City council votes in favor of wharf district zoning amendment

A map of Mariner Village and the building height allowances approved by the Blaine City Council during a regular meeting on February 13.

By Stefanie Donahue

Sundance Yachts is one step closer to building a $9 million boat storage facility on Marine Drive after Blaine City Council voted to amend the Wharf District Master Plan (WDMP). The city of Blaine and the Port of Bellingham adopted the plan in 2007.

The council cast the vote during its February 13 regular meeting following a lengthy public hearing and discussion with city staff. The amendment deals with height and use limitations in an area called Mariner Village in the WDMP.

The amendment’s genesis dates back to June 2016, when the Port of Bellingham approached the city to request changes to the plan to accommodate one of the Port’s tenants. The matter was referred to the Blaine Planning Commission for consideration. The proposal generated some feedback from the public in December when it was presented to the Blaine Planning Commission. Opponents were unhappy with what they saw as a downgrade from the original vision contained in the WDMP.

The WDMP governs the zoning in the harbor area allowing a mix of commercial, marine, industrial and recreational uses. Originally, Mariner Village – located between the Blaine Harbor Office and the railroad tracks – was zoned for mixed-use commercial, retail and service use on the ground level with office, residential and lodging above. Marine-related activities were not allowable uses in this area.

The Port of Bellingham asked for the WDMP to be changed to allow marine-related use in Mariner Village and increase building height limits from 45 to 55 feet in one sub-area and 35 to 45 feet in another, both east of Milhollin Drive. After deliberation, the planning commission voted to allow non-industrial marine-related use east of Milhollin Drive and increase allowable heights in part of the village. On February 13, city council opted to modify the height recommendations and permit non-industrial marine-related use in all of Mariner Village.

The port, which owns property in the village, has signed an 80-year lease with Sundance Yachts, which offers retail boat sales, marine services and storage facilities in Portland and Seattle. The business now occupies the former Blaine Marine Services building on Marine Drive. According to port director of planning and development Sylvia Goodwin, the lease would be reduced to 25 years if the company didn’t begin construction of a boat storage facility within five years of signing the lease.

If company staff receive the proper permits, they  plan to construct a 60,000-square-foot, $9 million boat storage facility capable of holding up to 350 boats.

Council heard from a number of residents who expressed concern about the existing boat launch that is located at the end of Milhollin Drive and potential congestion as a result of the

“Is it even possible that the boating public, as well as large commercial boat-hauling vehicles, will be able to simultaneously use the narrow approach along the parking lot? Even now, when the parking lot is full of trailers, it is difficult to navigate without hitting a vehicle,” said Kathleen Capson in a letter to the council.

Sundance Yachts owner Rick Buck responded by explaining they plan to construct their own launch, adding, “Everything would be contained on the site that we’re leasing.”

Other speakers addressing the council included Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce president Billy Brown, local business owner Mike Hill and Jim Kyle, a representative from the Working Waterfront Coalition – all of whom expressed support for the proposed amendment.

“We should be doing backflips,” said Birch Bay resident Bob France. “This is an amazing opportunity.”

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