By Stefanie Donahue
Following approval from the Blaine Planning Commission, a development called Bayview on Drayton Harbor has cleared an important hurdle in plans to fill an entire city block along Peace Portal Drive with multifamily housing, personal storage and parking.
Friends Holdings Inc. has applied to the city to construct 57 multifamily units contained in two, three-story buildings at Peace Portal Drive and Madison Avenue. As proposed, the project includes a storage facility for tenants and 124 parking spaces. The 2.4-acre lot encompasses an entire city block and currently contains one single-family home and the derelict Chuck’s Drive-In.
A letter sent to the city by engineer Neil Latta of Latta Engineering, PLLC and architect Robert Matichuk from TRC Architecture (TRC) in August, said the plan includes two-to-three-bedroom units, each with two bathrooms and some with a den.
“They have been kept to a manageable square footage, thereby allowing for a potential varied mix of end users. Not too big for the aging population and just big enough for the up and coming young family or professional. Extensive design consideration has been given for this multifamily complex that will blend in,” they wrote. “Economics and affordability was also a major design consideration.”
Following a presentation on September 28, the Blaine Planning Commission unanimously approved conditional use and shoreline substantial development permits for the project. The applicants now have one year to submit site plans and apply for construction permits.
“Apartments are in great demand in Whatcom County,” said Blaine community planner Alex Wenger, citing vacancy statistics from the Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies at the University of Washington. The vacancy rate for apartment units in Whatcom County was 1.3 percent in fall 2014.
Five residents expressed opinions about the project during the public hearing last week. Former Blaine City Council member Dennis Olason wrote to the commission and outlining several concerns about the proposal including insufficient open space, the capacity of the parking lot, accessibility to units for seniors or the disabled, traffic impacts and preliminary design.
“The residential building being proposed appears to be a solid wall along Madison Avenue and Peace Portal. The proposed storage unit structure again is a wall except for the entrance to Clyde Street,” Olason wrote. “As stated in the staff report, the applicant in early pre-application meetings was encouraged to break up the 57 units into several smaller buildings. This needs to be pursued again with the proponent.”
Olason later went on to criticize the city’s decision to not require the developer to apply as a planned unit development (PUD), which is a type of regulatory process that’s often applied to shoreline residential developments. City staff recommended not requiring a PUD application because the development is separated from the water by a state highway and Burlington Northern Santa Fe train tracks.
“I’m at a crossroads with this project,” said Madison Avenue resident David Gallion before expressing concerns about increased traffic and the city’s decision to not require a PUD application. “I believe that it will set a precedent and come back to bite us later.”
Not everyone was concerned about the proposed development, including city councilmember Steve Lawrenson, who resides on Eighth Street. “I’m very excited about this project,” he said, citing the increased need for housing in Blaine. “I think this would be a real asset to the community.”
Sam Freeman also commented, saying, “This would certainly be a shining light on the city of Blaine.”
Although the developers have yet to supply a final design plan, commissioners pushed back on the conceptual design of the development and emphasized the importance of landscaping and open space between the two buildings and the personal storage unit. They also asked that the developers consider improving a nearby park in the neighborhood.
“This is the gateway of Blaine,” commissioner Sue Sturgill said.