New buzz about OLD TOWN

Developers showing increased interest in potential-laden area

Developers Fred Bovenkamp, Charly Myers and Mike Campion are proposing to build two mixed-use projects in the area — HarborGate, below, on the site of the former Hempler’s BB Meat & Sausage Co. building on the corner of F and Astor Streets; and Old Town Village, above, on Bancroft Street between D and E streets.

Heidi Schiller
   Bellingham’s Old Town is not an official neighborhood and has no concrete boundaries.
   But lately Old Town has come into focus as an area experiencing the beginning of a revitalization effort by the city and by local developers.
   And in the tradition of revitalization efforts, it’s not without disagreements between various parties over how the character of that effort should look and feel.
   Many residents from the surrounding Lettered Streets neighborhood disagree with developers and the city over issues such as height restrictions, design and character, as well as zoning issues. Many residents want to retain Old Town’s funky, light-industrial feel, while developers and architects visualize a more modern urban center.

The birthplace of Bellingham
   “Old Town was the birthplace of Bellingham, but then the city quickly expanded toward what’s now the city center,” said Tara Sundin, special projects manager for the city’s planning and community development department. “We turned our backs on Old Town.”
   Unofficially, Old Town is considered by the planning department to encompass the area surrounding Maritime Heritage Park, bordered by Bay, Prospect, Bancroft and G Streets, and Roeder Avenue. Both the Lettered Streets and the Central Business District neighborhoods can claim half of it as their own.
   In addition to Maritime Heritage Park, the area is home to several historic buildings, such as the Great Northern Passenger Station, the brick Territorial Courthouse, the Whatcom Museum of History and Art and the George E. Pickett house.
   Parberry Northwest Recycling owns approximately 10 blocks in the area.
   Sundin said Old Town has been the subject of many unrealized revitalization plans since the turn of the century, but it wasn’t until 1996 that the city began to take action. Since then, the city has cleaned up the landfill that much of Old Town is built on, developed the park and a connection through it from Central Avenue to West Holly Street, as well as creating an environmental learning center there.
   Sundin attributed the recent development interest in the area to the city’s efforts, as well as an overall increase in development interest in and around Bellingham’s city center.
   Developers Fred Bovenkamp, Charly Myers and Mike Campion are proposing to build two mixed-use projects in the area — HarborGate, the site of the former Hempler’s BB Meat & Sausage Co. building on the corner of F and Astor Streets, and the Old Town Village on Bancroft Street between D and E streets.
   Trillium Corp. also recently purchased two properties in the area — the Boss Tweed restaurant site on West Holly Street and the Pace Property across from it, although no plans have been proposed for either.
   Mauri Ingram, project manager for Trillium Corp., said the area is appealing to developers because it represents a crossroads between the residential area of the Lettered Streets, the city-center, the waterfront and the cultural district.
   “It’s begging for redevelopment,” she said.
   Bovenkamp likened the area to revitalization efforts of older areas in Seattle.
   “Its parallel to Belltown, which has been a huge success,” he said. “The key is getting the commitment from the city. They need to follow through with rezones.”
   But while most of the surrounding residents accept the idea of Old Town’s revitalization, many are wary of the redevelopment proposals currently on table, such as HarborGate and the Old Town Village, which some say don’t preserve the character of the area, said Marilyn Williams, vice president of the Lettered Streets Neighborhood Association.
   “We want to still be in Old Town, not new Old Town,” she said.

The height and bulk of the issue
   Currently, building height is limited to three stories on the Lettered Streets portion of Old Town, 35 feet on the CBD portion, and the bluff along Prospect Street has no height limits, Sundin said.
   The planning department is considering changing this to an average four-story limit in areas other than the Prospect Street bluff, which would have a 10-story limit.
   But because the public likes height variation, she said, the department is considering a floor-area ratio allowing taller buildings with thinner bulk and may use the formula for the entire downtown area, but the four-story average would be specific to Old Town, Sundin said.
   “It’s a good tool because you’re allowed to go higher if the bulk or footprint of the building is smaller,” said Fred Wagner, architect for Grinstad and Wagner Architects, who designed Bovenkamp’s Old Town projects. The ratio has worked successfully for other cities, he said.
   The department is also considering using a height-bonus system for public amenities for the entire downtown, including Old Town. This would allow developers to add height to buildings in exchange for providing amenities such as parks, trails, affordable housing and other public land uses, Sundin said.
   While most parties agree both height management ideas are effective, Williams said she thinks it could only work in certain areas, and especially not in the Northwest Recycling properties. These sites provide a view corridor for many Lettered Streets residents.

