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WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2012, 06:00 PM

City Council Chambers


The regular hearing of the Hearing Examiner was called to order.

Roll Call


Staff Members Present: Steve Sundin, Planner II; Kurt Nabbefeld, Senior Planner; Gina Austin, Project Engineer
Recording Secretary: Kristina J. Bowker

1. CUP2012-00006: Consideration of the construction of a new 20' x 90' boathouse to be located on top of an existing parking area, relocation of an existing 12.5' x 56' float/gangway, and installation of a pervious pathway leading from the boathouse to the relocated float. The float is currently located immediately north of the boat launch. The float and boathouse are intended for use by non-motorized water-craft. The proposal is generally located at the western edge of Bloedel Donovan Park, 2114 Electric Avenue (lengthy legal). Whatcom Rowing Association, applicant; Jon Sitkin, Chmelik, Sitkin & Davis, contact person; City of Bellingham Parks Department, owner. Public, Recreational Zoning, Urban I Shoreline Designation. Silver Beach Neighborhood, Area 12.

Hearing Examiner – Swears in staff and those wishing to comment. Stated that she is familiar with the site, and that she has reviewed the materials in the packet. Additional materials include e-mails from Wendy Harris, and Jon Sitkin with attachments, all dated November 14th.

Steve Sundin -- Thank you everyone for coming tonight. Will make a few brief points to allow for other presentations. Two parallel permit processes are required for this project. Tonight is to determine whether the use is allowed at Bloedel Donovan. The second part, which will occur at a later date, is the Shoreline Permit for the proposal. It requires additional review by the Shoreline Committee to review environmental impacts and any mitigation that may be necessary. Once the use is established, we will go further down into the rule and requirements for environmental impacts. This is the system we have for processing this particular proposal.
Regarding the concept of the Master Plan, the Bloedel Donovan Park Master Plan was approved by City Council in July 2012. It is a conceptual plan that lays out several objectives for the many groups that use the park. It doesn't grant the authority to approve permits, but sets-up a framework for preliminary design, seeking funds, acquiring permits, and then building projects. The whole plan looks at the entire park and the wide variety of different uses. The Parks Department has the job of balancing the many different uses at this popular park.
For the proposal, Planning Staff has reviewed the application and found that it meets the use criteria at the park, and compatible with the "neighborhood." Here, the neighborhood really is the park. They will undergo a more thorough review with the Shoreline Committee of the environmental elements. In March 2012, prior to the Master Plan being approved, the City approved a shoreline permit for the float and gangway only in its present location, over by the boat launch. They found and concluded that the Bloedel shoreline is set-up and used for that type of water-dependent uses, a float for boats to utilize. They concluded that there was no net loss to the existing shoreline ecological function. The float was designed so it is able to be moved if necessary. There are wetlands in proximity to the existing float location, but are essentially cut-off by the use of the boat launch. The float's location wasn't going to have an impact to the neighboring wetland to the south.
The issue of aquatic invasive species (AIS), in this case Asian clams, and whether non-motorized watercraft would exacerbate an existing situation. City Staff met with the Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Department of Ecology. Both shoreline and water-quality perspectives were evaluated, and staff concluded that the float for non-motorized craft in its existing location wasn't going to exacerbate the AIS issue. It presents an opportunity to educate the users, specifically those folks in the Whatcom Rowing Association (WRA), about the potential dangers and how to manage/prepare the boats to contain the problem. They are anticipating an educational outreach program for the WRA members. They can support the proposal despite the real concerns of AIS.
The boathouse will be located on top of existing parking area, so there is no new impervious surface. It will be removing a pollutant-generating surface, because water run-off can be better controlled from a roof than a parking lot. The float being relocated over by Electric Avenue will allow for very little in-water construction. The proximity of the natural features to the west is not a concern for the proposal, because they are essentially cut-off by Electric Avenue and the bridge. The float location was buoyed out in the water, and is about 75' from the bridge, so no anticipated safety concerns. Staff recommends approval with Conditions 1 -- 5. In Condition #3 they would like to see an on-going educational outreach, like "clean, drain and dry," for new members of the WRA. The language may need some altering. This is an opportunity to educate a broad base of people in the boating community.

Hearing Examiner -- We are talking about the land use conditional use permit. This is not a shoreline conditional use permit?

Steve Sundin -- That's correct. There are environmental considerations, but it is just a land use CUP.

