More than 100 people gathered around tables with large maps and Monoply-like pieces and pondered what they would like to see done with the city’s largest parcels of under-developed land - property owned by MJB.
In 1991, MJB purchased about 81 acres of land along the city’s east side - some of it on the waterfront of Fidalgo Bay and much of it originally designed for urban renewal - and have come to the city several times with development proposals and in nearly all cases they were rebuffed.
The most recent proposal called for what might be called a small big-box store. Fred Meyer’s name was mentioned. There was community opposition, so MJB asked that their plans be included in the 2016 Development Plan update, a process now under way.
There were no decisions made at Tuesday night’s City Hall session, and, clearly, no real agreement among the public attending the session. But, some themes appeared as a representative of each table held up a map of the area and described what the members of that table wanted to see.
Some said they saw no need for a small big-box store, but would like to see a smaller store to seek soft goods, such as clothing. One person said, “We can’t have everything here. We’ll never stop people from going to Burlington to shop.” One specific name came up: Trader Joe’s, a small speciality foods chain.
Other comments suggested that future retail needs to be close to downtown. Many said they didn’t want to eviscerate the downtown core. During a meeting earlier of the CompPlan Citizens Advisory Committee, it was pointed out that the 81 acres owned by MJB is larger than the downtown commercial district.
Other comments suggested there is room for, not only retail, but also for residential units - probably not single-family homes - as well as a hotel and convention center. After the meeting, MJB representative Jimmy Blais told a reporter that either one would probably need to include the other to be financially viable. But, there was clearly a desire for an event center of some type, where, as one person put it, “we can have concerts and meetings.”
This workshop was designed to deal specifically with the MJB property and will be merged into the general discussion of the city’s Comprehensive Plan as it moves through the ten-year update process mandated by state law.
Bob Bengford, with the city's consultant Makers, said they may be back as early as mid-November with a vision culled from the results of the Tuesday workshop.