Blaine meeting discusses height limits

Published on Thu, Jul 14, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Some Blaine residents and business owners want to see views of the marina and Semiahmoo Spit rather than encourage development on the west side of Peace Portal Drive that would block their views.

That was the most prevalent message from attendees at the last of four downtown Blaine discussion sessions hosted by planning staff. The sessions were meant to elicit ideas and suggestions from Blaine residents and business owners on how to make the downtown area friendlier to developers and tourists.

The focus of the last meeting, held June 28, was to present ideas gleaned from previous sessions that the city of Blaine could eventually implement.

Blaine community planning director Michael Jones and planning consultant Anindita Mitra led discussions on ideas such as allowing ground-floor residential development in downtown and altering height restrictions to allow taller buildings near I-5.

Mitra said Blaine might consider revising downtown codes to form-based codes, which would provide greater distinction to the area and allow for flexibility in use. Form-based code would be centered around a specific type of building or location and would, for example, provide clear regulations on what could and could not be done in the construction of a two-story building.

Jones explained the city is also considering changing the ways building heights are regulated by addressing specific heights on a block-by-block basis rather than with zoning code. Currently, buildings in the commercial business market zone, which includes most of downtown Blaine, are limited to 46 feet tall.

As one alternative to the current height regulations, Blaine planning staff proposed increased building heights closer to I-5 and H and Martin Streets that gradually decreased to the outskirts of downtown. This idea included increasing building heights on the west side of Peace Portal Drive.

However, most talk of increasing building heights on the west side of the railroad tracks met with sharp criticism from meeting attendees. Blaine resident Todd Hollarn said the views of the marina and lack of development on the west side of Peace Portal are some of Blaine’s features that make the town a desirable place to live.

Current zoning regulations allow buildings no taller than 36 feet to be built on the west side of Peace Portal, Jones said. Existing rules also require view corridors, such as the plazas at the ends of H and G streets.

In addition to lowering building heights west of Peace Portal, some meeting attendees thought the city should buy the majority of vacant property there and turn it into a large city park. Jones, however, said the city would have to win the lottery for anything like that to happen in the near future.

When it came to building heights along I-5, near the east ends of F and G streets, most meeting attendees thought the city should allow buildings approaching seven stories.

Horseshoe Coin and Antiques owner Bill Becht said the city needs a medium-scale hotel or motel and suggested the land directly west of I-5 as the perfect space for one.

Jones said the suggestions on zoning and building height regulations will be taken before Blaine’s planning commission for discussion.