Jon Sitkin, 1500 Railroad Avenue -- Applicant's representative. His 13-year-old son also participates in the WRA program. It was a great activity for him, and a beneficial activity for people to enjoy the lake. We have some folks here to testify about the WRA and how it is beneficial. The training of the participants may not be best provided through a condition on the permit. They already have a safety training and a swim test before they can participate in the program. There is no water that is retained in the boats. They will be cleaned, drained and dried before they go back in the lake. Operationally, it is not something that arises with this program. Submitted additional materials into the record: a Critical Areas Report, slideshow and DVD. Reviews the site plan and conceptual site plan. There is paint marking where the boat center will go. This is not a designated parking area, but an over-flow area. Presently there is an ergometer center in the existing Bloedel Donovan community center. This will allow them to move that equipment into the new boat center.

Hearing Examiner -- Describe how the boats are secured.

Jon Sitkin -- There will be a fence around the boat center and they will work with the Parks Department on the design criteria. The ergometer operation is to bring the youth in and have an opportunity to participate. The WRA is non-profit organization and open to everybody, all ages, all races, all income levels. They engage the park the way it should be used, in active participation.

Bob Diehl, 684 Cherry Lane -- President of the WRA. They formed a non-profit/501C3 two years ago to teach people the sport of rowing. They were probably the last community in the northwest to have a rowing association. Most are located on city or county park property. The purpose is to see if they can get to allow to build this building. This building will be constructed by the students at Meridian High School in the Construction Careers Academy program. They designed this building with RMC Architects, who are donating their services. This building will be totally closed off with doors and fenced all the way around. There will be space for approximately 12 boats, and space to hang smaller craft from the ceiling. The racks they presently use will be moved to the outside of this building. It's not good to keep boats outside, because fiberglass oxidizes. They will move everything that they have at the community center into this building. There is a lot of room for classes and exercising. They are a community, volunteer organization. This past year was their first year for youth and they have had 35 -- 40 kids (aged 13 - 19) involved. Before long, they will outnumber the adults. Organizations like to measure their success by "participant days" or "hours." Their numbers for both are very high, over 600 days and over 1,200 participant hours. They are using Bloedel park when no one else is using it, except the early dog walkers. Moving them will help to separate them from other conflicting uses as they expand into afternoon hours. They are a year-round operation. Right now they train indoors on their ergometers. The Bellingham Bay Outrigger Canoe Club also wants to put one boat in this facility.

Shelley Bennett, 33 N. Summit Drive -- WRA Program Director. She has experience with junior and master rowing. They have developed a program for both. They try to have it so their teams are out on the water at the same time, so it is non-encroaching on other boaters. They have a rowing program on the water through the fall, and in the winter they have workout and ergometer classes. Coaches are always present. Anyone who would like to participate is welcome. This program is open to anybody who would like to try it. She gets e-mails on a regular basis inquiring about their program, and it is a fantastic thing. She came from Greenlake, Seattle and had a very successful partnership with the parks department there. They took part is several regattas this past year and had great fun. Shared pictures from the WRA of the masters and juniors on the water. On September 22nd they participated in the Samish Row Regatta. They volunteered to pass-out gel packs at the Bellingham Bay Marathon. Having a boathouse will be very beneficial because it takes 7 -- 8 people most of a day to clean one boat. Right now, they have to carry boats through the parking lot down to the water, which is inconvenient. Their oars are stored separately from the boats right now, so it will be great to have all their equipment together with the new boathouse.

Jon Sitkin -- We believe that this does promote the health, safety, and welfare of the community. Allowing WRA and others to operate their facility, store their equipment safely and use the park/Lake Whatcom with non-motorized watercraft is a key part of the Comprehensive Park Plan. Their activities are consistent with the park use recreational qualifier for Area 12 of the Silver Beach Neighborhood. An organized program that has a short destination, without crossing a travel-way with vehicles, is more compatible than the current operation. They will not require expansion of any existing utilities. It supports and enhances the primary use of park property. There is a demonstrated need and this type program, and it reaches out to youth. This is a nonprofit organization, and they will have a lease that this given by the Parks Department before they go forward. The facilities that are developed by the WRA at the end of the lease period will be owned by the Parks Department. They do have signage, and meet those limitations. Additional space will be made available for education, like invasive species. This is not piece-meal proposal. They applied for all the permits and haven't separated components of the project. They can proceed regardless of any other park proposal, no inter-dependency on other park plans. There are no existing regulations on who can use the park, or limitations on the use of the park/activities for the public. They comply with the city-regulated hours of the park. A boat center over impervious parking surface is a benefit for water quality. They have a no net-loss under the shoreline regulations. Most of the times this center will be used in the mornings, and some afternoons or weekends. It will not detract from other uses at the park. We appreciate your time.

