City council approves plaza lease agreement

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Outdoor dining will now be a permanent option in downtown Blaine plazas, thanks to a unanimous Blaine City Council vote that allows establishments to lease the H, G and Martin Street plazas.

Blaine City Council voted 6-0 with councilmember Eric Davidson excused, on ordinance 21-2961 during a June 28 council meeting. Businesses can pay for yearlong use of the plaza for $9 per square foot or a six-month lease during the city’s peak season, May through October, for $6 per square foot.

The lease agreement will go into effect July 6, city of Blaine’s economic development and tourism coordinator Alex Wenger said. One business is very interested and another considered leasing plaza area but is not actively pursuing it, he said.

“We’re not anticipating a high volume of applications off the bat but it’s a great program,” Wenger said in an interview after the council meeting. “As downtown continues to grow and new restaurants move in, it will be a great tool to increase economic development downtown.”

City staff made the fees $1 per square foot per month for the peak season and 50 cents for months outside of peak season, according to a memo to city council.

The city had considered a monthly lease but decided that would create too much work for staff and would be unpredictable, Wenger told councilmembers during the meeting.

Leasing plaza space will be first come, first serve, but Wenger said the city is not expecting a high volume of applicants based on conversations with businesses.

Organizations can still obtain a parks special use permit that allow 100 percent use of plaza space for activities like the farmers market and the tree lighting ceremony, Wenger said. A business with a lease agreement would have priority over parks special use permits for plaza space, he added.

“We gave it our best shot but there may be future amendments needed to this. I think we have a really good proposal together but we may need to amend this in the future,” Wenger said during the council meeting.

Blaine city manager Michael Jones issued an emergency order on June 9, 2020 that allowed businesses with a special permit to use plazas for commercial use, which city council approved later that month. The order was created to help businesses during the pandemic and was set to expire when the city terminated its emergency proclamation.

City council decided in April for Blaine’s community development services and public works departments to look into creating a leasing program to continue plaza use after the pandemic. The departments worked together to draft amendments to the right-of-way section in Blaine Municipal Code and the streets unified fee schedule.

The changes didn’t require a public hearing or notice, according to city staff.

Payments will be collected annually, according to the city memo. Council may also update plaza fees through a resolution.

The public works department has the authority to approve, conditionally approve or deny an application, according to the right-of-way changes in the Blaine Municipal Code. When looking at an application, public works staff will consider if the proposed business would unreasonably interfere with businesses or activities already approved in the area; cause risk or damage; or interfere with operation and maintenance of public infrastructure.

If two businesses are vying for the same plaza space, Wenger said public works staff would work to divide the space and come to an agreement for both parties.

“It would be a great problem to have multiple businesses interested in plazas,” he said.

Commercial plaza use may not take over more than 35 percent of a plaza and 65 percent of the plaza must remain open to the public. A 12-foot space is reserved for adjoining properties’ business activities and is included in the 35 percent of the plaza space. There’s no fee in the lease agreement for the 12-foot space that is used as a sidewalk for business access.

“The plazas shall primarily be for public use and enjoyment,” the new code states.

Any plaza area not used will be open to the public and weather canopies and dining enclosures are permitted, according to the code.

“We can change this. This is a test case in a way,” mayor Bonnie Onyon said during the meeting. “We’re going to see how it works and we might have to modify it in the future but I think this is a really good start to allow these businesses to use this space.”

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