Waterfront Plans Fail to Protect Historic Buildings

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The Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan does not provide adequate protection of historic buildings. The Old Granary Building, the Board Mill Building and the Alcohol Building (East portion) are on “temporary hold” for future market assessment. The chip bins, ceramic tank and digestor tanks, historic icons, are on “temporary hold” for future assessment. (Sub-Area Plan, Figure 4-3).

“Temporary hold” is not a planning determination; it is planning procrastination. The public is being asked to provide the port with unilateral authority to decide important issues of public policy and redevelopment, without setting out guideline principles for decision making, other than “market assessment.” This appears to involve some type of undefined financial consideration. The port is being provided with discretion, without accountability, over an issue of great importance to many city residents. Nor is it really planning to reflect a temporary and unclear future for these structures in the Sub-Area Plan. There is no deadline for a port determination. But a pending grant indicates that the Port already has intentions to demolish a digestor structure.

The concerns voiced by the Bellingham Historic Preservation Committee, reflected in their letter of February 28, 2013, are being ignored. Community values, reflected in advocacy efforts to save the Granary Building are not being honored. Concerns of the city council are not being considered. The Sub-Area Plan and documents fail to document the contentious history surrounding this issue and instead, affects a city concession. The city administration has clout, that it is not willing to use, to require the port to better protect community needs and values.

Destinations that attract tourists have a specific “feel” that make them unique, such as San Francisco, New Orleans, Seattle, or Boston. Nobody wants to visit “Anywhere, USA,” with generic buildings and businesses. Demolishing historic buildings takes away Bellingham’s special character, and destroys its economic potential. I have seen the port’s vision of waterfront planning, and it known as the “Bellwether.” Let’s plan better.

The Sub-Area plan should contain requirements to protect the existing waterfront buildings from continuing deterioration, reroute waterfront streets around historic structures, encourage listing of the buildings on the historic register, reflect redevelopment policies that strongly encourage adaptive reuse of historic buildings and eliminate reference to “temporarily holds.”

About Wendy Harris

Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2008