Hearing Examiner -- Opens hearing for public comments. If you would like to speak, please come up in an orderly fashion to the microphone. Please give your name and address for the record.

Randall Hill, 3000 Windtree Court -- Has a 15-year-old in the program. This is a great opportunity to bring kids together from different schools in the community, which local school sports don't do. They can carry this sport onto college in the future. All the big universities in Washington have rowing programs. We would like to see this opportunity continue. They have a growing skill set for small boat and water safety. Rowing is a team-building sport, and requires precise individual skills. Their kid wakes them up at 5:00 a.m. to get out on the water before school. This is a new sport, and something they as parents are very excited about it.

Wendy Harris, 3925 E. Connecticut Street -- Lives a few blocks from Bloedel. They have heard a lot of testimony about how rowing is a great sport. This is really about whether this is a good use of our public park land and our impaired water source. Staff is asking that you not consider environmental impacts and mitigation. A conditional use permit is to require greater standard of protection. Waiting until the shoreline permit review is going to allow the upland impacts to avoid a proper environmental impacts. Some of the impacts that come from more people using the park, increase the impacts. Really upset with the public process, and feels that the WRA has been gaming the system from the very beginning. They had on its website that its address was Bloedel and the boathouse was going up. How are they publicizing this before the public is even given a copy of the Master Plan Amendment? The dock was installed before the amended Parks Master Plan. Overwhelming, the public was opposed to this. The WRA members supports their pet use/project. The WRA currently houses their boats too close a wetland and doesn't understand how a non-conforming use can be created on public land. When the city adopted its critical areas ordinance, they essentially abolished non-conforming uses. This hasn't been a very good public process. This sport is for a narrow special interest group, and they will be rededicating a portion of the park for it. The Master Plan Amendment wouldn't have been necessary at all, but for the WRA. They are putting in a stormwater facility, which wasn't needed at Bloedel except for this use. An increased intensity of use will impact the degraded natural corridor from the Chuckanut mountains to Bellingham Bay. The staff report concludes that there will be no increased risk of AIS, but it fails to explain why. Recreational watercraft are the primary reason that AIS are introduced and spread. I don't think the issue education, because no one here is going to willing infest the lake. The problem is that infestation happens by accident. If they compete and come back 1,000 times, maybe one time it may have organic matter on it. If they are cleaning all of these shells at the lake, then there is run-off into the water. We don't allow people to wash their cars at the lake. This will create more demand for public facilities and expensive infrastructure. This facility is taking-up over-flow parking, which is needed in the summer. The park is at over-capacity in the summer. This space could be used for restoration, a rain garden, or something that could improve the water quality. The WRA doesn't regard their impacts. They need to consider the larger community, and fish/wildlife and water quality in particular.

Geoff Middaugh, 206 Highland Drive -- Chair of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board. He has submitted written comments this afternoon. This is a complicated process. Mr. Diehl has brought additional information over and over again, as they requested it. Expresses his strong support for the approval of this proposal. Human recreational use at Bloedel is a great public benefit. Our society is better served when all people can recreate on this valuable resource. The board has deliberated on this issue, and in February 2011 first moved to support the WRA and their efforts. They supported the Master Plan revision. Urges approval.

Dave Nichols, 2583 N. Shore Road -- He lives on the lake. It's hard to imagine an activity that is more compatible with recreational uses on the lake. He treasures non-motorized recreation on the lake. The people that do this activity pass along that treasure of the lake. He began rowing at 71, but this is also a tremendous activity for young people particularly for kids that are not football/soccer/volleyball players that the high schools sponsor. Rowing is a fast-growing sport, and has become a tremendous interest to the colleges. The lake is going to be used, the point is to try to make that use as safe and compatible as we possibly can. We should encourage projects, and make sure they are compatible. Wishes he could speak to something that hasn't been answered?

Hearing Examiner -- Could you elaborate on the times of use, and if it is compatible with other users of the park?

