TOWER POWER

Developers looking at corner of Maple and Cornwall
for new 15-story high rise

Heidi Schiller
    Cornwall Place joined the ranks on March 28 of proposed downtown high-rises such as the Bay View and Morse towers after developers submitted a pre-application for the new 15-story project to the city.
   Chris Bigos, of Zervas Group Architects, submitted the pre-application and plans for the site, which is currently used as a parking lot located on the corner of Cornwall and East Maple streets.
   Cornwall Properties LLC, whose member-manager is Bill Maris — owner of Cabochon Construction — bought the site from TSB Investments LLC in January, according to the Whatcom County Assessor’s office records.
   The developers did not want to comment on the plans at this time, said project spokesman Chris Benner.
   The project proposal includes plans designed by Zervas Group Architects for a 15-story building, a seven-story building, a partially below grade parking garage with 184 parking spaces, a drive-through bank and a pedestrian plaza. Zervas also designed the architectural work on the 23-story Bay View Tower project on nearby State Street.
   The 15-story building (labelled Phase two at right) consists of a lower level café space, four stories of office space and 13 stories for 40 condo units.
   The seven-story building (labelled Phase one at right) consists of four stories of office space and three stories for four condo units.
   Cornwall Place will also feature a two-level pedestrian plaza connected by steps lined with landscaped planters, a waterfall and pool, as well as benches and an outdoor seating area for the café, according to the plans.
   Developer Bob Hall, owner of more than 20 buildings downtown, said the project, along with the 18-story Morse Tower and Bay View Tower, both under review at the planning department, will change the scope of downtown in a positive way.
   “It’s a vacant lot now, and its going to have a brand new, beautiful building on it,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer.”
   Hall said downtown’s increasingly vertical scale is good for Bellingham because the city needs a dense urban living area.
   He also emphasized the importance of the project’s 41,497 square feet of office space, which other new downtown developments have not offered, he said.
   “Finally, someone is building class-A office space downtown — no one else has done it,” he said. “That will signal that downtown is okay for the suits.”
   Kirsten Shelton, director of the Downtown Renaissance Network, agreed with Hall that the project was a positive sign, but also warned that the city will need to start dealing with the implications of more downtown tenants, especially concerning noise complaints.
   “Its exciting that we’re at a stage where we’re attracting that kind of development,” Shelton said. “It will encourage and attract more activity, more arts and culture downtown.”
   But the city, downtown businesses, developers and residents need to work together on defining a better noise ordinance as more development occurs and residents move in, she said.
   The planning department will launch a work project this summer to study whether downtown should have height and bulk restrictions, senior planner Marilyn Vogel said. A significant portion of downtown — almost all of its commercially zoned property — does not have any restrictions.
   “We recognize there has been a change in the marketplace, we’re seeing taller buildings than before,” she said. “Because the city’s comprehensive plan states downtown Bellingham should be an area that encourages tall buildings, now it’s time to evaluate that as a community.”
   The planning department will host community events on the height and bulk issue later this year, and will likely complete the study and make a recommendation to the City Council in 2007, she said.

