Homes are already for sale at the first of three new housing developments in east Blaine that could bring about 1,400 new homes to the area over the next 15 years. Developers say they are the biggest projects on the horizon in Whatcom County, and they’ll increase Blaine’s housing stock by more than 50 percent, according to data from the state Office of Financial Management.
The three projects are all north of H Street. From smallest to largest and west to east, they are called Bridges Plat, East Maple Ridge and Grandis Pond. The projects, years in the making, were spurred by the city investing in new water, sewer and electric lines to the area, making the projects appealing to developers who had been sitting on the land for years.
“With the expansion of the sewer and the water line up the hill to East Maple Ridge, and Lincoln Park, and eventually to Grandis Pond, we’re going to have a large land bank of buildable product in a beautiful area. It’s just going to be a great place to live,” said Blaine realtor Ron Freeman, in a city of Blaine press release on the projects.
Bellingham-based Skeers Construction is nearly finished with the first houses at Bridges Plat, just northeast of Lincoln Park. The project will consist of 18 single-family homes that will be complete in an estimated two to three years, said David Monks, vice president for Skeers Construction. Skeers began building utilities and roads in the development last year and started construction on homes this year. Seven houses are currently under construction, and some that are nearly complete have already sold.
Those homes will be mostly between 1,800 and 2,200 square feet, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and two-car garages. The project is Skeers Construction’s first in Blaine.
“We’re just really excited to be up there. It’s a nice environment and a great location,” Monks said.
While the project is small compared to the others, it’s the first stop for a crucial link in utility infrastructure that will help the other projects connect to city water, sewer and electric lines.
The preliminary plat for East Maple Ridge, a forested area between Jerome Street and Harvey Road, calls for about 350 homes on about 80 acres. Crews have started clearing land for that project.
That development will include a mix of single-family, cottage and multi-family housing types, according to planning documents. It will also include a neighborhood commercial center with 24,000 square feet of commercial space.
Owners and developers Skip and Katie Jansen said the development will include a city park, three ponds, bike and pedestrian paths, a sports field and hundreds of mature maple and evergreen trees.
Of the three projects, the biggest and farthest from downtown is Grandis Pond. That project, east of Harvey Road, would develop 387 residential lots on about 119 acres in its first phase and about 1,000 total lots on 438 acres within 10-15 years, depending on market conditions, said owner and developer Ken Hertz, president of Blossom
Hertz said he will likely break ground in 2022, depending on utility infrastructure; the city is working to build infrastructure to the project, but doesn’t have funds to do it yet. “We’re looking at a couple of options for getting it to the site, but ultimately we would like to see some assistance,” Hertz said.
The first phase for Grandis Pond would include seven neighborhoods with a mix of single-family homes and cottage homes, according to the project’s preliminary plat approval. Of the 438 total acres, 190 will be open space, wildlife corridors and parks, Hertz said in a press release.
Hertz was Bellingham’s mayor from 1976 to 1982 and in his career has worked on other projects including parts of the Cordata area in Bellingham and Semiahmoo Resort. Blossom Management bought the Grandis Pond land in the mid-2000s, Hertz said. It’s currently the biggest project in the pipeline in Whatcom County, he said.
“At this point in time it’s pretty rare to have a subdivision this size because there is not much land available with utilities,” he said. “That’s a thing of the past.”
The city of Blaine has long planned for development in the east Blaine area. The city annexed the east Blaine area into the city in 1996, according to its East Blaine Infrastructure plan.
The east Blaine area is projected to support almost 40 percent of the city’s needed housing stock over the next 20 years, said Stacie Pratschner, city of Blaine community development director. While the area has seen interest from developers over the years, developers balked at the cost of bringing utility lines to the area. All three development projects received initial approval in 2010 and 2011, and connection to sewer, water and electricity is one reason they didn’t begin earlier.
The city invested more than $300,000 from its wastewater capital fund to build about 1,500 feet of water and sewer line through Lincoln Park to the Bridges Plat project in 2017. The city submitted a proposal to state legislators for additional funding that same year.
The state allocated $1.2 million for new utility infrastructure in east Blaine in 2018 and an additional $500,000 for the project the following year.
A city press release on the new developments praised District 42 legislators for their work in securing the funds.
“They saw the need to increase housing availability in Whatcom County and the city’s desire to fulfill our growth plans as a perfect match,” city manager Michael Jones said. “Through their help and the dedication of the city council, we were able to get the funding to make the east Blaine infrastructure expansion a reality.”
Currently, water and sewer lines reach North Harvey Road, and electric lines terminate at East Maple Ridge, Jones said. For all three projects, the developers are responsible for the cost of building utility infrastructure within the developments, as well as internal roads.
When approving preliminary plats for the project, some city council members said they hoped the developments would ease the local housing shortage. As of August, Whatcom County had 1.1 months of housing inventory, according to the Northwest Multiple Listings Service. That means no houses would be left on the market in 1.1 months without new homes coming up for sale. A rule of thumb in real estate says that six months of inventory is a balanced market.
In addition to the east Blaine projects, there are about 100 other homes in the pipeline elsewhere in Blaine, Pratschner said, with nearly 40 on the way at the Drayton Reach development south of Montfort Park and another 40 at a couple of other projects currently underway at Semiahmoo.
Filling all those units would mean tremendous growth for Blaine, a town with an estimated population of 5,607, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 estimate. The state Office of Financial Management (OFM) estimates that Blaine currently has 2,689 total housing units. According to OFM data, Blaine has added 343 housing units since 2010, when there were 2,346 in city limits.
The accompanying population increase will have good and bad effects for Blaine, Jones said. It will add tax base to the city and customers to local businesses, but it will increase the requirements for city services.
“It will substantially increase the number of people in the area, which has both positive and negative effects,” he said.