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Developers Have Big Plans in Bellingham, Washington's Bakerview Area
Which Include Three Planned Lodging Facilities

A 77-unit Pacific Plaza Motel, a 204-room Marriott and an 87-room La Quinta Inn


By Jared Paben, The Bellingham Herald, Wash.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Oct. 03, 2010--BELLINGHAM -- Developer Morgan Bartlett wants to build a motel along West Bakerview Road near Interstate 5, and plans to follow it with a convention center and restaurant.

Near where the Jack in the Box went in at Northwest Avenue, a hotel group has permits to build a Marriott. Another hotel is planned nearby.

"I love the future, especially out here," said Bartlett, the commercial property owner who built Bakerview Square shopping center, which is still landing tenants even in a recession. "If we keep going, (even) through the recession, I can only imagine what we'll do when it turns around.

"Even today, you look up and down (Bakerview) and see a lot of vacant land," he added.

Developers see the corridor as prime for growth, and various proposals would enable more of it. Three hotels are planned, the city will consider a rezone that would allow large retail development, and thousands of homes could come as part of a proposed annexation. Developers see this as a desirable place to develop and a natural location for the city to grow.

"Close to the freeway, close to major shopping, why wouldn't that be the logical extension?" asked Ron Jepson, who is working to annex 265 acres between Pacific Highway and Aldrich Road.

Growth faces challenges, however, especially from already-congested streets and plentiful wetlands. The state is studying options to reduce congestion where it's currently the worst: the Bakerview/I-5 interchange.

REZONING LAND

Late last year, Richard and Janis Barsetti Gray applied to rezone about 10 acres north of Bakerview (roughly across from Fred Meyer) from industrial property to industrial/commercial. In February, the City Council voted to have staff study the proposal and bring it back for final council consideration.

The council is scheduled to hold a hearing and consider it Monday, Oct. 11.

In late 2007 a company submitted an application asking for the same rezone to allow construction of a WinCo Foods. The council rejected it in 2008.

In February, some council members said they support the idea of having a mixed-use urban village-type development in that area, rather than large retail surrounded by large parking lots. "I will vote against it if it's going straight commercial," council member Jack Weiss said at the time.

PLANNED HOTELS

In late August, Bartlett submitted an application for a four-story, 77-unit motel near Bakerview and Pacific Highway. The motel, called "Pacific Plaza," would be accessed via Pacific Highway.

Bartlett sees long-term potential there, particularly with airport growth and good visibility from I-5. He hopes to get a permit in the next few months.

At some point, he'd like to see a convention center and restaurant built adjacent to the hotel. "I like to take one project at a time, as best I can," he said.

Along Northwest Avenue south of Bakerview, 360 Hotel Group of Lynnwood has a permit for a five-story, 204-room Marriott hotel.

Surrey, B.C.,-based Citadel Inc. in May held a pre-application meeting with the city for a proposed four-story, 87-room hotel west of Northwest and south of Bakerview. Plans showed it as a La Quinta Inn. It would access Bakerview Road west of the Starbucks.

Bellingham Transportation Planner Chris Comeau said the developers are conducting a traffic study for it.

ANNEXATION PROPOSALS

In January 2008 landowners got initial council approval to annex land on both sides of I-5, which would allow the city to extend new utility connections, a big step toward enabling urban development.

The Pacific Highway-Aldrich Annexation would include 265 acres between Pacific Highway and Aldrich Road, north of city limits up to roughly Larrabee Road. Developers envision possibly up to 1,000 homes served by new streets and roundabouts connecting Northwest with Pacific Highway and Bakerview at the Fred Meyer traffic signal.

Because of wetlands on site, they'd like to do a high-density development, possibly with low-rise towers on the buildable areas, said Jepson, a partner in a development company that owns 110 acres there.

The new streets could connect to the new June Road extension, providing Cordata residents a straight western access to Northwest and Pacific Highway.