City adopts downtown design codes

Heidi Schiller
   Downtown developers may soon have to abide by new, mandatory design standards if the City Council passes an ordinance approving the code as early as June 12.
   Currently, the city advises design standards only as guidelines in the downtown, which includes the central business district and portions of the Lettered Streets, Sunnyland, Sehome and Old Town neighborhoods, senior planner Marilyn Vogel said. However, the standards have been mandatory for downtown developers who apply for the multi-family tax-exemption program.
   The council will consider making the design codes mandatory due to a significant increase in downtown development recently, Vogel said.
   “We don’t want to squelch design,” Vogel said. “But we want (new development) to fit in.”
   Projects under $50,000 would go through a planning department staff review process, Vogel said, and a design-review board created by the new ordinance would review and approve projects over $50,000.
   The board, while instituted through the downtown design code ordinance, would review permits for all projects proposed in the city.
   The board would consist of five voluntary members, appointed by the mayor and confirmed by city council, and would include at least three professionals from architecture, landscape architecture or urban design/planning fields.
   Architect David Christensen, owner of Christensen Design Management, said the city’s challenge regarding the creation of a design-review board will be to recruit and retain professionals to serve on it with a likely time commitment of twice a month.
   Christensen said he thinks the city should pay at least one professional consultant to do the job, much like Seattle and other cities do.
   The design standards emphasizes a focus on maximizing pedestrian experiences of the downtown, as well as encouraging new interpretations of traditional building styles, according to the downtown design standards handbook, available for viewing at www.cob.org.
   The handbook dictates design standards for new development, altercations to non-historic buildings and for parking facilities, as well as for rehabilitations to historic buildings. For each area, the handbook covers a multitude of design standards, from architectural character and site plans, to building materials and standards for franchise businesses.
   Design standards are necessary because some building owners and developers don’t consider how pedestrians experience downtown, Christensen said.
   For example, the new code states buildings cannot have ground floor residential space, which has recently been a problem with some of the newer downtown development, said Christensen, who participated in the planning commission’s development of the standards. Ground floor residential space is inappropriate for downtown because it is not geared toward the pedestrian/shopper experience, he said.
   “We want to activate the street with commercial projects,” Christensen said.
   He also mentioned the code’s emphasis on maintaining high ceilings and window transparency, as well as relating new developments to neighboring historic buildings, as the most important aspects of its pedestrian-friendly aim.
   Architect Mike Smith of Zervas Group Architects also advised the planning commission on the design code. He said that while he supports the concept of a mandatory design code, he feels elements of it need to be changed.
   For example, the code’s current terminology limiting use of reflective glass is hard to interpret, said Smith, who regularly uses glass in his designs.
   He also objected to the code’s restrictions on cantilevered building design, which limits architectural creativity. The Gateway Building that Smith designed, the former Bellingham Inn under construction on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Holly Street, is an example of architecture that incorporates a cantilevered building design with a top floor section jutting out over the street.
   “To think of buildings with absolutely flat facades, with no relief — you end up with just a blank wall,” he said. “It’s a terrible mistake.”
   While the handbook mentions building height and bulk — encouraging a two-to-four-story scale — it gives no specific numerical restrictions. The planning department is working on developing height and bulk codes for the area, Vogel said.
   The handbook also mentions signage standards, although the planning department is also working on creating separate sign standards, she said.
   The ordinance would apply to new developments and building façade altercations after the ordinance is passed, and would not affect projects that have already submitted applications to the city, Vogel said.
   Christensen said he thinks the code will ultimately help developers save time and money, especially if they consult with the proposed design-review board early in the process.
   “It’s not just another layer of bureaucracy to slow things down,” he said. “What developers need to know is you’ve got to come in early. The intent is to help speed up the process.”
   He said the code would save developers money because its pedestrian/shopper emphasis will result in buildings that quickly fill with tenants.
   Under the ordinance, the existing historic preservation commission would continue to review renovations of buildings on local, state and federal historic registers.
   The council will hold a public hearing on the issue June 5.

The cookie stops here: triathlon axed

Dan Hiestand
   owner of the Baker’s Healthy Start Foundation Triathlon, has decided against holding a fourth version of the race in 2006.
   Bryan Geschwill, president of marketing at Baker’s Breakfast Cookie, said his company’s decision not to run the event was primarily based on internal issues at USAT (USA Triathlon) — and to a lesser degree, the U.S. Olympic Committee — as well as problems securing event infrastructure funds from USAT.
   “It was difficult to get a commitment from them,” Geschwill said. The event had a budget of approximately $200,000, he said. “It turned into a political ego race.”
   Representatives from USAT — the organization that sanctions the event — did not return phone calls.
   Last year’s competition included the U.S. Elite Olympic distance Championships and the USAT Under 23 national championships, while the 2004 races served as the U.S. Olympic trials — a competition that was covered by members of the national media.
   According to estimates compiled by Baker’s Healthy Start Foundation, the event drew more than 1,000 athletes and 6,000-plus spectators on average, and added more than $1,000,000 to the local economy each year.
   John Cooper, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, said he wasn’t sure if those statistics are accurate — in part because he didn’t survey visitors who attended the event.
   “I’m really relying and trusting upon (Baker’s Breakfast Cookie) research as to how it was as far as a pull and a draw to Bellingham,” he said. Regardless of revenue, the event seemed to fit the city’s profile, Cooper said. “It’s a good match … because we are such an athletic, outdoors-(inclined) community.”
   Geschwill said the weekend event was a challenge and did provide some headaches.
   “It’s difficult on a beautiful weekend to have the police out on the road for 12 hours shutting down traffic,” he said. “It was very stressful.” He said the biggest complaints about the triathlon involved traffic congestion — but overall, the comments were positive from the community.
   The company said it would continue to be active in race events with the city of Bellingham, at the national level with the Ironman racing series and with other national marathons.
   “The city (of Bellingham) has always been very supportive,” Geschwill said, adding that his company wanted to “focus more on the local scene.”
   Lance Romo, program coordinator with the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department, said that while the race will be missed, the city would reap some benefits.
   This year, Baker’s Breakfast Cookie is sponsoring all the city’s triathlon events, and the company is allowing the city to utilize its triathlon Web site (www.trithecookie.com) to market Bellingham triathlon events, Romo said. In addition, they are donating leftover infrastructure to the city, such as fencing, podiums and water bottles.
   Cooper said the triathlon’s departure is not going to keep Bellingham down for long.
   “I think we’ll be able recover from it. I’m sorry to see it go,” he said. “The ability for (Bellingham) to attract and lure other large events — we’re continuing to see that occur.”

Top

Related Stories