch of stalls would be less expensive than the last batch transferred into the public right-of-way, which Wenger said would incentivize developers to participate earlier in downtown development.

Commissioners also voiced that, based on a recent parking study, the city does not need a municipal parking garage right now but would give recommendations to increase parking in high-trafficked areas and plan for future parking.

Transpo Group, which the city hired for a downtown parking study, presented their findings during the March 14 meeting. The group surveyed downtown Blaine 1-3 p.m. on a Wednesday and Saturday this winter, finding that downtown parking spaces were only at 34-35 percent capacity both days. Around 85 percent of filled parking spaces is when cities should add more parking, said Dan McKinney, principal at Transpo Group.

However, some areas around the downtown core, especially around restaurants and retail space, neared or exceeded the 85 percent capacity threshold, according to the study. Peace Portal Drive, between Marine Drive and Martin Street, as well as H and Martin streets next to Peace Portal Drive were observed to have consistently higher parking occupancy.

Transpo Group said it could not conclude whether the city had enough parking for summer or special events based on its study.

The Transpo Group representatives said they didn’t see a need for more parking, and instead, the city could add more striping, including to a public lot near Martin Street.

The CDS Department is in the process of scheduling a community open house and presentation to the Salishan neighborhood on the zoning proposals. After holding the hearings, planning commission will eventually send its recommendations to Blaine City Council, which will make the final decision. 


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