Dave Ebenal files appeal, halting work on Westerop-Mischaikov project
Ted Mischaikov and Rick Westerop’s Fairhaven Harbor development hit a new snag last month when another Fairhaven developer, David Ebenal, as well as a Fairhaven business owner and resident, both appealed the issuance of the project’s design-review permit.
In his appeal, Ebenal, president of Ebenal General Construction, asserted the building’s height —110 feet tall topped by a 20-foot tower — is “not in harmony of scale consistent with the existing architecture” in Fairhaven.
In his appeal, Ebenal said the highest existing Fairhaven structure is 54 feet tall, although Chuckanut Square, a senior housing high-rise located within Fairhaven’s core on 12th Street, is 90 to 110 feet tall, city planner Jackie Lynch said. Construction of Chuckanut Square occurred before the city implemented design codes in Fairhaven, she said.
The Fairhaven Harbor project, on the corner of Harris Avenue and Eighth Street, is outside of Fairhaven’s core district, which has design codes regulating building height, according to the design-review permit. Plans for the site, which is situated on land zoned without height restrictions, include a nine-to 10-story building approximately 130 feet tall at its peak. By comparison, the Harris Square building next door is 78 feet tall. Taking the slope of Harris Avenue into consideration, the actual difference in elevation makes Fairhaven Harbor approximately 50 feet taller than Harris Square, according to the project’s plans provided by the planning department.
“I thought long and hard about the appeal, but in the end, I think I did the right thing,” Ebenal said. “I do not believe a 110-foot-high building with a 20-foot tower is good for Fairhaven. I’m all for infill, but boy oh boy, I would not build a skyscraper in the middle of Fairhaven.”
The appeal effectively halts the issuance of the project’s building permit, which is under review at the planning department. The hearing examiner will review the appeals on July 14.
Until then, the developers can continue doing foundation, site and soil preparation, Lynch said.
Mishchaikov and Westerop said they have no fear the hearing examiner will side with the appellants, citing the project’s year-long review process.
“This project has had the most robust review process in the history of Bellingham,” Mischaikov said. “I think it’s a terribly unprofessional attempt to scuttle the project, and it lacks appreciation for the effort we’ve put forth. It’s not something I’d ever do.”
Mischaikov said Ebenal never spoke with him and Westerop about any concerns he had about the project in the last year.
“It’s a cheap maneuver to wait 15 minutes before the closing bell,” Mischaikov said.
Appealing a design-review permit is uncommon, said Lynch, who remembers only one similar appeal going to a hearing examiner in Fairhaven during her 16-year tenure.
Fairhaven Neighbors, a nonprofit group of Fairhaven residents, appealed the project’s encroachment into Padden Creek’s buffer zone in spring 2005 but the issue was settled by eliminating Eighth as a street before the appeal went to the shorelines hearing board, said planner Steve Sundin.
“We weren’t expecting specific people to appeal, but we knew this project was controversial,” Lynch said.
Ebenal said he has a stack of letters sitting on his office desk from Fairhaven residents supporting his appeal.
“We just want other developers to be held to the same standards we are,” said Wayne Weed, vice president of operations for Ebenal’s companies.
Lynch said Fairhaven Harbor’s design details are just as extensive as any of Ebenal’s developments in Fairhaven, which include the Village Books building, Fairhaven Gardens building and the Waldron building.
She said Fairhaven Harbor’s height is the only different design standard from other Fairhaven developments, because the project is outside of Fairhaven’s core on land zoned as planned commercial, which has no height restrictions, she said.
“It’s an interesting thing to think about, because there is a lot of land in Bellingham that is planned commercial, with no height restrictions,” Lynch said.
Fairhaven resident Sheryl Davis and David Carlsen, owner of Eclipse Bookstore on 11th Street, appealed the issuance of the permit based on the project’s width and bulk.
“When we got to thinking about how wide it is — it would be the only 220-foot-long block in the area — we felt that although the applicants have a high-quality project, the pedestrian experience would become low quality,” Carlsen said. “Because of the way the south end of the building extends into McKenzie Avenue, the view corridor provided in McKenzie shrinks quite a bit.”
In their appeal, Davis and Carlsen cite an ordinance passed by City Council in 1991 that states permanent structures cannot be built on that portion of McKenzie Avenue.
Carlsen said he felt the issue should have been addressed earlier in the process.
“Our question to the hearing examiner is, couldn’t the planning director reference this law prior to approval of the building?'” he said. “I haven’t found a discretionary power given to the planning department to supercede that ordinance.”
Lynch said that ordinance’s restriction was resolved 18 months ago to allow construction there, and that the issue of the ordinance would be addressed by the city attorney’s office at the hearing.
Other Fairhaven business owners have mixed feelings about the project.
Ron Mueller, owner of Wayland Marine on Harris Avenue, said his main concern with the project is the noise and disruption created by construction, but he also fears the project sets a precedent for increasing development toward Fairhaven’s waterfront.
“It’s like the development is marching on down the hill forever,” he said.
Vicki Rogers, owner of Pacific Chef on 11th Street and Inside Passage in the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, said she wasn’t as concerned with the project’s proposed height as much as with its potential to block existing condos’ views.
“I’m big on protecting views of existing buildings,” she said. “But, it seems like if you’re going to buy a condo — if the view is important — you should check out the zoning of surrounding lots first,” she said.
Don White, owner of Skylark’s Hidden Café and Wine Parlor, said he doesn’t object to the building’s height as long as the project’s architecture has an historic feel similar to other Fairhaven buildings, and also said that zoning issues need to be addressed earlier.
