BirchBay subarea plan overshadowed by spa

Published on Thu, Mar 18, 2004
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Birch Bay subarea plan overshadowed by spa

by Meg Olson

Public comment about the Birch Bay community plan was largely drowned out by opinions on something that isn’t in the plan: a proposal to rezone 10 acres at Birch Point so a spa can be developed on the property.

Over 70 people attended the March 16 public hearing for an ordinance “adopting the Birch Bay community plan.” However, out of 33 speakers, less than a dozen had comments about the plan itself. The rest were fairly evenly split in either supporting the Birch Point rezone on grounds the spa/retreat project would enhance the economy while preserving the area’s character, or opposing it as a blight on their neighborhood.

“It’s very much a retreat getaway, to walk in the woods, lie in a hammock and look at the clouds,” said project proponent Ellen Shea. Shea is asking council for the approval she couldn’t get from the planning commission in January – to approve the rezone by including it in the Birch Bay plan.

Shea supporters, including neighbor Cathy Seemann, said the project would have a minimal impact on the area, as there is already a large residence on the property, and would be a good fit for the area. “I believe it will enhance the area and have less impact on the site than other uses,” she said.

Blaine mayor Dieter Schugt, speaking as a private citizen, said he supported projects like Shea’s and would welcome them in Blaine. Opponents of the project suggested Shea should accept his invitation. “Get the city and Ellen Shea together and see if they can find a place to put this,” said Kip Lachner, a Birch Point resident.

“All of us love spas. We don’t love rezones, especially when we bought our property in a quiet residential neighborhood,” said Jo Slivinski, representing the group Neighbors for Birch Point and handing council members a petition signed by 233 opponents of the project. “Predictability is important to property owners.” She also wondered why Shea needed the rezone and couldn’t fit her project in with conditional uses allowed in the urban residential zone, such as bed and breakfasts and “health rehabilitation centers.”

The minority that offered testimony about the plan rather than the rezone all offered congratulations to the steering committee for reaching consensus in a large group of representatives from different neighborhoods. “When we first convened we had people with very different opinions – developers, environmentalists, full-timers, part-timers. They did an excellent job of coming together,” said local realtor Mike Kent.

Kathy Berg, vice-chair of the Birch Bay Community Plan Steering Committee, asked that if council considered changes to the plan they retain the proposed commercial “nodes” rather than larger commercial areas “to discourage the strip mall effect.” She reemphasized the need to keep Birch Bay Drive recreational and not commercial. Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said the city of Blaine would like to see commercial zoning reduced, especially on Lincoln and Shintaffer roads, to not draw shoppers away from the city. “It would intercept people from our community coming into Blaine,” he said. “It would have a negative impact.” He also asked if standards could be developed to preserve the rural character of Birch Bay’s roads.
Barbara Scudlarick, a Birch Point resident, asked that the plan be modified to address shoreline erosion and that development standards be set for high bank areas and the inland water table recharge areas that can affect them, “The steering committee did not address this,” she said.

Ellen Gray represented the Seattle group “1,000 Friends of Washington,” whose mission is to “protect farms, forests and rural areas from overdevelopment,” said her group felt the urban growth area being proposed was too large and encompassed too many wetlands. “Lands with extremely critical areas should be excluded,” she said. Gray was also dubious about a proposed $79 million capital facilities plan. “There is no clear path to get that money,” she said.
Several steering committee members asked that issues like buffering from industry at Cherry Point, a community center and civic center, and measures to protect the bay and water quality, be included and strengthened in the plan. They also asked for help in advance for implementing it. Local resident Alan Friedlob asked for guidance and funding to form a junior taxing district that could collect funds for capital improvement to enhance beach areas like public restrooms and parking. “Without support for these efforts our plan will likely emerge as a hollow shell rather than a vibrant, living document,” he said.
County council chairman closed the public hearing and referred the plan to the planning and development committee for review.