Dave Nichols -- For the most people aren't retired, so they have to be out on the water early in the morning. The winds come up on the lake by 8:30 a.m., so early is better. They also have a motored launch that accompanies them for safety and coaching. Typically, they wouldn't have any more out than two 8's, or an 8 and a 4. They are out for an hour, or so and then there may be another shift of rowers going out.

Hearing Examiner -- How do Saturdays work?

Dave Nichols -- Typically, they are out by 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, and out of the water by 9:00 a.m. He doesn't really see a conflict with other park users. They have been given boats that other rowing clubs have retired, but there is a tremendous investment in them. New ones cost $35,000 -- $40,000. Keeping their equipment safe and secure is a real issue for them. He donated his fishing boat and outboard motor, and this summer someone stole the motor. Thank you.

Hearing Examiner -- For the record, she is acquainted with Judge Nichols as an attorney.

Elsa Mae Blythe, 3200 Cottonwood Avenue -- Has been rowing for about two months in the junior program. It's great program and way to get exercise. It's great to explore the lake. Their boats are now out in the weather, and they have to cross many paths with motor boats. The new boathouse will be much safer for the team. They would minimize cleaning the boats with dry storage as well. Thank you.

Frank Parker, 815 N. Shore Drive -- Lived in Silver Beach all his life. He remembers when park was built. They have removed docks and pilings for safety reasons. The little kids play in that area all the time, and it's the most popular area of the whole park. Has nothing against the rowing club, but they should leave it right where it's at. The swimming and picnic area should be left for the public. That parking area is used all the time, including by the parks department service trucks. They should build over where they have their boats now. If you let one organization in, you'll open the doors, and you'll to have to let them all in.

Shane Roth, Connecticut Street -- Lake Whatcom is our drinking water. Whenever anyone is asked to refrain from doing anything there is always a long list of reasons why not. We should error on the side of protecting the lake and not private interest. It is necessary to use the lake for drinking water, it is a luxury to use the lake for rowing. They can use another body of water in the area. The fact that their membership is open to anyone suggestions that their members will not be rigorously trained to not introduce invasive species into the lake. Genuine tragedy is not a conflict between right and wrong, but a conflict between two rights. We have good people here, trying to do a good thing, but we would like to achieve another good thing. Is there any other rowing association in the state that practices on their own drinking water reservoir? Asks to keep that mind when making the decision.

Susie Bennett, 33 N. Summit Drive -- She is a WRA junior and she loves boating. She goes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for winter workout. Rowing is great way to explore the lake, get a workout and meet new people. They were rowing at 5:00 a.m. when it was dark out, and a new boathouse with lights will be safer for them. They walk the boats through the parking lot and can conflict with cars. They don’t have good winter/snow storage for their boats. A covered boat shed will keep water out of the boats.

Bill Black, 2751 Dakin Street -- Lived in the neighborhood for 25 years now. This is a taking of public space by the rowers. Bloedel is a public space. We can't have a big, wide dock and kids will be swimming right there. Kids will drown underneath it. It is a horrible hazard. That is a serious, dangerous concern to put the dock there. This should not be allowed. How well the public advised of this hearing? How will this affect our drinking water source? We should assemble a strategy for dealing AIS before providing more opportunities for migration into our drinking water source. Bloedel is heavily used in the summer months, and this is effectively a taking from the picnickers by the rowers.

Kristen Siemion, 3028 Alderwood Avenue -- Her daughter began rowing with the WRA this summer. She is now an assistant crew coach, and a PE teacher at St. Paul's Academy. It's not all rich kids that are coming out and rowing. They have kids from all over the city and all different economic backgrounds. For the fall, they did three races. They are looking at doing six races for the spring. They don't transport boats right now, they don't have a trailer at this point. They wash the boats down and dry with clothes. She has a concern when the kids take the boats down the stairs to the dock. It is heavy and difficult for the kids to move them.

Jon Sitkin -- The stairs are at the existing launch area down to the beach.

Danielle Cummings, 136 Harbor View Drive -- Don't know if it's quite on target to focus on rowing for bringing in invasive species. Their boats are brought in and out of the Lake Whatcom. There are swimmers, motor craft with gasoline, etc.

Brent Feller, 7405 Beebe Road -- He is a shop teacher at Meridian High School. His class last year designed the structure, and his current class will help build it. That was a great benefit. Rowing clubs build teamwork and increase knowledge. It helps with eliminating the inactivity of our youth. This is a huge upcoming sport. How is evasive species a problem when the boats are in the lake, and are stored on site? He is more concerned about the motor boats on the lake. The existing parking lot is rarely used, so not extra impervious surface. Putting the boats under cover will eliminate the need to constantly wash them. Thinks it is a win-win situation. Thank you.

