Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Port, City of Bellingham Could Swap Land

The Port of Bellingham and City of Bellingham have the parameters of a deal in place for a swap of waterfront acreage.

The transaction, which still requires approval by both the port commission and Bellingham City Council, would result in the port receiving city-owned industrial land in the Marine Trades Area of the Waterfront District.

In return, the city would gain full ownership in the Cornwall Beach area, an old landfill site that’s undergoing environmental remediation. The port currently owns 51 percent of the land.

The agreement is proposed as a land swap, with no money being exchanged.

“It simplifies a jigsaw puzzle of land ownership, allowing each government to focus on its areas of strength and interest,” according to an Oct. 3 statement by the city. “While this land exchange is separate from the joint Waterfront District master planning effort, if approved it will resolve land use and ownership issues that were unnecessarily complicating planning efforts.”

The proposed property exchange also calls for the port granting the city access to the breakwater surrounding the former Georgia Pacific treatment lagoon, as well as access to adjacent property for public parking.

Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville and port Interim Executive Director Rob Fix said the property exchange meets multiple community goals, particularly strengthening the area’s potential to attract additional maritime economic development on the waterfront and meet commitments to public access.

“Having a single owner for this section of shoreline will allow the port to manage the property so that multiple businesses can make use of the public investment in the shoreline improvements,” Fix said. “We anticipate this land swap will result in a more efficient use of public lands and will create new jobs within the next year.”

Linville said the Cornwall Beach area has long been envisioned as an area for waterfront public access with parks, trails and mixed-use development, and consolidating city properties simplifies planning for development of that area.

Public hearings on the land swap are scheduled for Oct. 16 at the port’s Harbor Center Conference Room and Oct. 22 at Bellingham City Council Chambers.