City okays projects for review in 2011

If you regularly keep up with local news then you may have heard that the owners of Fairhaven Haggen want to expand the store and that Free Spirit Enterprises LLC wants to build a housing development on 113 acres west of Lake Padden and east of Interstate 5.

If you hadn’t heard of those projects, don’t worry. They will likely be in the news a lot this year. On Feb. 7, Bellingham City Council docketed the projects for review in 2011.

“The process of docketing is just that. It puts it out there to start a process, to start a conversation,” Councilman Terry Borneman said at the Feb. 7 city council meeting.

Docketing doesn’t indicate any level of support by the council, he said.

Docketing allows city staff to study the proposals and work with project applicants before putting final plans in front of city council for a vote.

While the council hasn’t come out for or against the projects, both plans have received support and criticism from residents.

Haggen expansion

Some Happy Valley residents voiced concern about the Haggen expansion because it would require stretching the Fairhaven commercial area, where Haggen sits, east into an area zoned for residential building in Happy Valley. The half-acre site is located on the west side of 14th Street between McKenzie and Larrabee avenues.

Over the years, Haggen has acquired residential property adjacent to the store with the intention of expanding at some point in the future, according to the company’s docket application, and the residential land is needed to create a site large enough to expand.

At a Jan. 24 public hearing in front of city council, a Haggen representative said without the expansion, the locally-owned Fairhaven grocery store wouldn’t be able to grow with the community.

Staff and the planning commission supported docketing the proposal and said timing was appropriate because the Fairhaven neighborhood plan update, which contains language supporting the proposal, is also docketed for review this year.

Padden Trails

A rezone of Padden Trails, a 220-lot subdivision that has thus far remained undeveloped, was also docketed for review this year.

In 2005, the project was approved for a 113-acre site just west of Lake Padden Park and Padden Creek.

The site contains environmentally sensitive areas ― Padden Creek gorge runs through the northeasterly portion of the site and the site contains wetlands and steep slopes. Any new proposal would have to meet city standards, including those established by the most recent critical areas ordinance.

The developer wants the area rezoned from low-density, single family residential to medium-density multifamily residential. That would increase density from 20,000 square feet per dwelling unit to 6,250 square feet per unit.

The project applicant stated that the zoning change is needed to allow design flexibility in order to make more efficient use of the land, protect the environmentally sensitive areas and still achieve appropriate density and infill goals.

The current plat design and the existing zoning do not have that flexibility, according to the applicant ― a point which city staff agreed with. Staff also found that affordable housing couldn’t be constructed due to restrictions.

Environmental conditions on the site limit the number of lots that can be developed there. The lots would be clustered to avoid environmentally sensitive areas and about 64 acres would be left as open space.

Those who spoke in opposition to the project cited environmental and safety concerns. Robert Gibb, former Whatcom County medical examiner, wrote a letter opposing the rezone saying access for emergency responders would be limited and that the high density of the new plan would be a fire hazard.

City Center Master Plan

An item that received little public feedback is updating the City Center Master Plan, which was originally adopted in 2002.

Staff asked that it be updated to reflect changes that have occurred in the downtown area, such as closure of the Georgia-Pacific plant and adoption of the 2006 comprehensive plan. The current planning work on the Waterfront District Master Plan is a priority, staff said in a report, and the City Center Master Plan and the Central Business District Neighborhood Plan should be amended to be consistent with that work.

Staff will also be working on four docketed proposals this year that were carried over from 2010. Those proposals are the Fairhaven Neighborhood plan update, the Sehome Neighborhood plan update, the King Mountain Urban Village master plan, and the comprehensive plan periodic update.

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