Councilweighs future airport use options

Published on Thu, Nov 1, 2007 by ara Nelson

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Council weighs future airport use options

By Tara Nelson

The future zoning and use of the Blaine airport property is once again an issue of debate among members of the Blaine City Council and the public.

During a special study session Monday, council members discussed possible plans for the future use of the Blaine airport, which is scheduled to cease operations by December of 2008.

Council members agreed that fewer zoning restrictions and greater flexibility would increase the possibility of finding potential buyers but were undecided as to whether the city should sell the 40-acre property outright, in separate parcels, or offer sections for long-term leasing.

City manager Gary Tomsic said while he’s heard both arguments for selling the property outright and leasing it for long-term control, he wasn’t convinced the latter was the best approach.

“Investors seem to be more interested in ownership and boundaries,” he said. “And it would limit the market for businesses that would be looking at the property.”

A long-term leasing plan, however, would have real advantages as well, he said. Among those advantages is greater control over the type and timing of development, a long-term revenue stream for the city and future flexibility. “In 10 or 15 years from now, there might be different needs in the community and if the city owns the land, it might be able to accommodate those needs better,” he said.

Another issue is how the decision should be made and how much public input the city would allow in making that decision.

Tomsic said options could include forwarding the decision to the planning commission, allowing the council to make the decision with public input, putting the decision to a public vote or appointing a committee to make a recommendation to the council.

Meanwhile, council member John Liebert said he has been in discussions with Wal-Mart and Costco about coming to Blaine and that they haven’t ruled the city out.

With pressures on such “big box” stores to leave Bellingham and Ferndale, Liebert said it could be a possible opportunity for Blaine’s 35-acre airport site, which sits just south of major Canadian metropolitan area – especially with regards to the rise in the Canadian dollar. He added that Costco seemed more interested than Wal Mart, and representatives were reviewing the Alternative Land Use Study at its Issaquah headquarters.

Liebert did not address the tendency of big box stores to locate just outside city limits to avoid paying taxes to the city.

Council member Bonnie Onyon said she liked the idea but wanted some sort of control over the type of store built there.

“I might not mind a Costco or a Trader Joe’s, or maybe even a Home Depot,” she said. “But Wal Mart doesn’t appeal to me.”

Council member Ken Ely, however, cautioned about being too specific, adding that council members have financial responsibility to the city.

“We may want a Bon Marche in there but we may get a Wal Mart with a truck stop,” he said. “And we’d better well consider it.” 

In answer to a question about how much public input should be allowed, Onyon said she feared that full public comment would open a “hornet's nest” and suggested councilors work with the planning commission instead.

Ely agreed. “Where the airport issue is concerned, I’ve had enough,” he said. “I don’t want to give special public meetings just because it’s an emotional issue.”

A second workshop to discuss financial issues surrounding the closure will be scheduled within a few weeks, although as an executive session it will not be open to the public.