ENVISION THIS 50 YEARS FROM NOW – The La Conner Marina office parking lot, and more, left, and the acreage, including the RV park and La Conner’s public works building, above, on the east side of North Third Street are being considered for development by the Port of Skagit, its property owner. The Port will introduce its vision at a 6 p.m. May 17 meeting at Maple Hall. It will be the place to be that evening.  	 - Photos by Marissa Conklin
ENVISION THIS 50 YEARS FROM NOW – The La Conner Marina office parking lot, and more, left, and the acreage, including the RV park and La Conner’s public works building, above, on the east side of North Third Street are being considered for development by the Port of Skagit, its property owner. The Port will introduce its vision at a 6 p.m. May 17 meeting at Maple Hall. It will be the place to be that evening. - Photos by Marissa Conklin

CORRECTION / CORRECTED: May 17 is the meeting date: The conversation starts at 6 p.m. May 17 at Maple Hall.

The Port of Skagit will present its vision for what Director Sarah Young calls “very big concepts” for developing 10 acres of its “uplands” at the La Conner Marina at a May 17 visioning session with the Town of La Conner’s council and planning commission. Greater La Conner residents attending the 6 p.m. hearing at Maple Hall will get in on the ground floor of what might be the biggest economic expansion – including mixed use housing – since the 1970 construction of the Port's south basin 300-slip moorage facility.

In a phone interview with the Weekly News May 3, Young asked rhetorically, “What would we do if we had a blank slate? It will give the Marina and town some new life.” The Port is thinking big. It has gained control of the entire area north of the slough extending from Swinomish Channel toward Sullivan Slough. The acreage encompasses La Conner’s public works building, the self-storage facility and the Marina’s RV park are on the east side of North Third Street. The Marina’s office, several businesses, including Dunlap Towing, are on the west side. The northern boundary is the S-curve of Pearle Jensen Way past North Third Street.

Young will be joined by Planning and Development Director Heather Rogerson and a slew of consultants, including the Schuster Group, Makers Architecture and Urban Design and PND Engineers, all of Seattle. She called it a big deal, this presentation of “a sense of vision for the town and for the Port for the next 50 years.” 

Young, a 14 year veteran at the Port, including as director of planning and facilities, is enthusiastic about the site, including its views eastward to farmlands and the Cascades and the Swinomish Channel on the west. Construction will include mixed-use – housing – and without revealing how many stories building might be, she stressed she understood “what 10 acres means. It has a big impact; it is a big deal. Is there an appetite to increase (building) height in this area?”

That is the start of the conversation she wants to have with town representatives and residents. “We want it to be a win-win,” she said. “We need to consider what type of scale pencils out for the private sector.” Once the vision evolves into a finished feasibility study, the Port will create requests for proposal for the actual development by a developer.

Housing is a critical component. Young acknowledged that the Port does not build housing, but its role is to be an economic engine. Businesses cannot expand without workers. The Port’s economic census found a major limitation to business growth is the inablitity of adding employees. “They cannot get enough people. There is a lack of housing and an inability to recruit enough people in the valley. We do have the ability to do mixed-use development,” Young said.

The conversation starts at 6 p.m. May 17 at Maple Hall. Where it ends depends as much on La Conner’s government and residents as it does on Port staff and their hired consultants.