Morse Square to get smaller buildings


Developer Rick Westerop’s new design for the Morse Square site at the corner of East Maple Street and Railroad Avenue features apartments, commercial space, townhouses and covered parking. Graphic courtesy of Bellingham Planning Community Development Department.


Rick Westerop, local developer and owner of West-Lind Construction, has submitted new plans to develop the Morse Square site at the corner of Railroad Avenue and East Maple Street, where only a few years ago he applied to build two 18-story condominium towers.

In late November, the Bellingham Planning Department’s design review board looked over Westerop’s newest plans, which are quite different from the previous design: instead of two 18-story condo buildings, there will be two six-story buildings filled with rental apartments, semi-underground parking, townhouses and some commercial space.

Westerop has been working on this new design for about four or five months and said he decided to move from condos to apartments because of financial difficulties.

“There’s no financing to buy that many condos right now,” Westerop said, “but the rental market is still good. People still want to live downtown.”

Westerop’s new design has two six-story buildings, which are a mirror image of each other, on a 1.94-acre site. The bottom two levels are covered parking with retail-commercial space along the East Maple Street side facing Depot Market Square and one and two-bedroom townhouses with lofts along the Railroad Avenue side.

Above that are four levels of studio and one- and two-bedroom apartments per building totaling approximately 140 residential units, Westerop said.

The buildings mirror each other in a way that creates a central courtyard above the parking area, where Westerop plans to plant grass.

Brian Smart, Bellingham city planner, said he has seen buildings that plant grass and other plants on the roof but never a grassy courtyard planted on the roof of a parking structure that is also the base of the apartment buildings.

“It’s pretty unique,” Smart said.

Another unique aspect, Smart said, is the townhouse feature, where residents will enter their homes from Railroad Avenue.

“It’s a more pedestrian-oriented walkup than that of an apartment building where you would just enter a lobby and then go up to your apartment,” Smart said. “There will be more interaction between tenants and the people that use that central corridor.”

Smart said the project’s six-story height fits in with the height characteristics of the area and is a strong infill project.

“We’re looking forward to seeing another project go in downtown,” Smart said.

Westerop said he is excited for the project because it will bring more pedestrian and commercial activity to the area.

“It’s just some more life that we have been trying to bring downtown for a while,” Westerop said.

Smart said now that the planning department has seen Westerop’s design, he must now bring it back with any suggested changes before a pre-application meeting after the Thanksgiving holiday. The board will then make a recommendation to Tim Stewart, Bellingham planning director.

Westerop said he hopes to file building permit applications by the end of January 2009.

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