Blaine council approves new downtown rules
Blaine City Council approved new rules for downtown designed to make development more likely, stepping over several more restrictive recommendations from the planning commission.
After half a dozen council meetings, public hearings, work sessions and public meetings, Blaine community development director Terry Galvin said only a handful of changes to the planning commission recommendations were being suggested. “Out of all that we’ve boiled down to these issues,” he told city council members at their June 13 meeting.
Council agreed to eliminate the requirement for a mandatory boardwalk component as part of all development on the west side of Peace Portal Drive, settling instead for a required easement. At an earlier meeting city manager Gary Tomsic had suggested it wasn’t equitable for the city to build the first section of the boardwalk between G and H streets and then require property owners in other blocks of Peace Portal Drive to pay to build their section. He suggested the requirement be limited to an easement and council members agreed.
Planning commission chairman Brad O’Neill said that while planning commissioners had wanted to send a strong message that the boardwalk was integral to the growth of Blaine’s downtown, he wasn’t surprised the requirement had been dropped. “How do you make a public facility mandatory?” he said. However, he was concerned that the boardwalk would develop “full of holes” without more pressure for property owners to add their section. “What we don’t want to have happen is for the developer to say he’ll put it in when he can,” he said.
Council also trimmed the number of parking spaces required per residential unit from the current two, endorsed by the planning commission, to one and a half. However, they did so with staff assurance that a parking study was already underway to develop a plan for parking downtown that would accommodate future growth.
Other changes in the downtown rules included allowing hotels as a non-conditional use, and appeals of the development regulations were redirected from the hearing examiner to city council.
Council didn’t take action on a last minute suggestion by staff to look at changing the requirement for a commercial only zoning on the first floor of buildings in the downtown core, instead limiting it to the H Street and Peace Portal Drive corridors, possibly only to the portions of buildings facing the street.
“What are the absolute key areas that need to be commercial?” Galvin asked. “Everywhere else let the free market find its level.”
Galvin said the planning commission was adamant about maintaining the current requirement for ground floor commercial to preserve the supply of commercial space downtown, but that developers at a recent meeting had suggested the rule made certain projects impractical in the current market environment. “I can see both sides,” he said.
Tomsic, however, was a strong supporter of some relaxing of regulations to encourage developers to come in. “We’ve got a downtown right now that looks bombed out,” he said. “Why do we think we’ll be able to fill all that commercial space?”
Council members tossed around ideas such as allowing residential temporarily on the ground floor on the waterside of Peace Portal Drive now, but requiring later conversion to commercial. “I think temporary is permanent in this case,” said Bob Brunkow, asking staff to look into how that could be legally feasible.
Bonnie Onyon also suggested that changes could wait until the impact of the boardwalk now slated for construction is felt. “I’d like to see how much we love it,” she said, and how it would impact demand for commercial space downtown and in what areas. Staff agreed to come back with more information at a later meeting.
O’Neill said allowing ground floor residential spelled the end of a vibrant downtown.
“It’s a huge mistake,” O’Neill said. “You’re going to undermine commercial availability downtown which will encourage building malls outside and eventually bankrupt downtown. Please, don’t do that.”