Homestead establishes big presence in Birch Bay
Homestead Northwest spokesperson and long-time Whatcom County resident Lisa Guthrie remembers vacationing in Birch Bay as a child.
“This is a place that we all remember coming to as
kids,” Guthrie said. “So when we talk about
how we want to pursue our projects we always have that
in the back of our minds. We want to keep it fun.”
To do this, Homestead has six different developments under way or planned in Birch Bay and Blaine that all somehow focus, Guthrie said, on what’s fun to do. “I remember skating in the old rink, which was right here,” she said, sitting in the Tradewinds restaurant, “and swimming in these pools.” Outside she pointed out how the outlines of the old public swimming pools can still be seen in the parking lot just north of the Sandcastle building.
The two most prominent projects are all about fun and leisure. Homestead bought the Birch Bay Waterslides last year and will not only keep them open but plans to extend them to year-around operation. “Some of the consultants thought we should close them and do something else,” she said, “but none of the locals, including us, agreed.”
Homestead plans instead to create an indoor water park on the southeast side of the present structure that will join an exercise facility and hotel that will wrap around the east side of the present park. The first phase of the hotel, an 18-unit structure up to three stories high, will begin construction this fall and the indoor park should be ready by the 2010 Winter Olympics. “We’ll start on those a year from this fall,” Guthrie said. The hotel will also have a coffee shop and there will be retail spaces available along Birch Bay-Lynden Road.
The other project is an extensive renovation of the old Stephani’s Restaurant and the adjacent golf course, which sit near the geographic center of Birch Bay and both of which go back to at least 1929. Inside, one can see places where even older barn wood was used for flooring. Homestead’s renovation goes to the studs, although a lot will be saved such as the beach stone fireplaces and the old hardwood flooring.
The entrance will be on the north side of the building, and much of the parking lot on that side will become a public plaza complete with rest rooms. Guthrie was a little reticent about Homestead taking credit for building public restrooms for the community but it’s still a significant contribution when compared to the situation in other resort-oriented small towns like Glacier, that faced years of argument and expense to accomplish the same thing.
Homestead plans a sales office for the small building on the north side of the golf course parking lot, and will accommodate an office for the sheriff’s deputy in the back. The golf course itself has been reduced to nine regular holes plus a driving range, and the pro shop will be upgraded sometime in the future.
The other projects are all residential and are in varying stages of planning and construction. Grand Bay at the Beach, just south of the restaurant project, consists of 53 condominium units in two four-story buildings of 33 and 20 units. The one, two and three bedroom units, some of which have already sold, will sell for $299,000 to $699,000, Guthrie said. After some delays the drywall is being installed in the first building. When finished the building will also have retail space including a coffee shop.
SweetGrass Cottages includes 40 separate units built clustered around shared driveways on a 14 acre tract near Bay Horizons Park. “Eight of the acres are wetland,” Guthrie said, “so we have to be careful. We plan trails to join the project with other areas, but this one right now is still in the planning stage.
Prestwick Woods and Drayton Reach are both in Blaine. Prestwick is a 40 unit condominium that will lie along the west side of the tenth fairway at the Semiahmoo golf course. The two and three story buildings begin construction this summer.
Drayton Reach is a 90-house development between Dodd and Runge roads west of the railroad tracks on a small point of land between Hughes Avenue and the mouth of Dakota Creek.
The lots and houses will run between $250,000 to $400,000 and up for the five waterfront parcels.
Birch Bay has proven to be a remarkably resilient place given its long history. The first known European visitors to Birch Bay arrived in June of 1792 on Vancouver’s ship Discovery. He named it Birch Bay when he mistook the local species of Red alder for European Black Birch trees. Even though there are no native birch the name stuck. After anchoring off what is now Birch Bay State Park, they put ashore to rest and drink homemade spruce beer to combat scurvy.
“People still come here to kick back,” Guthrie said, “and that’s what we want to keep. That’s what we think about in planning these things.”