New life for Lincoln Street site

Plans for the 950 Lincoln St. project include three buildings and an interior motor court accessible by driving underneath Building One. The mixed-use project will include 55 residential condo units and 3,560 square feet of commercial space.

    After surveying the Bellingham scene, Canadian developer Jim Laing set his sights on the underdeveloped Lincoln Street/Lakeway Drive area — an area the city has identified as one of its top six priorities for urban-village development.
   Specifically, his gaze fell on the former China One Buffet site at 950 Lincoln St. — a 50,000-square- foot parcel that, until recently, was zoned in a way that wouldn’t allow Laing to develop the mixed-use plans he has for the site.
   That changed July 10 when the City Council unanimously approved a rezone of the site, allowing for residential and commercial uses.
   Laing, who has been under contract to buy the site from its current owner, Wan Hsin Co., on condition of its rezone, will now move forward with applications to the city to develop it. The project’s preliminary plans, designed by architect Tim Ankenman, who also designed Ted Mischaikov and Rick Westerop’s Fairhaven Harbor project, include three buildings with 55 residential condo units and 3,560 square feet of ground-floor commercial space. The residential units will include a mix of studios, lofts and townhouses.
   Laing said the residents along Lincoln Street will benefit from the addition of more commercial space in the area.
   “Everyone would really like a little commercial area where they could get a cup of coffee or a pint of milk,” he said.
   Laing said he hopes to make the condos affordable and market them to young couples, as well as investors or parents to lease to students.
   Planner Jackie Lynch said the Lincoln/Lakeway area is one of the city’s top six priorities for adding density and urban village development, as guided by the city’s comprehensive plan.
   She said the area, which is located in the Puget neighborhood, has “obvious potential” for more development, citing its proximity to services and amenities such as grocery stores, parks, Carl Cozier Elementary School, trails and public-transit access, along with a number of under-developed properties.
   Derek Stebner, a local real estate agent and developer, owns 24 acres of undeveloped land across the street from the 950 Lincoln site, south of Fred Meyer. He has submitted a planned-development application to the city and is working with planners and wetlands agencies to refine plans for a mixed-use project there, said Jim Lackey, an assistant to Stebner’s attorney.
   Lynch said if the 950 Lincoln St. project goes as planned, it could spur more development in the area.
   “I think that business and land owners aren’t stupid. If this development is successful, they’ll add it to their ‘that works, can it work for me’ list,” she said.
   “This is an important opportunity to put in place those issues we’ve been envisioning for years,” planning commission member Doug Starcher said of the project. “This is exactly what we say we want.”
   Lynch said she’d give the public process regarding the rezone and plans for the site a gold star.
   “The applicants did an outstanding job with their public communications program,” she said. “They were thorough, empathic, and receptive with their neighbors.”
   She said the neighboring residents praised Laing and Ankenman for listening and responding to their comments about the potential development.
   “Their work made recommending approval of their application much easier,” Lynch said. “They saved themselves an incredible amount of time, money and heartburn by doing their homework professionally and compassionately.”
   Dale Monroe, a board member of the Puget Neighborhood Association, said he supports the project and thinks it fits in well with the surrounding Maple Park Apartments, which are located south of the site.
   Some Puget residents, however, are concerned with the project’s potential traffic impacts, a problem he said would be mitigated by its nearness to Western Washington University’s Lincoln Creek park and ride.
   At some point, he said, he thinks the city will need to do something with Lincoln Street to prevent traffic congestion.
   Councilman John Watts, a resident of the Puget neighborhood, also expressed concern over the project’s impact on infrastructure in the area, pointing toward the lack of a throughway from Nevada Street to Lincoln Street.
   But overall, the project has received overwhelming support from residents and the city, Laing said.
   Laing, who lives and works as a developer in Vancouver, British Columbia, said he likes the feel of Bellingham and thinks it’s a good place to do business. This will be his first development project in the area.
   “I like the feel of Bellingham, it reminds me of Vancouver 20 years ago,” he said. “It seems like it’s going in the same direction with the urban-village concept, which has worked well for Vancouver.”
   For more information about the project, call Tim Ankenman at (604) 872-2595 or Jim Laing at 1-877-666-3343.

