Residentscontinue to oppose Seagrass proposal

Published on Thu, Mar 31, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Residents continue to oppose Seagrass proposal

By Jack Kintner

“This can still be a beautiful spot,” said Dean Francis, “and the rights of property owners to develop their property need to be protected.” A Semiahmoo resident since 1994, Francis, 40, was the only one out of 17 speakers to speak in favor of the Seagrass Cottages project in front of the Blaine planning commission last Thursday.

The meeting was the last of three public meetings that the commission has held fortnightly to gather testimony from the applicant, Gepetto Properties, from the Pointe at Semiahmoo Homeowners’ Association which is opposed to the project and from the public at large. Gepetto is being represented by Trillium Corporation, original developers of Semiahmoo Resort in 1982.

Though spoken testimony is no longer being taken, written comments are still being accepted until the close of business, 5 p.m., March 31, at city hall or by e-mail to rnelson@ci.blaine.wa.us.

Aside from Francis, opposition to Trillium’s proposal from the rest of the public sector at last Thursday’s meeting was emphatic. Semiahmoo resident Ron Miller described efforts he’s been a part of to find a buyer for the property who will keep it in its present state. “It’s been progressing well, and Trillium has been positive, willing to listen to us,” Miller said.

Some speakers, such as lifetime Blaine resident Brooke Finley, 44, who grew up picnicing on the spit as a young girl with her family, attacked Trillium’s integrity. “They say one thing and do another,” she said, sentiments also echoed by other speakers. “Where’s their credibility when they say that having 72 units filled will increase commute time by only 12 cars? Their numbers often don’t make sense and so credibility goes out the window,” Finley continued, asking how a “20-year-old environmental impact statement (EIS) can work? Our environment has already been degraded and won’t come back.”
Semiahmoo resident Martin Conyac, a retired mining geologist who worked in Alaska, said that the commission is caught between the sentiments of the public and the legalities that pertain to the property owner. “It all boils down to three things,” Conyac said, “one, Trillium can’t be trusted. They’ll say one thing but do another. Second, when their proposal for a 60-unit development was shot down they’ve come back with a 72-unit proposal. That’s the wrong way. Third, I’m a strong supporter of property rights, but this property is unique, and believe me there’s nothing unique about another bunch of condos.”
Trevor Hoskins, a leading opponent of the project, said in a three-page prepared statement that to recommend approval of the present Seagrass proposal “would be one of the saddest, most unwise and worst decisions ever made in this community.”

Hoskins went on to criticize the piecemeal nature of the development, saying that the whole area should be considered at the same time, otherwise it’s like saying that “cutting 10 trees down around Drayton Harbor won’t affect the hillside without revealing that 100 more are to be cut down next week.”

“It is disappointing that Whatcom County, the Lummi Nation, the operators of the resort, the applicant [for this project] and the city, to my knowledge, have never together discussed the future of the spit,” Hoskins added.

Hoskins spoke positively about Trillium’s reaction to his efforts, along with Miller, to find a buyer for the property. Saying he’s met several times with Trillium’s chairman David Syre, he said “Mr. Syre understands that very few people would like to see this part of the spit developed and we have discussed how this land might be developed for public use. I recognize the applicant is entitled to something from his investment. I just do not agree that it is building on the spit in this manner.”
Long-time Blaine resident and onetime Blaine city council member Jan Hansen spoke to the issue of a perceived loss of value for Gepetto if the project is denied, telling of several properties she and her family had purchased over the years that had both gained and lost value due to various factors, many unforeseen. “Investments aren’t risk-free,” she said, “even real estate. I urge you to deny this project.”

Biologist Holly Donovan, a Huxley College of the Environment graduate, questioned the accuracy of the seabird impact reports prepared by the applicant. She later said that her conclusions were based on having participated in an extensive study of area birds in which multiple visits were made to sites from Tsawwassen, B.C. to Whidbey Island and from the mainland to the San Juan Islands.

“Our data indicates an overall decline of 45 percent in marine birds, including declines of more than 20 percent in 25 of our most common 35 species. Some species are showing alarming decreases of 50 percent or more,” Donovan wrote in the December 2004, Whatcom Watch, a local environmental newsletter.

“[Our] study’s results were compared with a similar study done in the 1970s called the Marine Ecosystems Analysis Puget Sound Project (MESA). The MESA study, directed by Bellingham’s Terry Wahl and Steven Spiech, was the first comprehensive census of marine birds in northwestern Washington. The objective of our study is to compare our census data with the 1970s MESA census data to provide insight into changes in local marine bird abundance over the past 25 years. Results from the first year of our study have shown disturbing declines for many species in this area,” Donovan wrote.

Sandie Mackie, the Olympia attorney Trillium hired to represent Gepetto’s interests, listened without significant comment during the two hour meeting, and said afterward that “the community’s vision is rooted in the comprehensive plan, so mere public opposition is not sufficient grounds to deny a project.” Blaine’s first comprehensive plan was formulated in 1979, two years before Trillium acquired the Semiahmoo spit property on which it built the resort and on which it now seeks to add the 72-unit Seagrass Cottages project.

Toward the end of the meeting Lincoln Rutter of the Pointe at Semiahmoo Homeowners’ Association stood up to say that due to remarks made by Mackie that were quoted in The Northern Light there may have been people who wanted to speak but were intimidated. “You said you’d been misquoted by the paper,” Rutter said, directing his comments at Mackie.

The remark was published two weeks ago in the March 17-23 issue After the meeting had adjourned Mackie was quoted as saying he would “…question the speakers [from the public] at the next meeting as well, though I won’t cross examine them. But if they make extravagant claims, if someone says they’re an expert on birds, for example, I may question that, ask them how they qualify.”

Blaine planning commission chair Brad O’Neill said later regarding a letter published in another newspaper that The Northern Light story had nothing to do with setting the deadline for written public comment a week after spoken comments were finished.

“I decided to do that well before that story ran,” O’Neill said, “mostly to give Trillium a chance to respond in writing to public comments without having to do it at the same meeting.”

After gaveling the meeting to a close, O’Neill lugged three thick binders full of material generated by the eight hours of verbal testimony from three public meetings, plus other written collateral and supporting data, out to his car.

“The commission will have to decide how long looking at all this will take, and then we’ll continue our meetings. We’ll let you know when we’re going to meet, and the meetings will be open to the public even though we can’t take any more testimony,” O’Neill said.