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Hundreds of acres slated for development near Semiahmoo Resort

Area residents concerned about project's ramifications

A car drives along Semiahmooo Parkway in February.
A car drives along Semiahmooo Parkway in February. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Rena Kingery News Intern

A proposed development in the Semiahmoo peninsula, known as Semiahmoo Highlands, would comprise 353 acres of land southwest of the Semiahmoo Golf & Country Club.

North county residents voiced their concerns at a public meeting Wednesday night, March 30 at the Semiahmoo Resort about the planned development.

The preliminary plan includes 400 to 500 residential units in the form of single-family homes, both attached and detached, townhomes and multi-family buildings. 

Also included are plans for retail and commercial services that will be curated to meet the needs of the community, said Denise Lones, market researcher for the development team. Parks and wetlands dot the map of the proposed development, and trails will provide easy pedestrian access to parks and open spaces, said Robey Willis, the project’s planning and landscape architect.

“We think we’ve got a good chance of putting together a project that is going to be of great value to the…West Blaine neighborhood and down into Birch Bay,” said Wayne Schwandt, owner of Semiahmoo Highlands, LLC and one of the project’s lead developers.

But residents who live near the property are concerned that the development will exacerbate issues such as flooding and transportation delays that already exist in the small community. 

photo  The proposed Semiahmoo Highlands development comprises 353 acres of land on the Semiahmoo peninsula. The project would include 400 to 500 residential units, commercial and retail space, parks and trails. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Schwandt)  

Several residents of Birch Bay Village, just south of the proposed development, worried that impermeable surfaces within the developed property would increase stormwater runoff and flooding in their neighborhood. Birch Bay Village is already considered a high-risk area for flooding, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology.

“The city does require that stormwater regulations administered by the State Department of Ecology are followed,” said Craig Parkinson, the project’s civil engineer.

But one meeting attendee countered that those regulations are inadequate for the unique topography of the Semiahmoo peninsula. Others present requested that the City of Blaine develop a comprehensive stormwater management plan before breaking ground for the Semiahmoo Highlands project.

Several residents also cited safety concerns surrounding the new development. In an area with an already strained Emergency Management System and significant railroad crossing delays, adding 1,000 or more residents to fill the proposed units could make matters worse.

Doralee Booth, who has worked extensively with Whatcom County on Birch Bay transportation and stormwater issues, said she’s concerned about the burden of adding more cars to the road without first bolstering the area’s transportation network. 

“All the roads to connect (Blaine) are Whatcom County roads,” said Booth, of Birch Bay, referring to the fact that Blaine is split between an east and west jurisdiction. “Who is going to finish those roads? The City of Blaine could care less once it gets out of their jurisdiction, and Whatcom County is not prepared to provide those kinds of services.” 

There are 181 acres of the proposed Semiahmoo Highlands that lie within the jurisdiction of the City of Blaine, while the remaining 172 acres are on Whatcom County property. This split governance troubled some residents, who expressed concern at the meeting about how the two entities would effectively cooperate to address the issues of flooding and transportation that could arise as a result of the project.


photo  The proposed area for Semiahmoo Highlands subdivision. (Photo courtesy of Wayne Schwandt)  

“I just want it done right,” Booth said. “So many of the issues when you see these kinds of developments are they get done and (the developers) go away. And then you’re left with whatever you’re left with, and oftentimes, it’s not positive.”

The development team said they would attempt to address the concerns of residents. Lones will be holding focus groups that will allow community members to further comment on the project.

Semiahmoo Highlands, LLC developers hope to submit all applications for the proposed project to the city by mid-May, Schwandt said. The land will be developed in phases with construction spanning several years. Phase 1 will include 40 residential lots, a neighborhood services area and a 100-foot buffer of mature trees that will stand between the property’s northeast boundary and Semiahmoo Parkway.

Phase 1 construction could begin as early as the end of 2022, Schwandt said.

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