New apartments planned for 32nd Street: Architects describe plans for two new complexes, The Ridge and 500 Square

Illustration by Cole Sandhofer

By Julia Vassallo

Two new apartment complexes called 500 Square and The Ridge are in the process of being installed on 32nd Street for student and family housing.

500 Square is a proposed student housing unit to be built at the intersection of 32nd Street and Ferry Avenue by Pomeroy Court Apartments.

“We are still in the permitting stage so we cannot say much,” Simon Johnson, landlord of 500 Square, said. “We are looking for a completion date around July 2020.”

The Ridge is currently under construction next door to 500 Square’s site, and units are expected to be available September 2019.

The Ridge units start at $1,000. Their design features balconies and a parking lot and is located right across from a bus stop.

500 Square, a five minute drive to Western, will have 66 units with 24 three-bedroom units and 42 two-bedroom units.

The project has a total of 120 days to be approved by the city.

“I started designing this project around November and December of last year,” Michael Smith, the project’s architect, said. “We will start the construction sometime this summer.”

Pomeroy Court hosted a public meeting, led by Smith, on March 26 at Lowell Elementary School to give the public a rundown of the project from a design standpoint. Only a few people showed up with questions, according to Smith.

“There were concerns expressed about eliminating the additional parking and stormwater,” Smith said. “I believe that we need to move away from building big parking garages, but the city code requires that we need to put in a specific amount of parking spots.”

Stormwater runoff from a project must be captured and treated before going into public stormwater drains, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology. 

“We are capturing all of the stormwater coming down Ferry Avenue and putting it into a pre-treatment system,” Smith said. “We will be treating the stormwater off of our site, which is a huge benefit to the water quality of Bellingham Bay.”

Bellingham City Council member Michael Lilliquist suggested adding more unit storage space in the building design to accommodate every individual’s needs.

“I would like to see a project that appeals to a broader range of potential residents, rather than being aimed at just the college student market,” Lilliquist said. “Without storage, a small apartment is a pain for those who need storage for recreational gear, seasonal items, holiday decorations, hobbies, mementos and family possessions.”

Wendy Scherrer, a community member, expressed concerns about the dangers of street and pedestrian traffic around the complex.

“Of most concern is the pedestrian, bike and car interactions around 32nd Street and Ferry Avenue, because there is no safe crosswalk for pedestrians and bikers,” Scherrer said. “I believe there needs to be a traffic study to determine solutions to the busy intersection there.”

Though community members have expressed concerns about design flaws, the aesthetics of the building design has unique aspects.

“The city challenged me to create an iconic and striking entry at the intersection,” Smith said. “I think I have succeeded.”

The apartment complex will be organized around a central courtyard to increase security, according to Smith.

“What we look for are designs that are going to set themselves apart from other multi-family units,” Bellingham city planner Brian Smart said. “When a corner property is acquired, we want it to be a grand entrance.”

The proposal process for projects like 500 Square has many steps, according to Smart.

“In general, someone needs to hold a pre-application conference designed to help shed light on the potential issues of what could send a project sideways,” Smart said. “A neighborhood meeting is then held for public comment on the design of the project.”

An application for land use permit is issued and will be followed by an environmental review of the project, according to Smart.

“Once everything is in agreement, a consolidated permit is issued and there will be a notice of decision to the applicant,” Smart said.

The Ridge has already been approved by the city, which will have 15 units of one and three bedrooms.The apartment complex is primarily intended for student living.

The apartment complex will be organized around a central courtyard to increase security, according to Smith.

“What we look for are designs that are going to set themselves apart from other multi-family units,” Bellingham city planner Brian Smart said. “When a corner property is acquired, we want it to be a grand entrance.”

The proposal process for projects like 500 Square has many steps, according to Smart.

“In general, someone needs to hold a pre-application conference designed to help shed light on the potential issues of what could send a project sideways,” Smart said. “A neighborhood meeting is then held for public comment on the design of the project.”

An application for land use permit is issued and will be followed by an environmental review of the project, according to Smart.

“Once everything is in agreement, a consolidated permit is issued and there will be a notice of decision to the applicant,” Smart said.

The Ridge has already been approved by the city, which will have 15 units of one and three bedrooms.The apartment complex is primarily intended for student living.

Neighboring residents have been affected by the construction.

“I think that expanding a company is important, but given that the construction is so close to us, it does create some frustrating inconveniences,” Esperanza Hernandez, neighboring resident to The Ridge, said. “They start at 6 a.m. which is noisy, and driving is hard with the trucks blocking the road.”

In residential zones, quiet hours for construction are 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., according to the city of Bellingham Planning and Community Development Department.

“The construction has been happening since we moved in,” Yuvia Marquez, another neighboring resident who lives in the Broadway Apartments, said. “We can’t have our windows or blinds open because of the noise.”

One comment

  • $1,000 a month for rent for small apartments is still too high especially compared to our minimum wage and the cost of other necessities. This highlights exactly why replying on the private sector to solve our housing crisis will NOT work, yet that’s exactly what our government seems to prefer. The city, and especially your landlords on council, are relying on a Regan era trickle down economics scheme to address our housing issue. They say that simply raising the vacancy rate will reduce rents, but there is no guarantee of that, and this amount of apartments is too small a number to really effect the statistic. Also, no matter how many units are built we the landlords can simply choose NOT to charge less, ever. We need all of this new housing to be rent controlled public housing if we ever want to see students/workers, etc. get a fair shake on this necessity.

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