“The wrong time to try and change the building code is after the permit is issued,” he said. “Zoning changes need to occur prior to the building process because people buy land based on how it’s zoned. It doesn’t seem right for people to say they object after the permit has been issued.”
A village without housing just isn’t a village.
From the time Jim Talbot purchased about 200 acres of land in northeast Bellingham in the 1960s, his vision was to one day create a mixed-use urban village, where residents could live within close proximity to retail shops, restaurants, medical and financial facilities, said Matt Hammatt, vice president of the Barkley Company, the Talbot family’s real estate entity.
In the last decade or so, the Talbot land, now known as the Barkley District, has seen the commercial, financial and medical aspects of the area realized. This summer, it will make its first foray into residential development, with the Drake Building, to be built at 3111 Newmarket St., just east of the Dahlia Building.
“Our vision has always been to have a true mixed-use village and we’re now finally introducing some mixed-use buildings between the office and retail buildings,” Hammatt said.
The five-story, 50,000-square-foot Drake Building, Hammatt said, will have approximately 5,700 square feet of ground floor retail and office space, a private residential parking deck on the second level, and 36 residential units on the top three floors.
Construction of the building, designed by Mithun Architects of Seattle and RMC Architects of Bellingham, he said, is expected to begin in June and take approximately one year to complete. Dawson Construction has been selected as the general contractor.
In coming years, several other buildings are expected to follow the Drake Building, Hammatt said. They include:
• The Cornerstone Building, a five-story, 100,000-square-foot mixed-use building, located at the northeast corner of Newmarket Street and Barkley Boulevard, with approximately 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail/office space, two levels of integrated parking and approximately 80 to 100 residential units on the top floors.
• A two-story, 10,000-square-foot retail/office building at 3101 Newmarket St., and a 150-stall, two-level parking deck with a building pad site on the northeast corner of Barkley Boulevard and Woburn Street that can accommodate an office building of up to 30,000 square feet.
Hammatt said current trends in the local real estate market motivated the company to move forward with its residential plans.
“I think the influx of new residents, and existing Bellingham residents, are comfortable with the idea of condo living now. We’ve seen it lately downtown and in Fairhaven,” he said. “For years (the condo market) was stale or steady but there has been a steady upswing in people embracing that type of living, with no yard to deal with and being able to walk to amenities.”
Urban villages, Hammatt said, are also popular with city officials.
“I think it’s also consistent with the city’s hopes that instead of continuing to sprawl we see dense living within the city limits.”
Add Saturday enforcement to the city’s collection of downtown parking considerations.
The problem, said Larry Farr, chairman of the Bellingham parking commission, is the increasing numbers of downtown residents who leave their cars in the same spot over the weekend. Farr said the commission will begin analysis of the problem this spring.
The Saturday enforcement idea aims to increase vehicle movement so parking spaces will free up for shoppers during the weekend, he said.
“We’re going to watch it for a while,” he said. “Right now, there is almost no parking available in certain parts of downtown.”
Commission members will present their findings to the City Council as early as July. If a decision were made, Saturday enforcement would not begin until fall at the earliest, he said.
Parking enforcement fees, including meter prices and fines, would be the same as they are during the week.
Downtown business owners appear divided over the issue with many who own businesses on and around Railroad Avenue in support of Saturday enforcement and many peripheral to Railroad — and farther from the new concentration of condominiums and apartments — against it.
“Our membership is very divided on the issue,” said Kirsten Shelton, executive director of the Downtown Renaissance Network. Shelton said her organization has not taken a stance on the issue “mostly because our membership is at all ends of the spectrum on it.”
Janet Lightner, general manager of Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro on Railroad Avenue and a commission member, said she’s recently noticed a marked increase of non-customers whose cars camp in spaces in front of the brewery all weekend.
Many downtown residents either park their cars on Friday nights and don’t move them all weekend or they invite friends over who leave cars overnight and into Saturday, she said. They also fill up available spots on Friday nights, she said.
For example, at 7 p.m. on a recent Friday, Lightner said she circled around Railroad Avenue twice before finding a parking spot during an hour most businesses along Railroad aren’t even open.
“They weren’t customers at that time of night, they were residents,” she said.
Lightner supports parking enforcement on Saturdays, but said the city needs to hire another parking enforcement officer before the move could be effective.
“We’re at where we were 15 years ago in terms of enforcement,” she said. “We don’t have enough people to enforce the existing situation.”
The city employs two parking enforcement officers, one of whom only works part time, Farr said. For that reason, he will ask the city to add a new officer at Monday’s city council meeting, he said.
Shelton said approximately 50 of the Downtown Renaissance Network’s members discussed the issue at its February 21 meeting. She estimated the majority were against the idea of Saturday enforcement.
“I get the sense that people feel downtown’s being hammered (with parking enforcement),” she said.
Many downtown business owners feel that recent increases in parking fines as well as the city’s lack of implementing meters in bustling Fairhaven give downtown businesses an unfair break, Shelton said.
Some downtown business owners, such as Mike Hodgin, co-owner of Kids Northwest on Cornwall Avenue, feel Saturday enforcement could significantly decrease their customer flow that day.
“We’ve been downtown for over 10 years, and the single best thing the city did to help businesses downtown was to add free parking on Saturdays. Immediately, we saw an increase in business,” said Hodgin. The city made parking free on Saturdays in 1999.
Both Hodgin and Lightner agreed the problem of residents leaving cars parked in the same spot over the weekend predominately occurs on Railroad Avenue.
“But I don’t think we should penalize people who want to shop downtown because of it,” Hodgin said.
Parking commission members recognize that some downtown areas, such as Railroad Avenue and its vicinity, are more congested than others, Farr said, and they will discuss the possibility of enforcing only those areas on Saturdays as part of the ongoing discourse.