Developer, city planners say impact on views of bay will be minimal
JOHN STARK - THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
BELLINGHAM – Over objections from some neighbors, city Planning Director Tim Stewart has approved height increases for new buildings proposed for developer David Ebenal’s Bellwether Gate project on Port of Bellingham property.
Buildings on the 3.1-acre site between the two Anthony’s restaurants had been restricted to 35 feet in height under the terms of a 1998 planned development contract between the port and the city. But Stewart has the legal authority to approve changes to that contract, and on Thursday, he agreed to allow Ebenal to build one 50-foot-tall building and three more that are planned for 38 feet.
At a Nov. 29 Bellingham Planning Commission hearing on the matter, residents of some nearby homes and condos complained that the bigger buildings would hurt their property values by encroaching on their views of Bellingham Bay. But port officials and Ebenal’s representatives said the developer would need a bigger building to help cover the multimillion-dollar cost of building 176 underground parking spots on the site. Underground parking is a public benefit because it leaves more space for public use, they argued.
Both the developer and city planners did analyses of the impact on views, and suggested that the impact would be minimal.
Other opponents argued it would be a breach of faith to change the 1998 height limits, which were put in place partly to allay neighborhood displeasure over the height of existing Bellwether buildings.
Planning commissioners split 3-3 in an advisory vote on the matter.
In granting the increased building heights, Stewart issued a statement saying that Ebenal’s project would “provide efficient use of land and existing infrastructure, will to pay the port $2.9 million for an 80-year lease on the property. The biggest of the four new buildings would contain ground-floor retail space, topped by two floors of office space for CH2M Hill and an upper floor with 10 condo units.
A public walkway along the shoreline also is included in the project, as well as a public plaza and open space areas.
Port Executive Director Jim Darling said Stewart’s ruling clears the way for final approval of Ebenal’s lease. He said construction was likely to begin on the first of the four buildings some time in 2008.
Reach John Stark at 715-2274 or firstname.lastname@example.org.