By Oliver Lazenby
Whatcom County Council unanimously approved the Birch Bay Community Park Master Plan on April 18, but with a caveat.
The council wanted to amend the plan to reflect that it expects Birch Bay residents to help raise money to build the park. The council’s amendment to its resolution to approve the 93-page plan reads, “Be it further resolved, the Whatcom County Council expects the community to bring forward funding options for this plan.”
The plan for the approximately 4.1-acre beachside park calls for about 124 parking spaces, a public restroom, beach access, a natural play area and several acres of open space dotted with trees and picnic tables.
In addition to detailing the layout of the park, the master plan covers the park’s planning meetings, phases of construction, estimated cost and geological and archaeological findings at the site, among other things. The plan doesn’t include a funding strategy for the park, which is projected to cost about $4.4 million to build and $109,540 annually to maintain, and that frustrated some councilmembers.
In 2014, when county council voted to purchase the park property at 7930 Birch Bay Drive for $2.4 million, councilmembers cited community enthusiasm and willingness to help plan and fund the park as factors in the decision.
“I really hope the community remembers its enthusiasm for this acquisition and its promises to raise the money, because that was really important to me when I voted for this,” councilmember Ken Mann said at the April 18 meeting. “We put a lot of scarce public dollars towards that acquisition and I’m disappointed and it makes me not want to go further down this road.”
The master plan presented to the council was simply a plan for development, said Mike McFarland, parks and recreation department director.
“This is the conceptual plan for the park based on public outreach. It’s essentially what the public has asked to see in the park,” he said. “The funding strategy is sometimes included in plans and sometimes not, depending on how the particular plan moves forward. In this particular case it has been a little open-ended.”
The county parks department and its design contractor, Robert Droll, developed the plan after three public meetings in 2016. At the final meeting on October 18, Droll presented a nearly final plan for the park.
Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District 2 has set aside about $100,000 for the park, McFarland told the council.
Having an approved plan could help the parks department find funding through grants, McFarland said.
County officials said last year that the park likely won’t start until after another project on Birch Bay Drive – the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project, also known as the berm – is complete. However, the park is no longer necessary as a staging area for berm construction, and construction on the park could start before the berm is done if funds are available, McFarland said.
McFarland noted in a phone interview that the Birch Bay community will also be asked to raise money for the future Birch Bay library. The Whatcom County Library System recently bought a property just north of the future community park that will require several million dollars in renovation work.
The master plan for the Birch Bay Community Park is on Whatcom County’s website at whatcomcounty.us/DocumentCenter/View/25990.