Today’s Decisions Affect Bellingham’s Future

To celebrate the 24th year of publishing Whatcom Watch, we will be printing excerpts from 20 years ago. David M. Laws has been generous enough to volunteer to review the Whatcom Watch for 20 years ago to find suitable material to reprint. The below excerpts are from the January 1996 issue of Whatcom Watch.

by Tim Douglas

On a gorgeous spring morning, a plane lands at Bellingham International Airport. Passengers unload and their first impressions will linger: a clean, green, vibrant yet orderly community.

Cherry blossoms festoon the Airport entry drive. As they turn east onto Airport Way, our visitors enter an attractive light industrial area. A broad array of technologies is represented. Nicely landscaped, well maintained grounds complement attractive architecture. Exercise trails link natural areas preserved here and there throughout the complex.

This light industrial job base complements adjacent neighborhoods. Homes and apartments are within easy walking distance of work. “Not the traffic congestion of home,” notes one visitor. Across Interstate 5, Mt. Baker is framed by a boulevard. Its green median reflects the beauty of the mountain backdrop. The village-like commercial and residential clusters along the street are unlike the mega-shopping centers which have swallowed so much of the Puget Sound basin.

The year is 2010. Obviously some good decisions were made back in the 1990’s. Here is a city with distinctive character “announced”  by its carefully developed northern Gateway. “This as no accident,” concludes one visitor. The group moves on to explore the rest of this unique city.

No fairy tale. Bellingham and Whatcom County are making decisions right now which will define our future. We all ought to embrace the northern fringe as part of our city, not just some No Man’s Land to  be left to its own devices.

A pivotal issue is the Gateway Industrial designation of 23 acres west of I-5, with a 10,000 square foot maximum for retail buildings. This zoning recommended by the Planning Commission offers property owners greater economic return. It adds to our light industrial land supply. Airport and freeway access provide obvious advantages for light manufacturing.

The Bellingham City Council has rezoned 98 acres along the Bakerview corridor to Commercial planned Mixed use. This and the now-vacant Smith’s and Silo stores offer ample opportunity for retail expansion. Yet the Garrett Rezone west of I-5 proposes 41 more acres for potential commercial use. That’s 8 acres bigger than Sunset Square!
What about traffic circulation? Discount retail and fast food outlets are now the most likely commercial tenants these days. They produce much more traffic congestion than light industrial. Small manufacturing can stagger its work hours to reduce traffic impacts. Maplewood, Bennett Drive and Bakerview converge jujst west of the freeway. The best land uses to avoid congestion are residential and light industrial. We must avoid creating a bottleneck for truck access to Marine Drive industrial sites.

Finally residential and light manufacturing are complementary neighbors. Hours of operation, site design, traffic, noise and glare from light manufacturing should have less impact on residential than will commercial. There are few places yet in Bellingham where people can walk from their homes to manufacturing jobs. This would be a plus.
Bakerview will be our northern gateway. It will make a strong statement about Bellingham’s vitality and attractiveness. The Planning Commission’s proposed zoning is the right way to proceed. Citizen voices need to be heard as the City Council decides how this important piece of Bellingham will look in 2010 and beyond.

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