And the survey says, no way
Results are in from a telephone survey asking citizens if they want more of Semiahmoo Spit to be public lands, and they do. They just don’t want to pay for it.
The survey, commissioned by the city of Blaine through the Small Business Development Center at Western Washington University, first asked the 200 Blaine residents surveyed if they were familiar with development issues on the spit and 57 percent said they were. City manager Gary Tomsic said the survey was rated with a 95 percent confidence level as representative of the community at large. “The results clearly indicate a fairly large number of citizens in our community know about this,” he told city council at their November 8 meeting.
The city chose to undertake the study after an application by Trillium Corporation to build 36 duplexes on 22 acres south of the existing condominiums on the spit elicited significant public opposition and suggestions the city needed to take an active role in preserving that land and the rest of the spit as open space. “Before the city should launch into an effort we should get a sense of is this something the community supports,” Tomsic said.
Sixty-five percent of those surveyed said they felt further development on Semiahmoo Spit should be limited, and 64 percent said they would support public purchase of some of the property in order to keep it from being developed. However, only 42 percent said they would be willing to voluntarily contribute funds towards that purchase, and only 36 percent said they would be willing to pay higher property taxes to help buy some of the spit. “Acquiring property like this can be done in many ways,” Tomsic said. “From the standpoint of the city one way we could do it was a special levy. But 87 percent indicated they really didn’t want to pay anything. When surveyors asked how much in extra taxes or other contributions respondents would be willing to pay to keep the spit as open space 87 percent said zero, 26 respondents said they would pay up to $100 a year and only one was willing to pay up to $500.
“There seems to be general support for preserving this area but I would say based on what’s in here there isn’t enough for us to have an election to raise taxes,” Tomsic said. “I’m not saying there’s not enough support for moving ahead in other ways.”
Trevor Hoskins and Ron Miller are circulating a petition asking the city to freeze processing of the Seagrass Cottages application and take time to explore those other ways. After two weeks collecting signatures they have 200. “It’s not a loud minority but a large majority that shows concern,” Hoskins said. “Let’s slow down and examine the whole master plan.” The Semiahmoo Master Plan was approved by the city in 1984 and revised in 1985. “The master plan provides for a total of 371 homes on the spit. Can you imagine what that would be like?” Hoskins said. “Just the number of automobiles alone would be a problem and the Inn would no longer be a resort. It would simply be a hotel at the end of a subdivision.”
Miller said the petition was also asking that a citizens committee be formed to look at funding sources for site acquisition. “There are many possibilities out there that have never been explored,” he said. “We’ve been told by one of the council members if there is something illegal about this project it’s the only way it can be stopped. It's such an important project I don’t think it has been explored enough.”
Hoskins added that it was unreasonable to ask Blaine ratepayers to foot the bill with the financial burden of a new wastewater plant looming. “We certainly do not expect the citizens of Blaine to pay. We would like to be able to approach environmental and conservancy groups once we know the true value of this land,” he said.
Tomsic said the city was in a legal and moral tight spot on the issue, and needed to show fairness to the developer as well as citizen concerns. “The issue of acquiring the property presents issues for us when we have an application pending,” he said. “It presents the appearance of not being fair and you have to be careful there. I would hope the real initiative comes from folks like yourselves rather than say the city hasn’t studied it enough and we have to find ways to do it.”
Blaine community development director Terry Galvin said he had issued a mitigated determination of non-significance after completing a state environmental review of the project. The determination allows the project to proceed but it comes with 27 conditions. “Those are fairly strict and they provide the rational basis to insure a minimum amount of damage to the spit and the area around it,” Galvin said. He indicated he had worked with the developer under the assumption if Trillium did not agree to the conditions Galvin would issue a determination of significance, forcing a full environmental impact statement. “This sounds like a deal but it’s not,” Galvin said. “The developer was motivated.” He added his department can add conditions or withdraw their determination up until the time of permit issuance and that he is receiving more information that will likely lead to more conditions on the permit.
Council member Bonnie Onyon asked if the project could be denied based on an assessment of environmental impact. City attorney John Sitkin said that the council could reject the project based on an environmental impact statement, but that it would be a risky decision. “Remember, it is an allowed use and they have a right to use it,” Galvin said.