Commission tables Birch Bay park location discussion

Published on Wed, Apr 23, 2014 by Ian Ferguson

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The sound of rain on the roof of the Birch Bay Activity Center almost drowned out much of the Whatcom County Park and Recreation Commission meeting last Thursday, but that didn’t stop Birch Bay residents from having their say about the location of a future beachside park on Birch Bay.

With two possible locations, the beachfront properties in question are located less than a mile apart on Birch Bay Drive. A few Birch Bay residents attended the April 17 meeting to advise commissioners on which property the county should purchase for a park.

Although all nine Birch Bay residents who spoke agreed on the need for a beachside park, they were split on location. After listening to both sides, the commission chose to defer its decision until its next meeting. The six-person citizens board will then submit its recommendation to the county executive.

“I motion that we table the issue for another month so we can have time to educate ourselves,” commissioner Theresa Sygitowcz said.

The four-acre northern property, owned by the Vogt family and located just north of the Birch Bay Visitor Information Center at 7954 Birch Bay Drive, is listed for sale at $3.75 million. The 11-acre southern property, in the 7600 block of Birch Bay Drive just north of the Alderson Road intersection, is listed at $3.5 million.

A desire for restrooms and parking in a central location on the bay was a common theme of arguments for the northern property.

“There’s a saying: if you come to Birch Bay, in a couple hours, you’ve got to go,” Billy Brown said. “The Vogt property is smack dab in the middle of where the beach restoration project will be. It’s where we have all our festivals and events, and we need facilities right there in the middle of the bay.”

Proponents of the southern property argued it would give the county over twice the space for around the same price, and would also increase beach access.

“Creating a park on the southern property would open up public access to a great beach on a neat little spit that the public can’t currently get to. If a developer moves into the northern property, there will still be public access to that section of beach,” Keith Alesse said. “The park is not just for the people of Birch Bay; it’s to preserve beach access for the people in all of Whatcom County who aren’t lucky enough to own waterfront.”

Agreeing that both sites have merits and admitting that the county has yet to do any sort of in-depth analysis of either site, Whatcom County Park and Recreation Director Mike MacFarlane said the county is bound by an appraisal regardless of the asking price. The county intends to have an independent appraisal of whichever property they feel warrants purchasing.

“If we had the funds, we’d buy both properties,” MacFarlane said in the echoing gymnasium over the din of the rainstorm. 

“This is not an easy choice. I see strong points on both sides,” said commission chair Paul Woodcock.

After the meeting, MacFarlane clarified why the decision was tabled.

“Some of the commissioners would like to explore questions such as how the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility project would affect the northern property. Some may want to view the sites at low tide, and some wanted to review the information they already have. It will be on the agenda at their next meeting.”

That meeting, scheduled for Thursday, May 15 at the Tennant Lake Park Interpretive Center at Hovander Park in Ferndale, will also include public comment.