At the Bellingham City Council meeting Sept. 29, Mayor Dan Pike presented the city’s newest proposal for the waterfront. This is only the latest in a small string of proposals put forth in the continuing efforts to define how the former Georgia-Pacific site will be developed.
According to the Port of Bellingham, the port, city and state have spent approximately $2.8 million on master planning since 2004. This doesn’t even include costs related to the city’s new Waterfront Connections Plan. LMN Architects, CollinsWoerman, RMC Architects and Anchor Environmental are a few of the consultants that have been hired to do everything from testing the soil on the site to holding public design forums and drafting plans.
The city, the port and groups such as the Waterfront Futures Group and the Waterfront Advisory Group have gone back and forth with specifics such as road grid layout, parks, trails, shoreline setbacks, historic building preservation, upland connections and bridges — and the list goes on.
The current plans by the city are a scaled down (relatively) version that emphasizes the continuation of the downtown grid layout. The advantages of that are they link in well with the downtown, which should make downtown businesses happy, and it allows for the preservation of many of the historic buildings on the site.
The port’s plan, however, concentrates on making the new waterfront neighborhood a unique place. It uses a slanted streetscape that makes use of sight-lines to the islands and the water and creates a centerpiece called the Commercial St. Green that would extend from downtown and create a loop on the middle of the site.
While these plans have their own strengths, some in the community have not been satisfied with either plan. Dave Christensen and John Blethen have put together a third alternative that, according to them, is more of a mesh of the two plans. It extends the downtown grid to a point, then angles the streets on the west side of the property to create several greens that look out over the islands.
While some may object to the amount of money the city and port have spent on consultants to come up with plan after plan, with a project of this magnitude it is completely reasonable to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars — even millions — on planning. We want to get this right after all.
That said, it would also be wise of the leaders at the city and port to not marry themselves to their own plans. There’s a natural human tendancy to implement those plans that we have spent a lot of money on, but what if someone else comes up with a better idea?
It’s in the community’s best interest for the city and port to take a hard look at both each other’s plans and also those presented by folks such as Dave Christensen et al. We have a large cache of intellectual capital and hard-earned experience in this community, and we should put it to good use.
by Rik Dalvit