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Graafstra Farm to be developed into Haller Point

ARLINGTON Developing a local institution can be a risky business.
What was once Country Charm Dairy will eventually be a housing development the uplands anyway and developer Noel Higa wants the community to be involved in planning it. Thus, a two-day design charrette was held last week, where neighbors in the area around the former dairy farm were invited to participate along with a variety of land-use designers and consultants.
A fancy new name for a workshop, the charrette involved a wide range of professionals sketching their ideas on Wednesday afternoon, after the neighbors provided input Tuesday evening.
The charrette was held in the former dairy barn, which is a key part of the new village concept development, Higa said.
From day one, I heard the message loud and clear keep the barn, he said.
Henry Graafstra sold his cows more than a year ago and is negotiating with the city to convert the lowlands of his farm into a city park. The uplands is a long narrow spit that extends into the South Fork valley of the Stillaguamish River with beautiful views facing both west and east.
Ive heard a lot of people say they want to retire here, Higa chuckled, since ground breaking is a long way off.
Higa has hired Dan Nelson, of Designs Northwest in Stanwood, to design the project which will be formulated as a self-contained village with a commercial area featuring the barn at the entrance. The Village Store, which reopened with its new name on the Fourth of July this summer, would be the anchor.
A grand entry is planned on a proposed Gilman Boulevard.
The commercial area would include live-and-work units where residents can open a shop on the street level and live upstairs.
Lots of people call it European but for me, its more Chinese or Asian, Higa said about the concept of living above ones shop. The barn could also provide a community center and plans are to include a private school in the common areas, before getting into a variety of housing units to the northeast end of the point.
We visualize massage therapists, attorneys, artists, just about anyone can open a shop on the street level and live up above, Higa explained.
The Oct. 10 afternoon session had professionals sketching their many different ideas on tracing paper about how to locate the mixed-use housing along the long narrow spit that extends into the valley.
A former business partner of Higas, John Burkholder was sharing his ideas with Dan Nelson and his team from Designs Northwest, who was taking the lead as the design consultant on the project.
I am on the job until the site plan approval, Nelson said.
He explained why they wanted to have a public workshop so early in the process.
We want to clear up any misconceptions, he said. We had one neighbor who came in concerned because she heard there would be three-story condos.
Nelsons Stanwood-based company designed guidelines and some renovations of historical buildings in downtown Stanwood, along with many new communities.
I am a big believer in open process with community input, Nelson said.
Good design is our goal, he added. We are striving to create a quality neighborhood in this landmark project.
Another participant, Lon Kaspirson, is an urban design teacher at the University of Washington, and an urban design student from Central Washington University, Lura Bradford, also attended.
I have learned so much, Bradford said, while admitting she skipped school to attend the charrette. I have learned a whole quarters worth, she added.
Burkholder joked that he came to keep his former partner on track but then admitted he had a personal interest in the project since he can see the land from his house on Tveit Road and wants it to look good.
Really, I just enjoy dabbling in design, said Burkholder, of HBA Design Group, formerly known as Higa Burkholder Associates. Burkholder joined Higa in Everett and then Higa left the company to become a developer in Arlington with his daughter and the team called Ronin Northwest.
The crew includes project manager Levon Yengoyan and Higas daughter Tasha Branch, who is the permit manager. Yengoyans wife Jane Cassidy is doing PR for the team and they have hired Designs Northwest as the designer of the new community.
Yengoyan said they decided to have the design charrette early in the process because they didnt want to present a set deal.
We see this as a step toward creating a vision for Arlington, Yengoyan said. We will present a bigger, five-day charrette later when we get some concepts down on paper.
Ideas include making the houses fit with Arlingtons pre-existing style, and making high density more appealing with quality details and arrangement.
We can make the close cottages more pleasant by arranging them so you dont stare from your kitchen into the neighbors kitchen window, Nelson said. The high-density cottage concept is a evolution of condominiums which have floundered in recent years due to liability issues.
Arlington Mayor Margaret Larson, City Administrator Allen Johnson, Senior Planner Yvonne Page and Community Development interim Manager Bill Blake attended the end of the charrette to see what they had come up with.
Mayor Larson said that she is excited about the project.
It will be a wonderful addition to the city not just the new neighborhood, but also the big city park on the lowland below.
Itll be wonderful for people who want a beautiful spot to retire with no yard work, Larson said.
The concept at this point includes a grand entryway via a Gilman Street Boulevard, mixed-use housing with a variety of sizes and costs, a commercial area around The Village Store, a private school, live-work accommodations and a community center. The access to the development will also be the access to the city park on the river plain below.
The property is in the citys Urban Growth Boundary, although it has yet to be annexed.
Higas real estate investment partner, Greg Blunt of Crown Distributing, said he first met Higa when they worked together on his Crown property at 172nd Street. He said he has joined up with Higa because he wants to see quality development in the area.
I live in Lake Stevens and didnt like what happened there, Blunt said. I would like to see good, quality growth in Arlington. He feels connected to the Graafstra property in a special way.
My great grandfather was a dairyman, he said.
The dairyman who sold the upland to Higa and Blunt, Graafstra enjoyed watching the workshop.
I think its a good idea that people have their say, Graafstra said. I think it was considerate of Noel to let people provide input. Ive heard that Noel has the reputation for being a good developer.
Graafstra said he hopes the development turns out good for Arlington because it is an historical piece of property.
It was homesteaded in 1881 by Jasper Sill, Graafstra said, adding that Post Middle School and Woblinski Manor were a part of the original plat.
I dont want it to turn into a ghetto, he said. Id like it to be something nice that Arlington will be proud of.

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