Developerreconsidering Blaine building plans

Published on Thu, Jan 20, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Developer reconsidering Blaine building plans

By Jack Kintner

Developer Ken Imus is reportedly having second thoughts about developing property in Blaine, in part due to restrictions on the kinds of concessions he’s enjoyed from the city of Bellingham in developing housing as a part of the revitalized retail core in Fairhaven.

“He came to us about six months ago and asked us about it,” said Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic, “and we checked into it, but the [state] law’s pretty clear that such concessions, usually amounting to a 10 percent tax relief over 10 years to encourage developers, can’t be done by municipalities of less than 30,000 population.”

Imus is expected to discuss this and other issues on Jerry Gay’s locally produced radio show “Peace Arch Conversations,” broadcast at 8:30 this Sunday evening on Blaine’s KARI, 550 AM.

Tomsic explained that all Washington cities get their taxing authority from the state, and larger urban centers are treated differently than small cities.

The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 84:14 is legislation passed in 1995 to encourage residential development within urban areas by allowing “special valuations for eligible improvements associated with multi-unit housing in residentially deficient urban centers,” in other words, tax relief for developers planning residential units in downtown projects.

“Blaine doesn’t even come close to being able to do this,” said Tomsic, referring to definitions included under section 010: (1) “city” means either (a) a city or town with a population of at least 30,000 or (b) the largest city or town, if there is no city or town with a population of at least 30,000, located in a county planning under the growth management act.

“Wenatchee is an example of a town with less population than the definition calls for but since it’s the largest town in Chelan County, it qualifies,” Tomsic said. He added that they’d be happy to offer incentives to Imus and others, but under current state law, he said, they can’t. Blaine’s population at the last census four years ago was 3,770.
There are three local properties that Imus has expressed interest in. He and his son have purchased two, a vacant lot next to the Bayside Beauty Salon in the 900 block of Peace Portal Drive and a condo site at the corner of Mitchell Street and Peace Portal Way.

The intended purchase of the former Red Apple Market, now Worldly Treasures furniture store, has been canceled, according to Imus. He said he has also looked at a parcel on the southeast corner of F Street and Peace Portal Way, where a service station was recently removed, but has not acted on this.

“The real problem,” Tomsic continued, “is that some property owners have raised their prices on Imus and others interested in developing downtown Blaine.”

Imus agreed that prices have been raised when he’s expressed interest, and said that Blaine city officials at one point agreed to his request that tax increases on property he’d purchase be abated for 10 years, and that it even had been approved by the city council, but “then I didn’t hear back from them for a while, and then was told that they legally couldn’t do this. I’m quite sure it was an honest mistake. People at the city office and in Blaine have, for the most part, been marvelous.”

Imus said that despite rumors to the contrary, he hasn’t given up on Blaine. “I really like the place. It could be the La Jolla or Santa Barbara of the north,” he said, “as long as it isn’t done on the cheap. There are others, people like Brad O’Neill for example, whose vision for Blaine is a good one.”

Imus considers himself to be very much a local (his mother was born in Birch Bay) and said that, “I brought some other developers up here to show them what would be possible, but after looking at 15 properties I ended up with just two. So, I’ll go to plan B, and right now I’m trying to figure out just what that will be.”