After listening to public comment, WAG decides against Futures Group findings
The Port of Bellingham is in the process of updating its Fairhaven properties’ plans, and the Waterfront Advisory Group has recommended retaining most of its industrial uses, despite a different earlier vision by the Waterfront Futures Group.
The port-owned land, totaling 38.5 acres, includes the Fairhaven Marine Industrial Park, Harris Avenue Shipyard, Fairhaven Station, Bellingham Cruise Terminal and boat-launch area.
Known officially as the Fairhaven Comprehensive Scheme of Harbor Improvements, the plan will update zoning and uses in the area, said port planning analyst Greg McHenry. Port planners have created several options for uses in different areas of the site, some of which include converting industrial land into mixed uses.
The Waterfront Advisory Group (WAG) recently recommended maintaining the Fairhaven Marine Industrial Park’s marine-industrial zoning. The Waterfront Futures Group (WFG) — WAG’s predecessor — had envisioned the area differently, however. The WFG recommended converting all or parts of the industrial park, which is now home to businesses such as Seaview North Boatyard, LFS and Staaf Sails, to mixed-uses for commercial and residential development.
One of the options WAG examined was to convert the entire area into mixed uses. Another was to convert half of the site into mixed uses. The last option was to continue having marine-industrial uses there, which is what they recommended after taking comments from residents and business owners who wanted to preserve industrial jobs in a city where industrial land is in short supply, McHenry said. If the area were converted to mixed uses, all current tenants would be able to continue their current leases, McHenry said.
WAG members recommended expanding the area’s zoning to include more light-industrial uses, and also recommended adding buffers along Padden Lagoon, he said.
Bob Moors, owner of Unicraft Marine Products located in the industrial park, said he’d like to see marine-industrial zoning remain in the park because of the dearth of such zoning in Bellingham.
Moors said he also doubted whether residential uses would work, even in just a portion of the industrial park.
“I don’t think people would want to live around all of us,” he said.
Vince Biciunas, president of Fairhaven Neighbors, said most residents support the idea of maintaining industrial land there.
“We agree with WAG about maintaining valuable industrial jobs, as opposed to service-sector jobs,” she said. “That is valuable light-industrial land, and a lot of residents would like to see it stay that way. We also want to see protection of the bay and lagoon, but think light industrial is compatible with that.”
The WAG also recommended reconfiguring the boat-launch area by adding a small hoist for motorized boats, which will soon be unable to use the current launch as it silts in, McHenry said. They also recommended adding more parking and boat storage.
The other option for this area would be to let the current boat launch silt in and simply not accommodate motorized boats, while improving some floats and adding some parking. Another option would be to add a new motorized boat launch — smaller than a hoist — in deeper water that would not be affected by the silt.
All of the recommendations include adding visitor moorage off the U.S. Coast Guard float, if the Coast Guard decided to leave. It currently has a year-to-year lease.
Other areas to be updated in the plan include:
• The Fairhaven Station and long-term parking area: the only potential change would be to redevelop the current small area where Washington Wind Sports operates.
• The Bellingham Cruise Terminal: possible addition of added floats for charters and possibly adding more fueling capacity.
• Harris Avenue Shipyard: no major changes proposed.
The port planners will present the port commission with the plan options, including associated costs, which McHenry said are still being determined, and then gather public comment and decide on a preferred alternative in the next month to six weeks. The planners will then draft a plan that the commission will approve likely in the late fall, he said.