Port tenant hopes to build $9 million boat storage facility

By Oliver Lazenby

A new tenant on Blaine’s waterfront is interested in building an approximately $9 million boat storage facility on the property that is currently home to the Blaine Marine Services building at 199 Marine Drive.

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Courtesy of the Port of Bellingham

The company, Sundance Yachts, was formerly a subtenant in the space and currently operates a boat sales office there. The Portland-based company is in the process of buying $400,000 in business assets from Blaine Marine Services and would like to build a facility like one it owns in Portland, which offers boat storage, services and other marina operations.

The proposed development would require changes to the Wharf District master plan, a document created by the city of Blaine and the Port of Bellingham to guide development on the waterfront surrounding
Marine Drive.

Those changes are: an increase to the building height limit from 45 feet to 55 feet in one area and from 35 feet to 45 feet in another, and a change in the uses allowed at that site. The Wharf District master plan doesn’t currently allow for marine-related industrial uses in that area.

The city of Blaine’s planning commission is holding a public hearing on the proposed changes to the Wharf District Master Plan at 7 p.m. on December 1 in the city council chamber.

Market demand

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Courtesy of the Port of Bellingham

The 2007 Wharf District Master Plan envisioned the area surrounding the Blaine Marine Services building becoming an extension of downtown. The plan calls that area “Mariner Village” and calls for mixed-use development with second story residences above restaurants and retail stores.

Nine years and one recession later, and the city has seen almost no interest in the space that fits that criteria.

“I think everyone is looking at that plan now and going, well that was a little overly optimistic. This area isn’t going to develop like that in the near future,” said Alex Wenger, city of Blaine community planner. “When you look at our downtown, there are lots of vacancies and room for development. So it begs the question, why would someone build down at the port when there are all these vacancies up here?”

Changing the master plan doesn’t mean that kind of development couldn’t happen in the future. But Sundance Yachts has secured options for an 80-year lease on the site, provided it starts construction on a storage facility in the next five years.

Sundance’s plan

Sundance Yachts’ owners weren’t immediately available to comment, but partner in the company Nick Buck-Niehaus told Port of Bellingham officials it would employ about 15 people year-round once it’s up and
running.

Buck-Niehaus showed the port commission rough drawings of a building that would house up to four levels of boats in racks, which the industry calls dry stack storage. Sundance Yachts’ Portland facility can store 450 boats, Buck-Niehaus said.

Buck-Niehaus said the company would plan to use the public boat launch and work toward building its own boat launch in the future.

The area of the wharf district that currently allows marine industrial businesses doesn’t have room for a development of the size Sundance Yachts is proposing, said Sylvia Goodwin, Port of Bellingham’s director of planning and development.

“There really is no other location in the wharf district where it would fit,” she said. “The area down by the seafood processors is pretty full and there isn’t a place to launch boats.”

The former tenant at the property, Blaine Marine Services, terminated its lease and is paying the port $1,500 in back rent it owes and $16,500 to resolve issues with environmental contamination. The soil is contaminated from boat maintenance including sanding and painting, according to a Port of Bellingham commission meeting memo.

The view from downtown

Though allowing a marine-related industrial use at the site is a change in direction to the long-term plan for Blaine’s waterfront, Wenger suspects the change in allowed maximum height could be more controversial.

The proposal would nearly double the area where 55-foot-tall buildings would be permitted, and raise the height limit from 35 feet to 45 feet in much of the rest of the property. The proposed height increase would affect an approximately
1.6-acre area.

The city and port did a view analysis, in which they parked bucket trucks on the site and raised them up to 55 feet, and took pictures from the H and G Street plazas. Those will be presented at the planning commission meeting, Goodwin said.

“It does block a bit of the view from H Street Plaza to White Rock,” she said.

After the December 1 public hearing, the Blaine planning commission will make a recommendation to the city council, which will make the final
decision.

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