The Gristle

Leftover Turkey

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

LEFTOVER TURKEY: A year has passed; and is it too soon to predict that no changes will be submitted to the waterfront master development agreement in 2019 and that yet another year will pass with waterfront redevelopment still in a coma?

Harcourt Developments, the Irish development firm selected half a decade ago by the Port of Bellingham Commission, returned to town in late 2016 with a grand vision plan to develop the portion of the central waterfront sub-area between the still incomplete Granary Building and the historic Boardmill building deeper into the site. That plan included a generous serpentine park through the site. Harcourt returned again in late 2017 with another modified plan that was widely ridiculed both for the substantial changes proposed for what would be developed but also for the functional elimination of the generous park. This 2017 proposal was dubbed the “Napkin Plan” for its conceptual sloppiness and lack of design aesthetics.

“The proposed 2018 amendment to the Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan, was prepared after a series of additional public meetings and public input opportunities, additional SEPA analysis, and will include additional public input during the Planning Commission and City Council review process,” the port declared in its starry-eyed update. The update gathers dust on a shelf, because nothing was submitted to the city in 2018. Nor is it likely to occur in 2019.

Years late on completion of the Granary, late on the submission of a design for a second building in the waterfront district sub-area, Harcourt in 2016 brushed all that aside with a proposal to begin work on an elaborate hotel and conference center. A year later, Harcourt returned with yet another plan to build student housing and an assisted living project. Each housing project, based on the sophomoric site sketches, would be the size of a stadium—each building larger in scale than the entire Fairhaven urban center.

Both of these latter visits by the Irish developer served a particular requirement and timetable—proposals to modify the master development agreement would need to be docketed by the end of the year in order to be considered by the Bellingham Planning Commission in the spring of the following year. They also served to maintain the illusion that the distant foreign developer remained actively engaged and dedicated to the redevelopment of Bellingham’s central waterfront. In short, each fanfare visit bought Harcourt an additional year of nonperformance.

Neither proposal was ever docketed, and the fact that Harcourt in 2018 didn’t even bother to return in order to maintain the façade of their interest does not bode well for projects moving forward in 2019.

The waterfront master development agreement was originally approved in 2013 by the port commission and Bellingham City Council after extensive public review. It was understood the 2013 plan could change when the master developer arrived. Yet that 2013 plan has not been updated and remains the only accepted plan for the central waterfront that has been officially submitted.

To their credit, the port commission earlier this month unveiled a new plan to revitalize the Bellingham Shipping Terminal by envisioning the site as a “Foreign Trade Zone,” where cargo handlers might store goods without having to pay United States import duties and taxes. It sounds vaguely piratical, but at least it reveals some nimbleness of thought in how to employ Bellingham’s woefully under-utilized waterfront. However, that plan and the continued buildout of the industrial Marine Trades Center west of the waterway continue to be at odds (and in substantial conflict) with a vision of a revitalized post-industrial waterfront with dense commercial and residential amenities.

The port’s plan for the central waterfront remains upside down.

The master development agreement was conceived without the advice of a master developer. And the entire purpose of seeking an international master developer was to take advantage of their private working capital for expedited world-class outcomes. None of those things seem to be within the interest or abilities of Harcourt—now years late in the completion of the Granary Building, a project that should have been completed in no more than 18 months.

“At full build-out,” the port projected in 2013, “the Waterfront District is projected to have up to 6,500 new jobs and up to 5.3 million square feet of development.” Their claim was ludicrous overreach, but even smaller projects expected for completion by 2017 have not even begun. In milestones set by agreement with Harcourt, a second building on the site was supposed to be well underway at this point, with a third project set to begin no later than 2022.

The City of Bellingham has meanwhile met its near-horizon contractual obligations, cutting a major road into the site and completing a very attractive and serviceable public park. Any additional outlays on the city’s part would trap assets better spent elsewhere, in parts of the city that are bursting with development energy.

A division of the Western Washington University Planning & Resources Council—the Waterfront Ideation Team—recently threw up their hands in defeat that nothing whatever was in motion for a university presence on the waterfront, and their discussions were mostly wasted.

This turkey’s gone bad.

The time has arrived for a new plan—perhaps one that is synchronous with the soft levels of light industrial development and parkland already underway along Whatcom Waterway—but it may take effort to remove the hands of Harcourt from the current plan.

The commission has completely changed hands since the waterfront plan was first adopted, and City Council nearly so. Perhaps next year’s local elections will include renewed debate about the future of Bellingham’s underutilized waterfront.

UPDATE: The Gristle’s gloomy holiday prediction that little was likely to change on the city’s central waterfront in 2019 was challenged by the City of Bellingham. Harcourt Development’s proposed changes to the waterfront district sub-area plan were docketed and are scheduled to be presented to the Bellingham Planing Commission in late January.

Silver Reef House
Past Columns
The Raucous Caucus

April 17, 2019

Dragged

April 10, 2019

Edge City

April 3, 2019

Fixing the Fix

March 27, 2019

Halfway Houses

March 20, 2019

New Directions

March 13, 2019

Fire and Ice

March 6, 2019

The Big Short

February 27, 2019

Marina Lacuna

February 20, 2019

New Bites at the Apple

February 13, 2019

Coal Folds

February 6, 2019

Refocusing the Narrative

January 29, 2019

Old Town, Old Story

January 23, 2019

Ranker Unanchored

January 16, 2019

‘Alternative Methods’

January 9, 2019

Top Stories, 2018

January 2, 2019

Et Tu, #MeToo

December 26, 2018

Turn That Corner

December 19, 2018

Events
Today
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Unstable by Design

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Silent Sky

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Tulip Festival Street Fair

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Spring Book Sale

10:00am|Fire Station #1

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Genre Legends, Hot Dogs

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Buffett Beach Bash

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The Coronation of Poppea

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Tulip Pedal Bike Ride

7:30am|La Conner Elementary School

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

COB Earth Day Work Party

9:00am|Fairhaven Park

Fun with the Fuzz

9:00am|Bellingham Police Department

Bellingham Bay Bocce Tournament

9:30am|Bellingham Sportsplex

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Kiwanis Kids Egg Hunt

10:00am|Maiben Park

Cedar Dust Trail Ride and Party

10:00am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Plant Sale and Easter Events

10:00am|BelleWood Acres

Community Easter Egg Hunt

11:30am|Bellingham at Orchard

Obrigado Wines Tasting

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Jesse Otero Art Talk

4:00pm|i.e. gallery

Splinter Ideas, Halibut on the Moon

4:00pm|Village Books

Artist Workshop

6:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Skagit Valley College Drag Show

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Problem Child and Ten Miles Wide

8:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Blue collar comedy in Edison

8:00pm

Salsa Night

9:00pm|Cafe Rumba

Neil Berg
Tomorrow
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Tulip Festival Street Fair

10:00am|Downtown Mount Vernon

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Plant Sale and Easter Events

10:00am|BelleWood Acres

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Egg Hunt and Easter Brunch

10:00am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Barkley Village Egg Hunts

11:00am|Barkley Village

Easter Brunch

11:00am|Ciao Thyme Commons

Nina Gerber and Chris Webster

2:00pm|Nancy's Farm

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Monday
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Earth Day Sustainable Food Fair

11:00am|Viking Union 565

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

4:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Before the Flood

5:30pm|Pickford Film Center

Women's Backpacking Round Table Discussion

5:30pm|REI

Swing Dancing Classes

6:00pm|Presence Studio

Healthy Desserts

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Student Poetry & Art Showcase

6:30pm|Burlington Public Library

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Wild & Scenic Film Festival

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

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