Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Great Questions

Some commenters on the Politics blog raised some great questions about growth.  I'm summarizing them and inviting discussion. 
  1. Is rural development ever economically feasible?
  2. Don't impact fees in a city work as a counter-productive penalty to urban development?
  3. Planning isn't precise, so shouldn't there be room for errors in assumptions?
  4. What part of this discussion is a regional planning issue, versus a local one?
  5. How can we make existing development in the suburbs more cost effective?
  6. How do we hold firm to zoning laws to protect our resource lands for generations to come?
  7. How do we establish laws that ensure an equitable sharing of development costs?


  1. Mr. Stalheim,

    Thanks for providing a troll-free environment to address serious planning issues. If I may, I’d like to take a stab at your questions:

    1) Yes, I believe both rural and sub-urban development can be economically feasible. That is, it can be profitable for the developer, affordable for the homeowner, not overly burdensome on the general community of taxpayers, and not destructive of the environment. The key is proper and well-executed planning, zoning, design and permitting.

    2) No, impact fees in a city do not work as a counter-productive penalty to urban development. The lack of impact fees in the county serve as a counter-productive incentive to urban development. Impact fees are needed to ensure the general taxpaying public is not burdened by the costs associated with population growth. The answer is not to reduce or eliminate impact fees in the city, but to establish adequate impact fees in both the city and county.

    3) Planning cannot be precise, but it can be routinely updated. Simply shrugging your shoulders and saying that it’s an error-ridden art isn’t good enough. When erroneous assumptions are identified, correct them.

    4) As cities morph into each other, most planning needs to be regional. Interlocal agreements between cities and the county are needed to address these overlaps.

    5) Cost effective in what terms? Not a financial burden on the general public? Not profitable for developers? Not affordable?

    6) Good question. As elections change the composition of city and county councils, it’s become too easy to simply overturn previous legislation. We need to come to an agreement on what limits to growth exist in Whatcom County and its cities and establish laws we can all live with and defend. Education will play an important role for both sides – those who promote and profit from population growth and those who resist it.

    7) We need better information to determine what costs of population growth are being passed on and externalized onto existing residents and establish adequate, market-based, impact fees. There are two components that need to be addressed: the capital outlay needed to expand infrastructure (roads, schools, parks, fire, police, jails, libraries, museums, government, etc) and the ongoing maintenance and service costs. Additionally, where excess capacity exists but is consumed by growth, development must compensate the community for use of that capacity.

    Hope this is helpful.

  2. Re: my response to Q2 should read:

    The lack of impact fees in the county serve as a counter-productive incentive to RURAL development.