The annexation has encountered a hurdle, however, because planners and developers disagree about how much study of wetlands and streams should be done by developers before it's considered for annexation.

The Bennett-Bakerview-Airport Drive Annexation would pull into city limits 175 acres west of I-5 on both sides of Bakerview. The City Council gave initial approval in August 2007. Most of the property in that area is zoned industrial, and most properties already use city utilities, city planner Moshe Quinn said.

The sticking point here is traffic, Quinn said. In May he wrote a letter to Doug Campbell of Associated Project Consultants stating the city wants a comprehensive traffic study for the annexation.

HIGH-TRAFFIC AREA

Congestion already occurs during rush hour at the Bakerview/I-5 interchange; growth, particularly of the airport and nearby industrial areas, will "put tremendous pressure on this interchange," Comeau said.

"The reality is there isn't enough capacity on the bridge to serve the demand that's there," he said.

Developers will have to meet various transportation laws, including a new Bellingham law that assigns person trips to an area by counting the ability of the network to move cars, pedestrians, bicyclists and bus riders. Developments draw down that number, like withdrawing from a checking account. No development will be allowed to overdraw the "account."

They'll also be reviewed under state environmental law, under which the city can require developers to make street improvements to account for the traffic impacts their projects will produce. But the overpass is already congested, and the city couldn't hold a developer responsible for a new bridge because it would be disproportional to the impacts of their project, Comeau said.

Still, he sees opportunities for governments and private developers to partner for a new interchange. The No. 1 issue is safety, he said, and during high-congestion times, drivers tend to take risks.

City officials worked with the DOT to coordinate traffic signals along the corridor, aiming to reduce congestion during rush hours. The biggest benefit was seen for westbound traffic during the evening rush hour, according to an April study. In that direction, average speed of vehicles increased from 5.7 mph to 15.8 mph, decreasing the total travel time through the corridor by more than a minute, the study showed.

DOT STUDIES FIXES

The DOT created a master plan for I-5 through Bellingham calling for major improvements, including to Bakerview Road's interchange, likely totaling in the billions of dollars. Right now, that kind of money isn't available.

"Since nobody has a lot of money, if any, how can we do something for a little bit of money that does a lot?" asked Todd Carlson, transportation planning manager at the DOT.

Officials are studying fixes for the interchange, hoping to find some in the $2 million to $3 million range that would last long enough -- typically two decades -- to make the investment worth it, he said.

"Improvements are needed to support economic development in this fast growing area of Bellingham," according to the DOT's project description.

Ideas include adding a right-turn-only lane for westbound traffic accessing the northbound on-ramp. Two straight-through westbound traffic lanes and a right-turn lane could help greatly. They're also studying the possibility of a northbound on-ramp accessed from the east side of the freeway.

No money is currently dedicated for construction. By Thanksgiving, they should have a better idea of options, if there are any.

"I don't want to get everybody too excited if we find that there's nothing we can do that costs less than 10 million bucks," Carlson said.

SEE DEVELOPMENT, ANNEXATION PLANS

To see plans for proposed hotel and street construction in the Bakerview-I-5 area, click on these links:

--Conceptual drawing for transportation in the proposed Pacific Highway-Aldrich Annexation (courtesy of Ronald T. Jepson and Associates)

--East elevation drawing for the planned Pacific Plaza hotel buliding at Pacific Highway and Bakerview Road (1 of 2 Courtesy of Morgan Bartlett, Madrona Bay Real Estate Investments)

--North elevation drawing for the planned Pacific Plaza hotel buliding at Pacific Highway and Bakerview Road (1 of 2 Courtesy of Morgan Bartlett, Madrona Bay Real Estate Investments)

For more information on the pending annexations, click on theselinks:

--Bennett/Bakerview/Airport Drive.

--Pacific Highway/Aldrich Road.

Reach JARED PABEN at jared.paben@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2289. Read his Traffic Blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/traffic.

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To see more of The Bellingham Herald or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.bellinghamherald.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Bellingham Herald, Wash.

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