The Bellingham waterfront redevelopment project took a huge step forward this week when the City Council and the Port of Bellingham Commissioners adopted the complete package of master planning and development agreements for the Waterfront District.
The City Council approved the Waterfront District master plan and associated documents on Monday Dec. 2, 2013. And the Port Commission approved the package of documents on Tuesday Dec. 3, 2013.
“I am ready to move forward and I believe the entire community is ready to move from planning the waterfront redevelopment to actually doing it,” said Port Commission President Jim Jorgensen who noted that his first meeting as a newly-elected commissioner in January 2005 included the historical vote for the Port to acquire the Georgia Pacific pulp and paper mill site. “This is a day for celebration,” he added.
The approved documents include a master plan, development regulations, development agreements, planned action ordinance and an interlocal agreement for facilities that describes the investments the Port and City are committing to make in the 237-acre waterfront site.
“Today we are celebrating an important step for our community and the achievement of a significant, decade-long project.” Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said. “Our goals were cleanup and habitat restoration, public access to the water and good paying jobs, and these plans and agreements set the stage for achieving these goals. It is the result of an incredible amount of work by the City, the Port and our community, and offers many opportunities to live, work, visit and invest in our community for decades to come.
Linville added that it also is an important personal milestone for her. “My father was a fisherman and I grew up on our waterfront. I have been involved in Bellingham’s waterfront policies since I was state Legislator, and completing a waterfront plan was one of the reasons I wanted to be Mayor,” she said. “Our community has been separated from our waterfront for many decades, and this plan will allow waterfront access right in our downtown.”
Although environmental cleanup projects, demolition and site preparation have been underway for several years, the approval sets the stage for redevelopment work to begin. This will include design and construction of early roads, parks and trails, as well as selection of developers to begin making investments in the property.
“Our goal is to find developers who share the community’s vision for the waterfront and who have the ability to be long-term partners in this important development,” said Port Executive Director Rob Fix.
Job creation is a key element of the project and attracting new family wage jobs is a shared priority for the Port and City. When Georgia Pacific was at its peak, about 1,200 full-time family wage jobs were on the site.
“It is a good agreement that reflects collaboration and compromise between the City and the Port,” Bellingham City Council President Seth Fleetwood said. “This plan will transform an isolated and contaminated site into a vibrant and thriving place that is restored and accessible. It reflects Bellingham’s cultural values as described in the Waterfront Futures Group vision and affirmed by our many advisory groups in the years since. It is a dynamic plan that moves us forward, yet flexible enough to allow for change in the years ahead. “
These redevelopment plans underwent a decade of public participation and planning that began in January 2003, when the Port and City established the citizen-led Waterfront Futures Group. This group spent over a year guiding the community through a visioning process for all 11 miles of Bellingham Bay shoreline within the city limits. Because Georgia Pacific was in the process of phasing out its pulp and paper mill, the industrial waterfront area received the most focus from the Waterfront Futures Group.
In 2004 the Port undertook a year-long comprehensive analysis of whether to acquire the Georgia Pacific property. This included developing partnership agreements with the City of Bellingham and the state Department of Ecology. In January 2005, the Port Commission voted to acquire the property and the Port and City adopted an interlocal agreement that established a long-term site partnership for planning, cleanup and development.
The newly approved Interlocal Agreement for Facilities replaces that original partnership agreement and sets out specific project and cleanup responsibilities, linked to site development and density.
All of the adopted agreements are available on the Port and City websites.