J.C. Penney building for sale once again

    It’s safe to say that Doug Tolchin is serious about selling his properties downtown.
   Tolchin, president of River Oak Properties Inc. — a commercial real estate investment and property management company in Bellingham — recently listed two of his three remaining downtown properties for sale with Fairhaven Realty, including the former J.C. Penney building on Cornwall.
   The properties have been for sale for more than a year, said Robert Weale, an administrative assistant with River Oak Properties, but were not listed until late June for a variety of reasons. However, a combination of property upgrades, Tolchin’s obligations to a newly formed business and the “renewal” of downtown, made the time right to market the properties, Weale said.
   “The Whatcom Center (formerly J.C. Penney) is a large building. Whoever comes in to redevelop it has to think on a grand scale,” Weale said of the building — a 60,000-square-foot facility built in 1960 listed for $4.95 million that Tolchin bought in 1997. “We haven’t really pushed the sale of the Whatcom Center until we’ve made some improvements in it.”
   The biggest upgrade includes the installation of a “state-of-the-art” vinyl roof by the end of the summer, Weale said.
   Tolchin, who was out of town and unavailable for comment at press time, is also starting a new company that deals with paper pulp processing, which requires much of his energy, Weale said.
   Weale said Tolchin would like to see the J.C. Penney building converted into private condominiums by the developer who buys it, primarily because the downtown core could use some more residential housing, Weale said.
   “As part of the redevelopment of the downtown, we realize that not only do we have to redevelop commercially, but there is a need for more residential – high-quality residential areas downtown,” he said. “We already have architecture plans displayed in the building for the possibility of its becoming condos with parking in the basement,” Weale said. The first floor of the building would have commercial development, he said.
   Currently, Kendrick’s Billiards and Patio Café is the only business renting a space in the building.
   Tolchin’s other listed property — a former Cadillac dealership at 1411 Railroad Ave. — is selling for $1.25 million. His remaining property — the building that houses Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant at 1414 Cornwall — is for sale but currently not listed, Weale said.
   Dave Fairbanks, co-owner of Everything in Sight Optical at 1303 Cornwall Ave., across the street from Whatcom Center, grew up in Bellingham and remembers what it was like when the area was abuzz with shoppers.
   “It was busier,” Fairbanks said. “Downtown Bellingham was the shopping area for the entire community.”
   He said a new development of any kind would help re-energize the area.
   “(A new development) would be wonderful,” Fairbanks said, saying he would support the proposed mixed-use development plans. “The more people who live downtown, the better it is for downtown businesses.”
   Michael Hodgin, co-owner of Kids Northwest, directly across the street from Whatcom Center, said a development would be “awesome” – especially if they could divide any future commercial developments into smaller retail spaces.
   “I think there is a lot of demand for small retail spaces,” Hodgin said. “If they could divide that building up, that would be a huge asset.”
   Like Fairbanks, Hodgin said he would prefer to see a mixed-use development in particular. More residents could mean more business for downtown companies, he said.
   “It creates a 24-hour life downtown.”

Red Apple to be subdivided; is Trader Joe’s on the new menu?

    Once again the Trader Joe’s rumor mill has been churning at top speed, but the company still refuses to confirm definite plans for Bellingham.
   Company spokesperson Alison Mochizuki said that Trader Joe’s is interested in Bellingham, but she would not confirm any locations under consideration.
   In the middle of June, several workers doing construction inside the former Bellingham Red Apple site at 2410 James St., said they thought the space was either being remodeled for a Trader Joe’s or a G.I. Joe’s store; G.I. Joe’s has since announced plans to move into the former Home Base building off Meridian Street.
   The Franklin Corporation — a Bellingham-based general contractor — was issued an internal demolition permit for the site by the city on June 26, according to the City of Bellingham’s permit center.
   Mark Osborne, operations manager for The Franklin Corporation, said the workers are gutting the building’s interior and preparing it to be divided into four retail spaces for the building’s owners. Osborne said he thought one of the spaces would be approximately 12,000 square feet. He said the other three spaces would be approximately 1,500 square feet apiece.
   Meanwhile, Ron Clark, who owns the former Bellingham Red Apple building with his sisters, Patrice and Linda Clark, confirmed that they signed a letter of intent with a grocery store to lease the space, but wouldn’t say which one.
   Clark said he thought the unnamed grocer would move in by May 2007, depending on how the remodel goes, and would likely announce their arrival far prior to that.
   He said the other three spaces have not yet been leased.
   Employees of many of the neighboring businesses in the shopping center on the corner of James and Alabama streets said they had heard rumors that Trader Joe’s would move in, but nothing from any credible sources.
   The Bellingham Red Apple market closed in 2005 after years of struggling to remain in its mid-sized niche. Rumors that Trader Joe’s would take the space began circulating soon after, but the company maintained that it had no interest in the space.



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