Councilnears decision on Seagrass project

Published on Thu, Jun 22, 2006 by eg Olson

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Council nears decision on Seagrass project

By Meg Olson

“The fact of the matter is there’s going to be a project there. We can’t live in a coulda woulda shoulda kind of world and I don’t know how many more requirements we can ask for,” said city council member Bonnie Onyon, expressing the grudging approval the latest Seagrass proposal is getting from those council members who don’t give it enthusiastic support. “I think it isn’t bad,” said Bruce Wolf.
At a June 19 work session council council members and staff reviewed the latest site plan and conditions of approval for the 68-unit Seagrass residential development on Semiahmoo spit, and the reasons the planning commission had recommended denying the application.
Blaine community development director Terry Galvin explained that when Trillium originally resubmitted their application, following an October 2005 council denial of their first proposal, “staff’s position originally was that it was marginally compliant,” with the main regulatory document in this case, the 1985 Resort Semiahmoo Master Development Plan. “With conditions it could be substantially compliant.”

Working with city staff Trillium developed an alternative plan and agreed to additional conditions, which Galvin said was the proposal now before council. “In this form it meets virtually all the conditions in the master plan,” Galvin said. Changes included a 15 – 20 percent reduction in land coverage by residential buildings, additional open space and view corridors, height reductions and the transfer of some density closer to the hotel and away from the park. Despite the staff recommendation for approval, the planning commission said the plan neither met the spirit or intent of the master plan, Galvin said. In a four to three split vote, the commission recommended the city council deny the proposal.

Flipping between the visual plan for development on the spit in the 1985 master plan and the plan being proposed by Trillium, Galvin pointed out that, “There are a few differences. What starts to jump out is a little more density and the configuration’s a little different.” However, he said, the master plan guidelines were not necessarily prescriptive. “The criterion for a planned unit development is you have to achieve the same goals. You don’t need the same configuration.”

Jason Overstreet said he thought the Trillium plan improved on the master plan by proposing fewer units and replacing parking lots with underground parking. “This is really a kind of win for the spit,” he said.

The plan called for 80 to 120 units in the Seagrass area and the proposal on the table is for 68. John Liebert also supported the current proposal, and suggested the planning commission simply disapproved of the project in principle.

“It didn’t get as low as they were hoping,” he said of the project’s proposed density, “which is zero.”

When asked if they thought the proposal was not compliant with the master plan in the area of clustering, council members were silent. Planning commission concerns over building size and the increase in acreage covered by residential buildings also got the silent treatment when Galvin asked if council members found the current proposal out of compliance with the master plan.

Several council members disagreed with the planning commission that too much of the project’s impervious surface came from buildings – 6.51 acres rather than 3.65 in the master plan – arguing that the amount of impervious surface was in fact decreased overall by the elimination of most parking lots. “What they’ve gotten rid of is parking, a pollution generator, and replaced them with rooftops which aren’t,” said Harper. “From a water quality perspective you can’t argue it’s not a good thing.”

Overstreet disagreed. “Don’t you think this fairly accomplishes that, which is the goal of the master plan?” he asked fellow council members. “We’re picking and choosing which parts of the master plan we apply here.”

Charlie Hawkins suggested they could ask for more than the master plan called for in preserving the spit and the valuable public asset it represented.

Galvin agreed that the master plan was not how he would envision development for the spit.

He added that the developer had agreed to the creation of a public park, trail and beach access, and three view corridors.

In their latest proposal Trillium has agreed to “a good faith discussion regarding the possible opportunities for transferring density” to the undeveloped property closer to the tip of the spit on the marina side. Representing Trillium, Wayne Schwandt said they would also review the existing master plan.

City council will continue their review of the project and may take final action at their next meeting June 26 but Galvin said “my sense is that members of city council are moving towards the alternative.”