City to regulate vacant storefronts in Blaine’s central business district

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City staff will begin drafting new amendments to the Blaine Municipal Code to address vacant storefronts in downtown Blaine, after city councilmembers voted 7-0 to authorize the development of new municipal regulations.

At their February 10 meeting, councilmembers unanimously approved Resolution 1789-20 “initiating amendments to the Blaine Municipal Code to authorize regulation of exterior building maintenance and street-level vacant commercial space in the Central Business District.”

Introducing the measure to councilmembers, Blaine community development director Stacie Pratschner said that her department first held a study session with councilmembers in late January. “We covered the statutory background for these sorts of rules and regulations,” she said. “We also included a review of our Comprehensive Plan’s economic development goals and policies and how an ordinance like this would be in compliance with those goals and policies. We also reviewed some model ordinances together from Yakima, Seattle, Olympia and Everett. What it came down to was talking about the city’s desire to create some additional incentives for folks in the Central Business District who own property that is currently vacant to hopefully fill those spaces.”

In discussion, councilmember Eric Davidson said that it’s important to provide downtown property owners with positive incentives to develop pedestrian-friendly storefronts and a high-quality consumer shopping experience.

“We’ve had discussions about the carrot and the stick,” Davidson said. “And I see ‘stick’ in here but I don’t necessarily see ‘carrot.’ … I’m all for regulations, but it’s got to be a good balance.… What are our thoughts on not just punishing the people who aren’t doing what’s right but rewarding the people who are doing okay?”

Responding to Davidson, Pratschner said that her department will aim to build on existing economic development incentives like a recently-passed multi-family housing tax exemption and the relaxation of parking requirements in the central business district for new commercial uses.

“We do want to continue to emphasize … not just the stick but the carrot as well,” Pratschner said. “We put a lot of emphasis on looking at the city of Everett’s code, which has a bit more of that approach to it, that economic development/aesthetic approach versus a jurisdiction like Yakima or in Seattle, where it is very much focused on making sure properties are properly locked and secured so there’s not folks trespassing. … So we’ll look forward to looking at some incentive programs.”

Mayor Bonnie Onyon said she looks forward to seeing what code amendments Pratschner’s department comes up with in due course. “The devil’s in the details,” Onyon said, “and those will come to us at a later time and then we can discuss various aspects.”

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