Hearing Examiner -- Staff, any additional comments you would like to make?

Steve Sundin -- On Page 20 of the Staff Report, Exhibit E, refers to the 2002 Parks Open Space Plan. This was considered programmatically since then, which was 10 years ago. When we went through the shoreline permitting for the existing float, the WRA applied for the float for two locations, one for where it is now and one for this proposal. They were told at that time, to just permit the initial location until they had a concrete plan for the boathouse. No piece-mealing happened. The shoreline program is setup specifically for this types of uses and type of structures. The existing boat racks did not require a permit, but did comply with the required setbacks.
One of the other benefits of the project, the floats are unlike any other in that they are tethered-down and can be moved, which allows for future restoration/beach enhancement to occur. We have other rules in our code that have to be met, like building permits, but there is also a stormwater code (BMC 15.42) and a Lake Whatcom Reservoir regulator chapter (BMC 16.80) that also apply. City Council, during their review of the Master Plan, considered all of the very narrow uses that occur at Bloedel: grateful dogs, paddlers, swimmers, rowers, boaters, etc. AIS is a real and serious issue. City staff have spent a lot of time talking with other agencies and planning how to handle this issue. There is an existing AIS management plan, and one that is upcoming that will be more specific. Education and outreach are very, very important. The city will work with the WRA to provide the information necessary about AIS to prevent spread and infestation.

Jon Sitkin -- Condition #3 should be revised to, "The WRA participants shall participate in a minimum of one AIS training session approved by the resource division prior to participating in an on the water rowing program." The value of education is that is how you build a stewardship ethic, and this program can facilitate that.

Hearing Examiner -- How does this program operate with other users at the park?

Shelley Bennett -- We have a lot of morning practices, so not a lot of other users at that time. They started afternoon practices, but didn't have any major conflicts. The greatest conflict would come from afternoon classes. It would take 7 -- 10 minutes to launch a boat, if they are all-together and organized.

Hearing Examiner -- Is someone on-site to supervise all the activities?

Shelley Bennett -- Yes. Always a coach on-site. There are 3 coaches with the juniors and 2 with masters. The coxson is always watching the ends of the boat to ensure it is safely guided down to the water. It is a very well-monitored process.

Hearing Examiner -- Who has access to the boathouse?

Shelley Bennett -- The coaches and the Parks Department. They are heavy on teaching/boat management/boat usage, and everyone loves the lake and wants to treat it well. They are more than happy to teach on invasive species.

Hearing Examiner -- What if another user comes in and stores boat in the building? How would that work?

Bob Diehl -- The Outrigger Canoe Club would store outside, so would not use the building.

Jon Sitkin -- They have a controlled, managed operation here. This group is using primarily at off-peak times. They meet the criteria. They can help contribute to the control and management of AIS. They complied with all the notice requirements. Note that Council has approved this, and they ask for your approval.

Frank Parker -- It will be difficult to maneuver around the dock, and the pilings. It is not a good place for it. It's too long. You'll probably have to pull out some of the dead-heads and disturb the clay.

Shelley Bennett -- The boats are always monitored by a coxson. They have learned where every dead-head on that lake is and to avoid them. They have never hit one. They are good at maneuvering their boats.

Jon Sitkin -- You've had people try this location, and maneuver in and out?

Bob Diehl -- He rows on the lake 4 or 5 times per week. He has been in and out of there many times, at all the different heights of the lake because they have been thinking about this for 2 or 3 years. There are a lot of dead-heads on the power boat side of the lake.

Bill Black -- There's a lot of current underneath Electric right now. It's another hazard.

Jon Sitkin -- They tend to go out on calmer days. The operator has to manage the boat and the people. Thank you for your time and ask for your approval.

Steve Sundin -- They have an AIS plan, if recommendations come out of that program, they are applicable to the WRA. Just because they are coming forward now, and there's not a formal program, they will have to comply with any future licensing/inspections.

Hearing Examiner -- Thank you all for your time. I try to get decisions out in 10 business days, excluding the holidays.



Prepared by: Kristina J. Bowker, Assistant to the Hearing Examiner
Reviewed by: Steve Sundin, Planner II