Councilapproves wharf district master plan

Published on Thu, Nov 15, 2007 by ara Nelson

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Council approves wharf district master plan

By Tara Nelson

Better beach access, pedestrian walkways and more mixed uses are some of the improvements that visitors to Blaine’s harbor can expect in upcoming years, according to a joint plan approved by the city of Blaine this week.

At their meeting Tuesday, Blaine city council voted 6-0 to approve a wharf district master plan developed in partnership with the Port of Bellingham that includes more than $29 million in projects and improvements over the next 10 years.

The plan will be added as an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan and includes roughly 400 feet of shoreline restoration on Marine Drive, a two-mile looping trail with a pedestrian bridge connecting the boardwalk and a future park planned for the end of Milhollin Drive.

“Our waterfront is so critical to the livability of this community,” said Blaine community development director Terry Galvin. “It is also part of our history. We want to get people down on the beach and that might mean some dumping of sand, removing rip rap and shoreline restoration. Right now, it’s dangerous for kids to play there.”

Other plans include a possible relocation of Blaine’s historical train depot, improved signage near the access point at Marine Drive and Peace Portal Drive, and more commercial development near the end of the peninsula.

Historical train depot relocation

Blaine resident Richard Sturgill said the Drayton Harbor Maritime group is working on a plan to acquire and relocate Blaine’s historical train depot.

Sturgill, the group’s founder and director, said the group was formerly known as Friends of the Plover, formed in 1988 in an effort to save and refurbish the Plover Ferry, a 32-foot wooden passenger ferry used by the Alaskan Pakers Association (APA) to transport workers to and from Tongue Point. Subsequently, the ferry began operating again in 1996.

The organization was also responsible for raising $600,000 in partnership with the Trillium corporation in 2002 to restore the 1898 cannery pier at Semiahmoo and open it to the public for the first time.
Sturgill said he had contact officials at the Houston office of Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railway and they had indicated they were willing to donate the building to the city or to the Drayton Harbor Maritime or the Port of Bellingham.

The building would likely be relocated to a future park slated for the end of Milhollin Drive and could be refurbished to include a coffee shop, community meeting rooms and a storage facility for youth sailing programs.

“It seemed like a natural to be able to try and save the seemingly abandoned and surplused depot and give it a new life sort of like the Plover. This is a historically significant structure.”
Marine Drive pier

In the past, several Blaine residents had also expressed their desire to keep the pier open to vehicles, citing a lack of public access to shorelines within the city – especially to vehicle traffic. Blaine has a long custom of “cruising the dock,” and many argue that vehicles provide transport for elderly residents and shelter from harsh elements on stormy days.

Galvin said he understood the cultural and historical relevance but that costs could be as much as $2 to $3 million.

“It really comes down to how bad this community wants access to the pier and if we do, we’re going to have to pay for it,” Galvin said.

Port of Bellingham planning and development director Sylvia Goodwin agreed. In previous meetings, she has said the pier is in need of serious upgrades and because it was built out of a former railroad trestle and filled in with gravel, the entire structural support system of the pier would need to be replaced.

Height limits

The plan imposes height restrictions of 40 or 50 feet in most areas with some taller buildings allowed near Peace Portal Drive. Galvin said this was an effort to preserve view corridors from the newly constructed G and H Street plazas.

Goodwin also requested that the city provide a variance for boat repair buildings that need to be taller than 40 feet.

What’s next?

The plan will go before the next meeting of the Port of Bellingham commissioners December 4.

The port, which owns the majority of the district’s 105 acres, has already indicated they will approve the plan after the city does.

For more information, contact the Port of Bellingham at 360/676-2500 or the city of Blaine at 332-8311.

The final draft of the plan is also available for viewing by visiting the city of Blaine’s web site at www.ci.blaine.wa.us.