‘Gorgeous’ 150-foot mural to grace latest of 3 buildings in Bellingham apartment project

Construction on a three-building luxury housing development in Bellingham is expected to be completed soon — adding 116 market-rate units to the city’s housing supply.

Along side, the developer contracted with Bellingham-based artist and muralist Gretchen Leggitt to design and create a large mural on one face of the new building, adding vibrancy to the area.

The Elwood Edge Luxury Apartments are located on Elwood Avenue in the Samish Hill neighborhood. The project development began about five years ago, with tenants moving into the first apartment building, Elwood Edge, about two years ago.

The second building, Triple Rock, welcomed tenants shortly after that. The third building, The Jake, is expected to open in June 2024, according to Summit Construction, the company developing the housing.

The Jake luxury apartments are currently under construction on Elwood Avenue on Sept. 20, 2023, in Bellingham, Wash. Residents are expected to move in on June 1, 2024. Rachel Showalter/The Bellingham Herald
The Jake luxury apartments are currently under construction on Elwood Avenue on Sept. 20, 2023, in Bellingham, Wash. Residents are expected to move in on June 1, 2024. Rachel Showalter/The Bellingham Herald

Elwood Edge has 60 units. Triple Rock has 33 units plus a commercial space. The Jake will have the most housing, with 116 units, although seven of those new units will be three-story townhomes with four bedrooms.

Most of the The Jake apartments will be a mix of studios, and one- and two-bedroom units.

The Jake is designed to house mainly students and working professionals. It will feature a 2,000-square-foot fitness center, three parking garages for tenants and a secure bike storage area. The development also has community areas and additional storage areas available for rent.

Creating a canvas of concrete

Leggitt’s murals can be seen across Bellingham, Washington state and the country. Her art often depicts landscapes and images of the environment, ‘encapsulating the energetic movement of the elements and the nuanced geometry of topography,’ according to her website.

Leggitt and Summit Construction agree that this mural on The Jake will help create positive change for the community by softening the added concrete that comes with mass growth.

“There’s so much concrete everywhere,” Summit Construction’s business office manager Dawnah Klevland said in an interview with The Bellingham Herald. “We ended up with this massive concrete wall and this is just trying to soften that for the community. That way when people are driving by, they’re not just seeing another building. They’re actually seeing this gorgeous picture that reminds you that you’re in the Pacific Northwest.”

Gretchen Leggitt’s Encogen Mural, in Bellingham, Wash., in 2018, inspired the idea of Hydrascape Stickers. The Encogen mural is Leggitt’s largest, spanning over 22,000 square feet. Michael Dyrland/Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald
Gretchen Leggitt’s Encogen Mural, in Bellingham, Wash., in 2018, inspired the idea of Hydrascape Stickers. The Encogen mural is Leggitt’s largest, spanning over 22,000 square feet. Michael Dyrland/Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

The mural will be about 150 feet tall and depict an underwater theme.

“It’s a very tall, narrow wall and I’m thinking, ‘This has the opportunity to go deep.’ Instead of going subterranean with the mountains, let’s go deep and underwater,” Leggitt told The Herald.

Leggitt said this mural will highlight ocean ecosystems and kelp forests in the Pacific Northwest region — something very few people get the opportunity to see.

“Not only are (kelp forests) visually absolutely stunning but they’re also crucial for our marine biodiversity,” Leggitt said. “They’re providing shelter. They’re providing food and breeding grounds for countless marine organisms from fish to sea otters, our orcas and birds.”

Kelp forests also play a vital role in mitigating climate change as they absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Leggitt said this mural is an opportunity to tell a story and raise awareness about a threatened ecosystem.

The mural will face Interstate 5 so both Bellingham residents and freeway drivers will be able to see it.

Pricing and affordability

The rental prices of the studios, and one- and two-bedroom units in The Jake will be about $1,400, $1,860 and $2,200, respectively. The rental prices of the townhomes in The Jake have not yet been set.

None of the buildings offer affordable units for low-income renters. But Summit Construction is in the early stages of planning an affordable housing development in Fairhaven, according to Klevland.

As of September 2023, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Bellingham was $1,500, according to data from Zumper. This is a 19% increase compared with last year.

By 2044, Whatcom County is estimated to need almost 35,000 new housing units to meet growth demand. About 22,000 of those units, more than 60%, need to be affordable, according to Blake Lyon, Bellingham’s director of planning & community development.

A rendering shows the design of ‘The Jake,’ one of three buildings in the Elwood Edge luxury apartment development on Elwood Avenue in Bellingham, Wash. The color scheme of the building is expected to change to work well with a mural that will be painted on the side of the building. Summit Construction/Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald
A rendering shows the design of ‘The Jake,’ one of three buildings in the Elwood Edge luxury apartment development on Elwood Avenue in Bellingham, Wash. The color scheme of the building is expected to change to work well with a mural that will be painted on the side of the building. Summit Construction/Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

In order to be considered affordable, housing costs can’t exceed 30% of a family’s gross income and must serve families making 80% or less of the area’s median income, according to the city of Bellingham.

Bellingham makes up about 48% of the housing production in Whatcom County. So the city will need to produce almost 17,000 total housing units to help meet the demand. More than 10,000 of those need to be affordable. To stay on track, the city needs to build more than 500 affordable housing units every year.

Washington needs to develop more than 1 million homes over the next two decades to keep up with population growth, according to the Washington State Department of Commerce. More than half of them need to be affordable for residents at the lowest income levels.