Amid the debate over how to shape the New Whatcom site, another waterfront area in Bellingham is also being considered for a facelift.
The Port of Bellingham will be updating the Fairhaven Comprehensive Scheme of Harbor Improvements over the next year. The new plan could include zoning changes that would transform some of the current industrial uses to mixed uses, and add more public access.
The plan for port-owned property along Fairhaven’s waterfront, which includes the Fairhaven Shipyards, Marine Park, the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, boat ramp, Fairhaven Station (home of Amtrak and Greyhound) and the Fairhaven Marine Industrial Park — totaling 38.5 acres — was last updated in 1993.
On Sept. 5, port commissioners authorized a $50,000 payment to consultant Reid Middleton, Inc., to update the plan by the middle of 2007.
The process will consist of two phases, said port communications manager Carolyn Casey. The first phase will include reviewing goals for the area, assessing market trends, gathering information and ideas from port tenants and the general public, identifying alternatives and preparing financial analyses for them, and presenting those alternatives at a public workshop. This part of the process will be complete by the end of 2006.
The second phase will include selection of a new plan by port commissioners, a SEPA review of the new plan, and completion and adoption of the new plan by the middle of 2007.
The plan needs an update to fit better with the Waterfront Futures Group Vision and Framework Plan of 2004, which calls for more mixed-use and public-access areas along Bellingham’s waterfront, said Sylvia Goodwin, port director of planning and development.
Currently, most of the port-owned Fairhaven Harbor is zoned marine industrial. The new plan could replace some of the industrial areas with mixed-use zoning, Goodwin said. The most probable site for this zoning change would be the Fairhaven Marine Industrial Park, where businesses such as All American Marine, Inc. and Aluminum Chambered Boats are located, she said.
Any new changes in the area’s zoning would have to be approved by the City of Bellingham.
Greg McHenry, port planning analyst, said if the zoning changed, the port would honor any contracts or agreements it has with existing tenants, and then work with those tenants to relocate their businesses, or they could also be grandfathered in.
“Right now, we’re investigating how much property needs to be reserved for water-dependent industrial uses (in Bellingham),” he said.
Most of the businesses in the industrial park have leases that expire in the next few years, McHenry said.
Matt Mullett, CEO and managing partner of All American Marine, said the Northwest is experiencing a boat- building resurgence and is currently one of the strongest boat-building regions in the nation, and he would like to see any changes to the comprehensive plan maintain that.
“My only concern is that there remains enough space on the Bellingham Bay waterfront for marine use,” he said.
Mullett’s company builds 55- to 85-foot-long high-speed aluminum catamarans that depend on having a manufacturing facility adjacent to the waterfront.
“Based on basic supply-and-demand principles, if the supply of available boat construction space is reduced, then that’s going to create higher demand and prices will increase. We are already at a disadvantage when we compete with the Gulf Coast shipyards — we pay higher wages and pay higher taxes,” he said. “Keeping facility costs within reason will be important for local builders to remain competitive on a national basis.”
Mullett said he doesn’t mind the port shuffling around industrial land, as long as a good supply of affordable industrial space is still available.
Thom Prichard, a Fairhaven Neighborhood Association board member, said most Fairhaven residents would like to see continued marine-industrial use at the Fairhaven Harbor, or potentially more commercial/retail use, as well as increased public access. The potential for mixed use is a touchier subject with residents, he said.
“It’s extremely important to keep marine-related activity in that property, it creates jobs that allow for people to live and work here,” he said. “Zoning that will allow light industrial, marine-related and even retail (use) is important. Our biggest fear is a wall of condos that completely separates us from the water.”
Keeping marine-related uses in Fairhaven Harbor would bring in the most living-wage jobs, Prichard said.
Prichard said he would also like the port to consider building a small-boat access area for canoes, kayaks and small sailboats.
The port’s consultant will also examine the boat launch, which currently sits in an area with a silt buildup, Goodwin said. The boat launch could be moved slightly or realigned to remedy this, she said.
Almost all of the projects envisioned in Fairhaven harbor’s 1993 plan, including the remodel of the Bellingham Cruise Terminal, Marine Park shoreline restoration, and the redevelopment of Fairhaven Station, have been completed, McHenry said.
Chestnut Street tower project downsizes
Financing challenges have played a big role in the decision to scale back plans for the Chestnut Park Condominiums project, said Bellingham developer David Hovde.
New plans for the mixed-use development, previously slated to be an 11-story building at East Chestnut Street and Cornwall Avenue, include a four-story reduction in height and 58,000 fewer square feet of total space.
“I was tentative from the get-go on the larger building,” said Hovde, one of four partners with Flax Properties LLC. “When I found the difficulty of financing a building of that magnitude in a smaller area such as Bellingham, at that point in time, I was very tentative about going forward.”
The new project plans — which include 70 condominium units, one floor of commercial development and parking areas — encompass a total of 176,000 square feet, Hovde said. The original building plan was for 234,000 square feet of space.
“We have a great deal more interest in financing (the project) in lieu of the fact that we’ve scaled it down,” he said. Hovde estimates the total price tag of the development to be $27 million — which includes $23 million in construction costs. Original construction costs were closer to $35 million, he said.
“We lowered the height of the building, and we expanded the footprint. We actually gained square-footage per floor, but lost the upper floors,” he said. “Each individual floor has more square footage now than it did prior. We just have fewer floors.”
Hovde said the new designs would include 20,000 square feet per residential floor, compared to 16,000 square feet in the old plans. He also said the shape of the building would change, from the one-winged L-shaped structure to a U-shaped, two-winged facility.
In addition to financing issues, the market also played a role, he said.
“Everybody wants to do the high-rise buildings, but the market isn’t justified yet,” Hovde said. “This is a huge building for a small community.”
He also said costs associated with higher-end materials, such as light-gauge steel with concrete floors (as opposed to wood) have increased expenses.
“Nearly all the steel is recycled steel,” he said. “We are going to provide somewhat of a green building; we are using a lot of recycled materials, which I think will be well received.”
Hovde said he’s hopeful the project will start soon. Currently, plans are in the middle of the permitting process.
“We’re hoping to break ground this year,” he said.
In an effort to free up capital for the Chestnut Park project, Flax Properties recently sold its building at 1201 Cornwall Avenue — the current home of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry — to a Seattle couple for $1.94 million.
The sale was filed with the Whatcom County Treasurer’s Office Aug. 22. The building’s new owners, Arthur and Lisa Miller, plan to keep things as they are, said Lisa Miller.
“We’d like to keep everybody in there,” she said. According to Lisa Miller, 15 tenants currently call the building home, including the chamber of commerce.
The building, which was built in 1978, is just short of 14,000 square feet, said Hovde. Arthur Miller said the Millers own several properties between Bellingham and Olympia.