City council considers updating development rules along Marine Drive

By Stefanie Donahue

Blaine City Council has unanimously agreed to consider a proposed amendment to the Wharf District Master Plan, which outlines intended uses and projects for areas along Marine Drive. Submitted by the Port of Bellingham in June, the proposal asks the council to consider an update to the types of development permitted along a select portion of the district.

Adopted in 2007, the Wharf District Master Plan maps out a mix of commercial, industrial and recreational uses for areas along Marine Drive. The proposed amendment seeks to ease zoning restrictions in one portion of the district owned by the port east of the marina, closest to downtown.

Planning area three, as it’s called in the master plan, is currently zoned “mixed use,” which means it’s a preferred location for commercial activity, targeting tourists and recreational interest. Currently, it’s home to two marine-based storage facilities and 3 acres of undeveloped property.

“We envisioned in 2007 that that would become more of a mixed-use area with offices, commercial and possibly a hotel,” said port director of planning and development Sylvia Goodwin when the proposal was first brought to port commissioners in early July.  “We were thinking at that time that some of the marine services businesses in that area would move down into the industrial area.”

Nearly 10 years after the plan’s approval, the site has seen just one proposal for development, Michael Jones, Blaine’s community development director, told councilmembers July 25.

Simply stated, the amendment would open doors for the type of marine-based development that is currently not permitted in the master plan. Despite a lack of interest in commercially focused activity within planning area three, the new amendment will not restrict that type development in the future. If approved, one party has already expressed interest in building a dry storage unit for boats, Jones said.

Aside from altering the types of use for planning area three, the proposed amendment would also include an update to existing height restrictions on structures developed on the land. The Port would like to see an increase of 10 feet for two sections that fall next to the railroad. One section would reach up to 55 feet and the other, 45 feet.

With the city council’s approval for consideration, representatives from the city can now include it on a comprehensive plan amendment docket. Only one additional amendment was approved for inclusion on the docket this year and concerns an update to the Resort Semiahmoo Master Plan.

The public will have a chance to comment on the proposed changes this fall. A final decision will be made before the end of the year.

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