New Bellwether project wins fight over views

Neighbors worried about views try final appeal

 

Construction of four mixed-use buildings that comprise Phase II of the Bellwether Gate project overlooking Bellingham Bay will likely proceed unless a third appeal by neighbors is reconsidered by the Washington State Shoreline Hearings Board this month.

Last month, the Washington State Shoreline Hearings Board and the Bellingham City Hearing Examiner, Dawn Sturwold, in separate decisions, ruled in favor of the current plans for the project off Roeder Avenue near Squalicum Harbor. Neighbors have now exhausted their appeals with the city, but have a final chance to prevail if the shoreline hearings board reconsiders their latest appeal.

The board has until Aug. 14 to reconsider a complaint that one of the proposed buildings, a 50-foot, four-story building with luxury condominiums on the top, will block their views of the bay.

Earlier this year, developer David Ebenal, managing member of Bellwether Gate LLC, signed a long-term land lease with the port to build four buildings on the Squalicum Peninsula along Bellwether Way.

A group of residents, who live and work on Holly Street and Eldridge Avenue on the hillside above the development, appealed the project’s new permit earlier this year saying that the project building would block their views, negatively affect their property values and argued that the Port of Bellingham had promised to keep development on the peninsula shorter than 35 feet.

After construction of the Hotel Bellwether, the city and the port designed a planned development contract that limited the heights of future developments on the peninsula to 35 feet, mostly in an effort to appease homeowners worried about impacts on their views.

The main building of the Bellwether Gate development was initially permitted to be only 35 feet tall. But according to the hearing examiner’s decision, Ebenal went back to the city and Tim Stewart, Bellingham’s planning director, used his discretionary powers to issue a new permit, which raised the height limit to 50 feet in an effort to offset costs for building underground parking.

In her decision Sturwold wrote: “The quality of a view and the impact of a view impairment are subjective concepts. To a person who is accustomed to a particular view any change in that view may be considered adverse. Others may consider the same change to be beneficial. Purely subjective standards for view protection are not appropriate and not legally justifiable.”

Philip Rosellini, one of the appellants who has an office at 1215 W. Holly St. overlooking the development, said he and the other appellants filed those appeals because they legitimately felt there would be a substantial impact on their views.

“When you put this development together with what the port has planned for the entire G-P site, it seems their intent is to block off the whole bay,” Rosellini said.

Wayne Weed, project coordinator for the Bellwether Gate project, said the July decisions sent a clear message that a development that incorporates a community vision is favorable in Bellingham.

Weed also said the development would stimulate the local economy.

“This project will bring a significant amount of family-wage jobs and maintain employment for people in the construction field,” Weed said. “This project will go through 2014 and should bring some stability for a significant amount of workers in the construction trades.”

The Port of Bellingham is also happy with the results of the local and state appeals.

“We are very pleased that the state board affirmed the port’s and city’s effort to continue creating a vibrant, urban waterfront in Bellingham,” Commission President Doug Smith said in a press release. “This decision makes it possible for a major local employer to create additional family-wage jobs and for improved public trails along the waterfront.”

Lydia Bennett, the Port of Bellingham’s real estate director, said the port looks forward to continuing work on this project, which she said will take important steps to stimulate economic development on the waterfront.

“We are very excited. We are working with some great partners.” Bennett said of Ebenal and Bellwether Gate LLC.

However, with the motion to reconsider the state shoreline decision still on the table, Bennett said the matter is not entirely concluded.

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