Councilvotes 6-0 to expand fee deferrals to wharf

Published on Thu, Sep 13, 2007 by ara Nelson

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Council votes 6-0 to expand fee deferrals to wharf

By Tara Nelson

Builders in Blaine’s wharf district can now apply for the same deferrals for water and utility fees allowed in Blaine’s central business district, Blaine City Council decided this week.

In their regular meeting Monday, council members voted 6-0 to extend a recently adopted amendment to Blaine municipal code that allows developers to defer fees for utility, water and sewer connections for up to two years on commercial and residential developments if the projects meet certain requirements outlined by the city. Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said the deferral was requested to assist in making the project more economically practical in the short-term and, although potentially risky, could help encourage other development in Blaine’s central business district.

The move comes after a motion by council member John Liebert during their last meeting to discuss extending the program to other areas of the city including Blaine’s manufacturing and wharf districts.
Council members such as Bonnie Onyon said they liked the idea of expanding the amendment to cover the wharf district, which is part of the city’s central business district because of the wharf’s connection to downtown and its proximity, which would likely attract smaller businesses. Onyon, however, stopped short of supporting an extension to the city’s manufacturing district.

“When it comes to manufacturing, people who are going to expand to the U.S. have already made that decision to do that and it doesn’t depend on tourism; it’s a calculated risk,” she said. “I don’t see our manufacturing business as being so needful.”

Council member John Liebert, however, argued the proposal should be expanded to include other – if not all – areas of Blaine.

“One of the things that I see this doing is being assigned to the developers and the business people but people who are seriously trying to build a business environment here,” he said. “We need to be proactive, not reactive.”

Council member Charlie Hawkins disagreed, adding that the original proposal was to introduce the program as an experiment limited to the downtown core.

“To me it doesn’t sound like a sound business practice,” he said. “When we limit it to the downtown area, however, we can watch it in a controlled way.”

Blaine public works director Steve Banham said he liked the idea of supporting businesses downtown but had concerns about cash flow to the city and appearing desperate to developers.

“My concern is that I don’t like to be the last guy who gets the money cause that’s when the guy, at the very end, is going to try to see if he can get out of it,” he said. “It just seems like a risky situation. It almost looks like a desperation act. And in the manufacturing sector we’re not that desperate.”

Onyon agreed. “It’s only a deferral,” she said. “It’s not going to work magic.”

Other city news

The Blaine planning commission will make a final recommendation to the city council tonight regarding a proposed expansion of the role of the city’s hearing examiner.

City officials argue that the proposal could streamline the public planning process by eliminating the need for a project’s final approval by city council and directing appeals to Whatcom County Superior Court.

Opponents, however, worry that citizen grievances may not be addressed as effectively by a judge and that the community may be better served by a committee with a vested interest in the city.
The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at city hall. The council will schedule a second public hearing and make a final decision in October.