   The planning department is also considering rezoning most of the area from primarily commercial and some light-industrial use to the ever-popular mixed-use residential and commercial and excluding light industrial, except for some handicraft manufacturing such as woodworking or pottery businesses, Sundin said.
   Under the new zoning, Northwest Recycling could continue its light- industrial recycling operation, but if the business moved, new owners of the property could not continue that type of use, Sundin said.
   The Northwest Recycling Web site states the business is working with the city to relocate its services, but co-owner Carol Parberry did not want to comment on the issue.
   Bovenkamp said he’d like to see the business find a new home.
   “That’s the key to long-term success,” he said of their relocation. “That’s got to get relocated.”
   Williams said most residents would like to see the business’s property cleaned up if they stay, and ultimately want to keep some light industrial in the area.
   “It’s jobs, after all,” she said. “Real jobs that relate to Bellingham.”

Metro-retro versus funky historical
   Another major aspect of Old Town’s revitalization has to do with the neighborhood’s character and design.
   The city is considering instituting mandatory design codes for downtown, including Old Town, but projects currently in the works would not have to abide by them if they are passed.
   Wagner said he has attempted to introduce a more modern style he calls metro-retro with the HarborGate and Old Town Village projects.
   It’s a style that incorporates modern elements and colorful exteriors with a traditional order and use of some traditional elements such as brick and stucco, he said.
   Wagner said he designed the buildings with the design codes in mind, but Williams said many Lettered Streets residents strongly oppose the style.
   “The residents were as shocked as I was because, first of all, it’s massive — it’s out of scale,” she said of the Old Town Village project, which takes up an entire block. “But also the design is out of character.”
   The association recently sent a letter to the planning department requesting planners reconsider the project’s design to preserve the neighborhood’s historical character.
   Wagner said the area’s few historic buildings don’t justify turning Old Town into another Fairhaven.
   “Most architects feel that replicas of historic buildings are a bit Disney-esque,” he said. “That usually rubs architects the wrong way.”
   He acknowledged, however, the validity of the resident’s concern.
   “It’s the nostalgia factor, he said. “(Historical design) appears to be a more comfortable environment. Modernism has a certain edge a lot of people don’t relate to.”
   Bovenkamp said the problem with wanting the area to look historic is there isn’t already a cohesive historic style there.
   “There’s nothing in Old Town that’s salvageable, so you’re really starting over there,” he said. “I think it needs to have its own personality, and it will.”
   Williams disagreed, saying the area already has a distinct character.
   “It’s the only place left in Bellingham that has that true Bellingham feel,” she said. “When you’re there, you know you’re in a real place.”

Recent purchase and development
activity in Old Town

HarborGate, located at 1401 F St. on the corner of F and Astor Streets — the site of the former Hempler’s building.
Developers: Fred Bovenkamp, Charly Myers and Mike Campion.
Plans: 3-story, mixed use building with 27 condos and ground floor commercial space. Retro-metro design by Fred Wagner.
Status: Under review


Old Town Village, located on Bancroft Street between D and E Streets
Developers: Fred Bovenkamp, Charly Myers and Mike Campion.
Plans: Two mixed-use buildings, no more than four stories, with 75 condos, office space and a plaza. Retro-metro design by Fred Wagner.
Status: Under review


1103 W. Holly St.
Developer: Fred Bovenkamp.
Plans: 3-story building with two condos and office space. Retro-metro design by Fred Wagner.
Status: Under review.


Cascade Laundry Building, located at 205 Prospect St.
Status: Developer Bob Goodwin is under contract to purchase the building and redevelop it.


Boss Tweed Site, located at 400 W. Holly St.
Status: Purchased by Trillium Corp. in October. Trillium will demolish and redevelop the site, but does not currently have any concrete plans or a timeline to do so, Ingram said.


Pace Property, located between 401 and 415 W. Holly St.
Status: Purchased by Trillium Corp. in March. Trillium will demolish and redevelop the site, but does not currently have any concrete plans or a timeline to do so, Ingram said.


RE Store site, located at 600 W. Holly St.
Status: The City of Bellingham owns the site and plans to redevelop it after the RE Store moves to its new location.


Akers Taxidermy building, located at 1303 Astor St.
Developer: Horst Bansner
Plans: Remodel of existing building to create four live-work units.
Status: Under review.




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