Whatcom county expects to ban big-box stores

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Whatcom County is expected to temporarily ban all new big-box stores in unincorporated areas tonight, a move that follows similar bans in Bellingham and Ferndale.

The County Council will vote on a proposed emergency ordinance to ban all stores larger than 75,000 square feet. The council needs five votes to pass the 60-day ban. At least five councilors have said they’ll vote for it.

The move comes after the Ferndale City Council voted 6-0 on Feb. 20 to put a temporary ban on big-box stores built as part of planned unit developments while the city figures out how to handle them. The Ferndale Downtown Development Association had warned councilors that big retailers would flock to Ferndale after Bellingham approved its permanent ban on stores larger than 90,000 square feet and restricted the design of smaller stores.

Fierce debate started locally on Sept. 11 when Bellingham put a temporary ban on big-box stores after learning Wal-Mart wanted to expand its Meridian Street store into a superstore. Wal-Mart has since given up its effort and announced it will build elsewhere in the area.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Jennifer Holder said Monday that Whatcom County would be the first county she knows of in her district, which includes Alaska, Washington and Oregon, to institute such a ban. Despite rumors, Wal-Mart isn’t looking at any specific land here, she said.

Councilor Barbara Brenner, who attended the Ferndale City Council meeting, authored the proposed county ban.

“I feel that we do have to be sure that our policies are compatible with the cities, and right now they’re incompatible when it deals with large commercial retail,” Brenner said.

Councilors Carl Weimer, Ward Nelson and Brenner sponsored the ordinance. Laurie Caskey-Schreiber and Dan McShane said they’d sign it. Seth Fleetwood said he’d probably sign it and Sam Crawford said he hasn’t yet decided, although he believes that large retail stores belong in a city, not in unincorporated Whatcom County.

The resolution also “encourages all cities within the county to ensure that commercial development is compatible with the character of our wonderful cities.”

The resolution follows one submitted by Fleetwood last year that would require large retailers to pay for a study to examine their impacts before building. Based on that study, requests for big-box stores could be rejected. Fleetwood said the council will decide on that proposal this year.

Crawford, who works for development consulting company Ayers Consulting, e-mailed councilors Monday evening a list of areas where large retail stores could go. According to county code, a 75,000-square-foot store could be built only in a general commercial zone, he wrote, because other commercial zones already have size restrictions.

Those general commercial zones on Interstate 5 include land near the intersections of Slater and Grandview roads. Four areas in Birch Bay are zoned general commercial, and six intersections on Guide Meridian have small areas. Land near Hannegan and Pole roads is zoned general commercial, as is land on the south side of Mount Baker Highway at Nugents Corner, he wrote.

Source : Bellingham Herald

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