Third waterfront plan emerges


Waterfront planning took another twist late last month.

As the time nears to finalize a plan for redevelopment of the former Georgia-Pacific site, local developer John Blethen and architect Dave Christensen have put forth a plan they hope will be considered alongside the two plans proposed by the Port of Bellingham and the City of Bellingham.

The alternative plan takes the best elements from both the port’s plan and the city’s plan, and better represents the goals and values established in the Waterfront Futures Group, Blethen said. Both Blethen and Christensen were involved in the Waterfront Futures Project, which wrapped up in 2004.

Blethen’s issue with the two plans that are already on the table is that they don’t interchange well, he said.

“The city has a plan and the port has a plan and they’re not congruous,” Blethen said. “We’re looking for middle ground that would be exciting and affordable. We’re looking for a plan that we think is doable.”

The major difference between the port’s plan and the city’s plan is the street grid. The port’s plan, which was presented to the public in June, incorporates an angled street grid, allowing for westward views of the water. The city’s plan, which Mayor Dan Pike presented to City Council in September, extends the downtown rectangular grid and fits smoothly around the existing historical buildings.

“One of my concerns with the port plan is that it’s expensive to implement. I’m also concerned that it may displace the downtown core by moving it closer to the water,” Blethen said. “I think the city has a plan that is affordable but it’s not very exciting. I think we can make it more exciting.”

The plan that Christensen put together blends the street grids by using the traditional grid for the connections — at Bay Street, Cornwall Avenue and Wharf Street — and then transitions into the angled grid for a majority of the rest of the site.

It also includes three, 200-foot-wide park streets, with large green medians. Christensen took this idea from the port’s plan, which has one park street, because he said it opens up views to the west and adds value to property that lines the park street.

To make the whole site feel like an extension of downtown, he uses similar lot sizes.

“This whole layout is based on existing downtown block and alley size,” Christensen said, which will make it easier for developers to design buildings.

From a planning perspective, the main problem with the waterfront site is its size. It is about three times the size of Fairhaven and developers are worried that, if it’s not planned correctly, the waterfront could lack enough character to make the whole site intriguing, Christensen said.

“I’ve been sitting back patiently waiting for these out-of-town professionals to bring together an exciting plan. They’re missing the ‘ah-ha’ moment that makes it special,” Christensen said. “But something just feels right about this plan.”

At the Sept. 29 City Council meeting, the pair asked for the chance to present their plan to the City Council and the community. As of press time, it was uncertain how that will take shape.

Councilman Jack Weiss, who heads the waterfront committee, said it is likely that Blethen and Christensen will be included in a series of presentations to city staff and the public during the next two months.

“They put a lot of work into it. There’s no harm in offering up an opportunity for policy makers to understand yet another alternative,” Weiss said. “It’s time to start getting serious about the master plan. I think a lot of people are ready to see some changes on the waterfront.”

During the next few months, port and city leaders will be gathering public input about what the final master plan should look like, said Pike. He said he does not expect the port’s plan or the city’s plan to be approved outright.

“The city put out the [Waterfront Connections Plan] to create some conversation about what could happen on the waterfront, with the idea that we would not pick one or the other, but smoosh them into a hybrid,” he said.

And now that a plan has emerged that combines the two, “that’s giving the city and the port some ideas about how we can put these plans together,” Pike said.


Public comment on waterfront plans

  • When: Nov. 13 and 17
  • Time: 7 p.m.
  • Where: Depot Market


Key elements of new plan

  1. Street alignment with existing city grid near site is maintained.
  2. Blocks match existing street and alley dimensions.
  3. Existing city street grid aligns for future potential use of existing historic industrial buildings.
  4. Street grid aligns to the westerly bay views as soon as possible after the historic connections area with downtown.
  5. An area of at least six to eight acres is created for Western Washington University, including some of the reusable historic buildings.
  6. 200-foot-wide “Park Streets” (per port plan) are created to allow for bay view access to properties on the eastern edge of development, and creating increased property value at back of site.

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