Bellingham’s Central Business District To Be Expanded on September 8, 2014

Chap3_Map1_LandUseAreas_RegulatoryBndysThe City of Bellingham’s Central Business District is about to get bigger thanks to new zoning regulations that will officially take effect on September 8, 2014. The revised zoning regulations are primarily intended to stimulate development in the Central Business District and to increase the range of mixed uses in proposed “Transition Zones” adjacent to the downtown core, located along the west, southeast, and northeast sides of the city center. The City Council will also be changing the name of the Central Business District to “City Center Neighborhood”.

Officially referred to as the Central Business District, Bellingham’s City Center was already zoned as one of five Urban Villages within the city limits, including the Downtown Core (shown on the attached map), the Fountain District (south of the I-5 freeway along Guide Meridian and bordered by Broadway along the east), Samish Way (Northeast of Sehome shopping center, bordered by I-5 along the east and Bill McDonald Parkway on the south), Old Town (North of the railroad tracks along Roeder, bordered generally by Bay, G and Dupont streets), and the Fairhaven District (bordered to the south by Cowsgill, to the west by the water, to the east by the Happy Valley neighborhood and by Knox street to the north). Now the City Center’s Urban Village boundaries will be expanded to include several commercial, residential and industrial transition zones, bringing  with them more relaxed development restrictions, resulting in incentives for redevelopment.

Relaxed zoning requirements inside Urban Villages can vary based on how well developed the Urban Village is, and areas within the Urban Village zones themselves can also vary, but generally they incude relaxed height, setback and parking restrictions in addition to other incentives for multi-family development and historical preservation. In four of the five Urban Village zones (City Center, Fountain District, and Samish Way) property owners can take advantage of the multi-family tax abatement program which allows an 8 or 12-year property tax exemption for any multi-family housing units that are redeveloped within the zone. The 12 year exemption applies to multi-family developments that include at least 20% low income housing in the unit mix.

A few land use limitations will also be introduced with the new zoning rules, prohibiting drive-up facilities such as bank tellers, food and beverage services, laundry p/u and car washes within commercial transition zones.

Below is a summary of the zoning changes taken from a planning document forwarded by City of Bellingham Senior Planner Darby Cowles on 8/11/2014.

1) In all proposed Residential Transition (RT) zones, increase the range of mixed uses (currently limited to offices in most areas that are currently zoned residential) to include:
• Corner stores
• Bed & Breakfast
• Personal Services
• Eating Establishments
• Live/Work
• Art Galleries/Schools/Studios

2) In proposed RT-1 (North and South):
• Limited mixed uses in #1 above allowed outright.
• No residential density limit (currently ranges from unlimited, 1,000 SF/unit, and 1,500 SF/unit).
• No setbacks due to minimal view blockage and to allow for more efficient use of land (currently use standard multifamily setbacks in BMC 20.32).
•Maintain existing 45′ height limit.

3) In proposed RT-2 (York Neighborhood):
• Limited mixed uses in #1 above would largely be limited to adaptive reuse of existing buildings as an incentive to invest in, and rehabilitate, historic housing stock (historic preservation). Exceptions: Offices, corner markets, and corner eating establishments could take place as new, purpose built development.
• Residential density is limited to 1 unit per 1,500 SF of land to allow reasonable redevelopment in the event that an existing building is destroyed by any cause.
• Height is limited to 35′ to respect predominant scale of existing historic SF development (45′ in RT-1).

4) Proposed Commercial Core (CC):
• Maintain existing unlimited height limit.
• Prohibit drive-up facilities such as bank tellers, food and beverage services, laundry p/u and car washes.

5) Proposed Commercial Transition (CT):
CT zoning is generally applied to the edges of the Commercial Core to provide a transition between the more intense Commercial Core and less intense residential zones. Within the CT:
• Height is limited to 65′, and further limited to 32′ and 2 stories when within 15′ of a residential zone.
• Prohibit drive-up facilities such as bank tellers, food and beverage services, laundry p/u and car washes.

6) Existing Industrial zones:
• A half block of land SW of Laurel Street that is currently zoned Industrial/Waterfront Mixed Use will be consolidated into the proposed Commercial Core.
• Land north and east of Whatcom Creek that is currently zoned Industrial, Light will become a new Industrial Transition (IT) zone with minimal changes to zoning and development regulations from what currently exist.

7) Existing Public zones – Each of the existing ‘public’ zones within the Downtown Bellingham Plan boundary will be consolidated into that zoning which predominately surrounds them, such that there will no longer be any public zones within the Downtown Bellingham Plan boundaries.

8) Parking requirements for new development and redevelopment:
• Expand the exempt auto parking district to 1 block around the WTA Transit Center, and include all of the Civic Center.
• Reduce auto parking requirements in all other areas within the Downtown Bellingham Plan boundary.
• Provides flexible means to reduce required auto parking to zero.
• Do not require additional parking for a change in use.
• Increase bike parking in all areas within the Downtown Plan Boundary, consistent with what was recently adopted for Fairhaven and the Waterfront.

9) Sign Standards
• Residential and Industrial zones – No major changes from what currently exists.
• Commercial zones:
– Prohibit pole signs,
– No limit on the square footage of signage when placed on a building, and
– Limit monument signs to 6′ in height and 60 sq.ft. per sign face.