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Boulos Twins architectural rendering (September 2019). Source: City of Ferndale

Downtown Ferndale Catalyst Program developers seek 2nd deadline extension

FERNDALE, Wash. — According to a city staff report provided to the Ferndale Planning Commission for their next regular meeting, city staff are recommending extending catalyst project deadlines for a second time by 6 months.

During the last 2 2019 meetings of the Ferndale City Council, 3 of 4 applicant projects, after 1 was withdrawn, were approved for the City of Ferndale Catalyst Program based on public benefit, architectural design, site design and expected effectiveness as a catalyst to attract more businesses to the Ferndale downtown area. All projects have multi-family residential and commercial components.

Qualifying projects would have their city impact and connection fees waived. According to city staff, the approximate monetary value of this benefit to the developers has been estimated to be as follows.

  • $453,00 Alder Plaza (on the northeast corner of 4th Avenue and Alder Street)
  • $1,100,000 Boulos Twin Towers (on the south side of the 2100 block of Main Street)
  • $2,100,000 Fountain Place (on the southeast corner of 1st Avenue and Main Street)

The 3 catalyst projects are also eligible for an 8-year Multifamily Tax Exemption also approved by the City Council

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Tight construction deadlines were set to ensure the projects would be open by the summer of 2022.

Alder Plaza architectural rendering (September 2019). Source: City of Ferndale
Alder Plaza architectural rendering (September 2019). Source: City of Ferndale

In January, a month after the projects were approved, city staff sought to extend the deadlines by 5 months. The reasoning, according to the staff report, was due to a “request from the applicants and staff to allow more time to prepare and review the plans for these large projects.”

Community Development Director Haylie Miller told the Planning and Land Use council committee the tight initial catalyst deadlines were set “to make sure and remind the applicants and the public this is an incentive, it’s a short-lived program.” She also said city staff would have to put all other permit applications on hold in order to meet the city’s May deadline for granting construction permit approval. But she also warned that extending the deadline into 2021 would be “running the risk of potentially hitting a recession or the applicants backing out or this program just kind of disintegrating as time slowly goes on.”

Ferndale City Council approved the 5-month extension in February with the caveat city staff provide monthly updates at city council meetings regarding each project’s progress to ensure they remained on schedule.

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Miller brought the recent deadline extension request to a city council committee meeting on May 13th and asking to extend the deadlines another 6 months. If approved, construction would be required to begin by April 1, 2021 and construction completed by April 1, 2023, both are 11 months later than the initial deadlines.

Fountain Place architectural rendering (September 2019). Source: City of Ferndale
Fountain Place architectural rendering (September 2019). Source: City of Ferndale

According to the staff report for the next Planning Commission meeting, the 2 developers behind the catalyst projects say the current economic crisis has dramatically impacted their ability to finance the projects and to attract commercial tenants.

Developer Sam Boulos said in a letter to Miller,

“With the current conditions in the country right now due to COVID-19, the banks are not financing, and investors are not funding the programs like the Catalyst.”

Boulos is behind the Boulos Twin Towers project.

Developer David Braithwaite’s lawyer also said in a letter to Miller,

“The Catalyst program deadlines were aggressive when adopted by the City of Ferndale. Now, without warning COVID-19 has created uncertainty on many fronts. A goal of the Catalyst program is to create vibrancy in the downtown core not just to construct vacant space. Vibrancy requires businesses, tenants, and end users. This goal is still achievable however, it will take longer in today’s reality. Financing decisions by lenders have been delayed on commercial projects. Restaurants and coffee shops have had their businesses curtailed or closed. Businesses that depend on in person traffic have been closed or operating under restrictions.”

Braithwaite’s lawyer, in the same letter, noted that in the absence of an another extension, developers would need to reconsider the viability of their projects.

Braithwaite is behind the Alder Plaza and Fountain Place projects.

Local real estate professional Jon Rockwood, along with Braithwaite, expressed concern regarding the oversupply of commercial real estate in Ferndale during a public hearing regarding a different Mixed-Use Commercial Zone change during the July 15th Ferndale Planning Commission regular meeting.

A public hearing is scheduled regarding the extension during tomorrow’s, August 12th, Planning Commission meeting at 6pm. The public can join the online meeting via this link. Members of the public can provide comments during the public hearing via any of the following methods:

  • Email Community Development Director Haylie Miller via hayliemiller@cityofferndale.org prior to the start of the meeting.
  • Phone in when the public hearing is announced by calling 253-220-4085 and entering the conference ID “798 319 506” followed by pressing #.
  • Appear in-person at 5694 Second Avenue and make your comment via a provided teleconference connection. In-person attendance will be limited to 5 members of the public.

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