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Bellingham Herald   March 04, 2009

Architects suggest blend of port, Bellingham waterfront plans

By John Stark

BELLINGHAM - Nine local architects will present a plan Wednesday, March 4, that they hope will resolve differences between the city and Port of Bellingham over waterfront redevelopment issues.

"We are optimistic that this report will enable the final pieces of a master plan to reach a successful conclusion," the report states.

At the meeting of the Bellingham City Council and Port of Bellingham commissioners it may become apparent if the architects' recommendations will succeed in helping port and city officials reach agreement on issues that have divided them on redevelopment of 220 acres of mostly-idle waterfront industrial land on the central waterfront. Much of that land was formerly occupied by Georgia-Pacific Corp.'s pulp and paper operations.

Some highlights:

  •  Street alignment: Architects suggest that existing streets could be extended straight into the eastern portion of the site, as Mayor Dan Pike has favored. But they should then be angled to an east-west alignment, as the port prefers, for better solar energy opportunities and views.
  • Old brick buildings: The architects urge that streets should be routed in a way that does not force destruction of buildings that could be converted to new uses, as the city prefers. They call for extensive analysis of reuse opportunities, but they also note that reuse may ultimately prove to be impossible.
  • Regulatory certainty: The architects agree with port officials that planning and zoning rules should be approved in advance, so developers can get projects started without a time-consuming review process.

The architects' report also contains some new suggestions:

  • New library: Instead of eventual construction of a new library on its existing site next to City Hall, the report suggests a site south of Chestnut Street, between Bay and Commercial streets, possibly as part of a mixed-use building that would include parking and could be built partly with private funds.
  • Public plaza: The architects envision construction of the plaza atop railroad tracks, between Bay Street and Cornwall Avenue, linking downtown to the waterfront.
  •  Interim uses: Since it may take decades for the waterfront to redevelop as now envisioned, plans should be developed for interim uses of vacant land, including everything from light industrial to "intense urban agriculture."

The architects also urge port and city officials to revive the idea of a pedestrian bridge over Whatcom Waterway. Such a bridge had been part of original community waterfront visions but has been absent from planners' waterfront maps and drawings for well over a year. The architects say such a bridge is an important link between the main waterfront area and the new marina the port expects to build inside the old G-P treatment lagoon.

Terry Brown, one of the architects who worked on the report, said he's convinced that its recommendations could be implemented using existing information in the lengthy environmental impact statement that has already received many months of public review and comment.

Other architects who participated were Sharon Robinson, Terry Moore, Bob Ross, John Stewart, Brad Cornwell, Doug Landsem, David Christensen and Curt Carpenter.

"We are confident that a revised master plan layout can be achieved that is not so much as a compromise, but achieves true synergy that is greater than the sum of the parts," the report concludes. "The revised layout must create a 'Wow!' excitement factor, that will create desire for economic development and the community's connection to our waterfront."