Seagrassdeliberations scheduled to wind up

Published on Thu, Jun 23, 2005 by ac Kintner

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Seagrass deliberations scheduled to wind up

By Jac Kintner

The Blaine Planning Commission hopes to finalize their official recommendation to the Blaine City Council on the Seagrass Condominium development at Semiahmoo Spit in three weeks.
The project, a part of the Semiahmoo site plan since the 1980s, would allow 36 duplex condominiums to be built on a 22-acre parcel just west of the resort, the last large open space left on Semiahmoo Spit. For the nearly two-thirds of Blaine citizens that oppose it, according to a city poll taken last fall, the hope is that the commission will recommend against approval at its July 14 meeting and that the Blaine City Council will follow suit.

Planning commission chairman Brad O’Neill said that the current timetable calls for the final work session on Seagrass to be held June 29, and that the staff and members of the planning commission will then take the next two weeks to finalize the language of their recommendation to the Blaine City Council before formally adopting it and sending it on.

Ever since the project was presented to the city of Blaine in January of 2003, opposition has been strong, coming primarily from a combination of Semiahmoo and Birch Point residents along with environmental groups in the area, including some Western Washington University faculty members who have assailed the scientific validity of the Trillium Corporation’s conclusions about the project’s impact.

Trillium responded to the opposition by temporarily withdrawing the original design for modifications, resubmitting it in the spring of 2004 as a Planned Unit Development (PUD). The new design had 10 more living units, up to 72 from the original 62, in 36 duplexes, resulting in a smaller footprint than the earlier plan but more people.

The Seagrass project was officially re-introduced to the public at the July 7, 2004, Blaine Chamber of Commerce lunch by Trillium vice president Wayne Schwandt. “We want to clarify what we have in mind,” he said, “to show people what it will look like and what’s involved.”

Changes included making the main road to Semiahmoo Resort more of a parkway, with driveways to each unit connected to side and frontage roads instead of directly to the main road. Renderings of the site showed more public access trails and more open spaces around the craftsman-style residences than before. The houses will be built by the owners as the lots sell.

Blaine community development director Terry Galvin also serves as Blaine’s state Environmental Protection Agency official, and as such is charged with reviewing projects along state guidelines. Even though Trillium’s original Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that would be applied to the Seagrass project is 20 years old, Galvin concluded last fall following an extensive review that a new EIS was not necessary as long as Trillium met certain conditions, or mitigations, as a condition of having their permits approved.

Galvin’s decision, technically a “mitigated determination of non-significance” (MDNS), came out last November and was immediately appealed by two groups: Trillium, because the requirements were too harsh, and Lincoln Rutter, on behalf of the Pointe at Semiahmoo Homeowners Association, because he felt the conditions weren’t restrictive enough.

Meanwhile, Semiahmoo residents Trevor Hoskins, Ron Miller and a few others were at work on an end-run, having found the Trust for Public Land (TPL) receptive to the idea of simply buying the project out to preserve open space.

To hear public comment on the appeals, the planning commission moved its next three meetings to the Blaine Performing Arts Center (PAC), beginning the end of February. Most of the several hundred who came to give public testimony were overwhelmingly opposed to the project.

Trillium’s attorney, Sandie Mackie, said after the third and last meeting at which public comments were allowed that he felt confident the project ultimately would be approved since “the [1985] master plan is definitive in these situations.” The minutes for these public comment meetings are posted on the city of Blaine’s website, www.cityofblaine.com.

Not long after the public meetings, the TPL suddenly backed out of negotiations to buy the property.

“Trillium indicated to us its desire to move forward with its development plans for the property,” said TPL’s project director Peter Dykstra, “rather than pursue an acquisition by TPL, which means that they are not a willing seller.”

“This makes the planning commission’s decision just that much more crucial,” said a disappointed Hoskins.

For the past few weeks the planning commission has been drafting their written decision in a series of work sessions.

The appeals by Trillium and The Pointe at Semiahmoo Homeowner’s Group are a first for the planning commission, according to O’Neill.
“We’re being deliberate and careful. I know it takes time, but welcome to the world of the planning commission.”

The commission said it will vote on the Seagrass proposal on July 29, and then send it to the Blaine City Council for final action with a recommendation to either allow it or deny it.