For decades, Birch Bay residents have shared a goal of a county park on Birch Bay Drive with restrooms and other public facilities, but lately the groups pushing for a park have disagreed on where it should be located.
Whatcom County Council in March authorized county executive Jack Louws to spend up to $9,000 appraising a property for acquisition, forcing the question about which of two potential properties to choose. That decision now rests with the Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Commission, which will work with parks and recreation department director Michael McFarlane to draft its recommendation. The commission’s next regular meeting, which includes time for public input, will be held at the Birch Bay Activity Center in Bay Horizon Park, 7511 Gemini Street in Birch Bay. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 17 at 6:30 p.m. An agenda can be found on the county website, co.whatcom.wa.us/parks/parkscommission.
The two properties in question are located within a mile of one another on Birch Bay Drive. Both include beachfront. The four-acre northern property, owned by the Vogt family and located just north of the Birch Bay Visitor’s Center at 7954 Birch Bay Drive, is listed for sale at $3.75 million. The 11-acre southern property is in the 7600 block of Birch Bay Drive, just north of the Alderson Road intersection, and is listed at $3.5 million.
Beach access on the southern property would require a bridge over Terrell Creek, which would require extra permitting since the creek is salmon restoration habitat. A legal injunction on the property might further complicate its sale.
Harry Skinner, a Birch Bay resident who is a proponent for the southern property, said any complications are easily amenable and worth undertaking given the attributes of the site.
“It’s probably the most beautiful piece of beach property along Birch Bay Drive,” he said. “There are already bridges over Terrell Creek, and there are lots of features on the property that make it attractive. It’s about two-and-a-half times the size of the other property and it costs less.” Skinner added that although he favors the southern site, his primary concern is that the public be included in the selection process.
The Birch Bay Community Center and Beach Park Committee, an unofficial group of locals who first presented the park proposal to the county in 2013, maintain the north park site holds the most advantages. Their proposal highlights the fact that the site is “shovel ready” for development, centrally located and the current owners have endorsed the park concept.
Louws said he asked McFarlane to meet with the county parks commission to come up with a recommendation. The commission is comprised of two citizens from each of three districts in Whatcom County and a seventh “at large” member.
Richard C. Sturgill and Paul Woodcock are the members from the district that includes Birch Bay. McFarlane said the group would visit both sites if access can be arranged.
The commission will base its determination on the needs outlined in the proposal submitted by the Birch Bay Community Center and Beach Park Committee. The proposal is a 43-page document that makes a case for a beachside park with restrooms, parking, trashcans and other public facilities in a “park-like” setting. It includes a conceptual rendering based on the Vogt property.
In addition to the needs outlined in the proposal the commission will consider the limitations of each property, including wetlands mitigation, setbacks and permitting, McFarlane said.
The commission will make its recommendation to the county executive following the April 17 meeting. County staff will then analyze the property before an appraisal is done
“It’s a multi-faceted process,” Louws said. “We need to have a discussion with the property owner, for one. We also need to analyze the property with respect to critical areas, wetlands, setbacks and geological studies.”
An item in the “future needs” section of the 2004 Birch Bay subarea plan of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan called for public parking, restrooms and showers in one to three county parks along Birch Bay Drive, and the Birch Bay Comprehensive Plan drafted in 1977 included similar plans. Currently, the only public restroom on Birch Bay Drive is located at the Alderson Road junction and is only open Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Even if a new park were approved it would likely be another five to six years for a full park to be developed with at least four years before public restrooms and parking were built, McFarlane said.