Intersection debated at Brown and Cole meeting
70 Birch Bay and Blaine area residents gathered at a
meeting of the Birch Bay steering committee last Monday
to hear representatives from Brown and Cole stores talk
about their Birch Bay Center development planned for
Birch Bay-Lynden and Blaine roads.
The meeting came after much public concern about the center’s possible impacts to the surrounding area including increased traffic congestion and design standards that might not be consistent with the Birch Bay community plan.
The two-phase project includes four buildings, a 45,000-square foot grocery store and a 24,800-square foot retail center during the first phase. The second phase will include five buildings and 38,200 square foot retail space.
Last month, Brown and Cole, through Mayflower Equities, appealed a decision by the Whatcom County hearing examiner which would have required the company to pay for certain intersection and road improvements or wait until the county did.
Those improvements include an additional right-of-way to the southwest corner of the intersection, a new traffic signal or roundabout, a left-turn lane for westbound Birch Bay Lynden Road traffic, a right-turn lane for eastbound traffic into the parking lot and a $100 fee for each additional vehicle trip per day.
A preliminary traffic analysis submitted by Brown and Cole estimated the number of additional trips at 6,900 as generated by the second phase.
Project engineer Mike DiSpigno of David Evans and Associates, however, said the actual number of additional trips per day is likely half of that because the development could reduce Birch Bay residents’ need to drive to other urban shopping areas.
“One of the reasons we
have so much traffic is because people are driving
to grocery stores in Ferndale or Blaine, so if we
build a grocery store here, it should cut down on
the trips,” DiSpigno said. “By the time
we adjusted it, we came up with a number that was
something like 3,800 trips per day.”
Some who attended the meeting, such as Doralee Booth, chair of the Birch Bay traffic and public safety implementation subcommittee of the Birch Bay Steering Committee, were concerned that, without infrastructure improvements such as a new traffic signal or a roundabout, an increase in traffic resulting from the project would cause that intersection to perform at levels below the county’s minimum standards.
Booth also said she was concerned about the size of the two-lane roundabout Brown and Cole is required to install since that particular intersection is expected to become a four-lane intersection within the next 10 years. Booth said she wanted to know if Brown and Cole planned on designating a right-of-way for future improvements and if the stormwater detention pond for the southwest corner of the project would become a stumbling block for a future intersection expansion.
“While I believe (this project) is part of the answer to one of our major economic development needs here, this intersection is the pivotal intersection for traffic coming from every direction, and it will be even more after they punch through the Lincoln connector road to Blaine Road, bringing with it traffic from Semiahmoo. It’s also the gateway to Birch Bay,” she said. “It’s all going to funnel through there, so it’s hugely important to get it right. And I’d like to see them get it right the first time.”
Eileen Herring, of Birch Bay, said she liked the idea of a new grocery store but still had some reservations.
“I know that you’re anxious to get going on this project but at the same time, I think it’s important that the county does stick by their guns and say that you can’t open this development until you do build a traffic roundabout because traffic is delayed at that intersection already, it is a public safety issue, it doesn’t do any good for the county to have a check on deposit for your share of intersection improvements when the ambulance can’t get through now.”
Others, however, said they were just excited by the possibility of a new grocery store.
“This is just a grocery store; it’s only one store,” said one woman in the audience. “I can see what you’re talking about, but for a woman looking to shop, this looks great.”
Birch Bay resident Jim Calhoun also received a loud applause when he spoke in favor of the project.
“I question the 6,900 extra impacts on that intersection,” he said. “But I’m mostly concerned about the fact that here’s a developer who’s bringing services to us that we really want and I think we all agree Brown and Cole does a nice job of bringing grocery stores to us. So why are we are putting the same responsibilities on their backs as we do developers who are bringing more people and causing the traffic problem?”
Other attendants wanted to know if the projects design would encourage alternative transportation such as walking or bicycling.
“We’re trying to figure out how we can create somewhat of an urban edge here even though we haven’t seen any master plans for parks, industrial access or trail access,” Christensen said, who added that he wants to achieve this through reduced setbacks and storefronts facing the roads to help create an urban feel.
“We want to create a sense of community and looking like a downtown as much as we can,” he said. “We’re getting as many of these retail stores up as close to the edge of Birch Bay-Lynden Road to create that urban edge.”
Other features of the project include rain gardens, tree canopies, public, on-site storm water treatment between parking stalls, pedestrian walkways and a detention pond on the southwest corner of the complex, he said.
“We got all these things but it’s going to be kind of attractive,” Christensen said. “It’s not going to be a sea of asphalt.”
Craig Telgenhoff, owner of CLT Architectural Design, asked if project planners had given any thought to a community storm water retention pond to increase density and walkability in that area.
“Have you given any thought to acquiring land for an offsite shared retention pond that future developments could all pitch in to? The benefit is that it gives you an opportunity to perhaps place a larger building on that corner.”
DiSpigno said he liked the idea of a shared retention pond but that getting multiple landowners to coordinate efforts and obtain necessary permits would likely be a difficult process.
Telgenhoff added that he thinks a mix of off-street parking, buildings facing the street, wide sidewalks, lots of trees, street furniture and good lighting could create the walkability to draw people to the site. He used downtown Lynden as an example.
“The fear I have is that this plan doesn’t lend itself to a pedestrian friendly right of way,” he said. “This type of plan does not provide for connectivity, which is in the community plan and which is the largest goal that we have as a community.
“This development pattern lends itself to a Federal Way or a Lynwood type development and that, I think, is why some people say they don’t like it.”
Craig Cole disagreed the project’s design resembled that of a strip mall in Federal Way.
“It would be a lot easier for us to just put up a grocery store rather than a planned development,” he said. “We’re working on connectivity and pedestrian friendly access and all that so I’m having trouble understanding why you would say that.”
Whatcom County hearing examiner Michael Bobbink had scheduled a hearing to review the project on April 26, but as of last Monday, the meeting was postponed for a third time.
Bobbink’s assistant, Carole Magner said the hearing will likely be rescheduled for sometime in late June. More information about the project is available at the Whatcom County Planning and Development Services office on Northwest Avenue. For updates call 676-6794.