Developers discuss their plans for downtown Blaine

Published on Wed, Sep 2, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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Blaine City Council’s recent action excusing water and sewer hookup fees has given new life to a 58-room three story hotel project, according to developer Fred Pakzak. The $3.3 million project is planned for the corner of Fourth and D streets, and Pakzak said he  hopes to have it open and working by the Olympics next February.

According to Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic, “The council’s action reduces the general facility fees for both water and sewer to zero. This is citywide and applies to anyone who is required to get a new water and/or sewer connection. It applies only to the GFF and not to the actual connection fee which covers the actual connection of pipes and meters.”

The resolution does not allow for the council to refund fees paid prior to the effective date of the resolution which was the day after it passed, August 24. In passing the resolution the council determined that the operation, maintenance and debt service obligations do not require this fee and can be covered through the monthly service fee.

“This saved us about $300,000 in up-front costs, so we are back on track with a three to four month delay in our original plan,” said Pakzak, an American currently living in Richmond, B.C.

Other developers with projects in the wings agree that the hookup fee holiday is helpful, but aside from Pakzak none of them said it will, by itself, be the difference in making a project happen.

Fairhaven Developer Ken Imus, who is currently working on the former Worldly Treasures building on Peace Portal Way, said that the idea is to encourage developers to the extent that several of them come in and a kind of critical mass is reached. “If we can create activity  and make believers out of people then it will make the whole thing work. But the numbers have to make sense. So the fee waiver for water and sewer hookup helps.”

Imus hired architect Kathleen Hill who is also working on the Port of Bellingham’s plans for Blaine Harbor. “It all can work together and when it happens it can be pretty exciting,” Imus said.

Even though he was proceeding with his project before the waiver was announced, Imus said the fee waiver makes good sense because once a project is completed then the activity it generates creates more income for the city than one-time charges and fees. “Ocean shores did this and in four years they increased their tax revenue over 400 percent,” Imus said, “and that continues year after year.”

Former county parks director and Bellingham mayor Ken Hertz said it will benefit his Grandis Pond project but that it’s still several years away. “One of the issues in Blaine is the higher impact fees, so this does make a difference,” Hertz said. His 450 acre tract in east Blaine will eventually have 1,030 homesites, 930 of them single family residences. “The project has been accepted pending planning commission and city council approval, but we have had to hold off waiting for the East Blaine plan to be adopted by the city,” Hertz said.

“It’s not going to make the floodgates open,” said local realtor Chuck Green, “because there’s no market here. But it helps. I just had a phone call from a manufacturer who was looking and was quite interested since with the fee waiver Blaine may be a cheaper place for him to locate.”

“It sends a positive message to developers and investors that the city is open for business and is saving people money,” said Todd Lapinsky, president of Credo construction, the company that’s building the Viva Biofarm pharmaceutical factory on Odell.

The $30 million project is close to submitting material for permits to build the first building, which will be 72,000 square feet.

“When this came out it will save us a substantial amount of money in the front end,” Lapinsky said. “In business
money goes where it’s welcome, and this is a statement saying that business is welcome in Blaine.”