As waterfront plans progress, keep talking


Waterfront development will take crucial steps forward this month with the ongoing demolition of some of the former Georgia-Pacific buildings creating a blank canvas that will someday house five-and six-story mixed-use buildings, parks, beaches and trails.

Also in June, the city and port will move toward approving a master plan that will govern development on the 220 acres of waterfront. While less visible than the demolition, the final master plan will have the strongest impact on the look and function of the new waterfront. It will set forth the rules for development and give investors the regulatory certainty they need to have confidence to invest.

It’s both exciting and scary to take a next step. In the case of the waterfront, it seems as though every angle has been covered, examined, debated, mulled, discussed, studied, presented to the public, modified and refined. Nearly every inch of wall and tabletop space in the Waterfront Advisory Group’s meeting room is covered with artists’ renderings, photos of successful waterfronts in other cities and 3-D models. Now it’s time for action. Construction could begin as early as 2009.

During this planning process, there have been tensions between the port and the city. That’s understandable given the scope of what’s at stake as well as the fact that the city has been through three different mayors. It’s also important to remember that compromises have already been reached over key issues such as environmental cleanup.

At the advisory group’s May meeting, the atmosphere was relaxed and polite and revealed no traces of the tensions that surfaced between the port and city in April. A vote on the master plan is expected in the fall. The approval of the master plan, however, won’t mean the tough work is over.

Some issues addressed at the May meeting will likely call for future discussion.

Historic preservation: Some of the former Georgia-Pacific buildings will be spared the wrecking ball. The port might be able to reuse them. Or it might not. The old buildings have character and historic value, but they also might not meet seismic safety standards. Moreover, they house old equipment that could literally cost millions to remove carefully. As the process moves forward, the cost-benefit analysis of historic preservations is likely to be a hot topic with high community interest.

Sustainability: The consultants earned enthusiastic responses for putting forth cutting-edge ideas about ways to build energy-efficient buildings and protect the bay from stormwater runoff.

Open spaces: Bellinghamsters are passionate about their open spaces. As the planning process moves forward, there will be ample opportunity for public input on the details — how these spaces will look and what needs they will meet.

When the master plan is approved, it will have established broad rules, but there will be room for the community to express its needs and desires.

It’s essential to keep the conversation going with many voices talking together and none dominating the rest.


Off Beat

by Rik Dalvit


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