Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hammer or pen? Which impacts rural areas most?

What do you think causes more impact:  lines on paper or a new bottling plant in a rural area?

The ordinance passed by the Council last week is simply window dressing and it affects very few people.  The ordinance affected only land divisions, or the creation of lots.  It didn't stop, say Gold Star, from filing applications on their 77 acres along I-5 and Birch Bay-Lynden Road for buildings that could include manufacturing, fabrication, warehouses, wrecking yards, wholesale trade, retail building yards, professional offices, bottling plants, retail shops, banks, hotels, restaurants, and secure community transition facilities for sex offenders.

This development potential is what really interferes with the goals of the Growth Management Act, because it is the act of development (i.e. constructing buildings, demanding services and generating traffic) that causes the interference, not the division of land.

Another big loophole that the County left open is an alternative form of land division for commercial, industrial and condominium projects called "binding site plans."  There are 1,500 acres of land zoned for commercial and industrial uses in "rural" areas of Whatcom County.  This loophole is big enough to run a semi-truck through, which by the way, is a one of the many uses permitted on property like Gold Star's:  freight terminals, along with retail, offices, etc.

Consider the fact that it has been 20 years since Growth Management passed, and 14 years since the LAMIRD provisions were adopted into law that ALLOWED "limited areas of more intensive rural development".  Do you honestly think that there is any land left to divide that hasn't already been divided or an application filed to "vest" them?    

Consider projects like Governor's Point that already have 25 year vesting agreements approved by the county.  Our County has even made regional news.  Robert McClure, a writer with InvestigateWest reported about Whatcom County's vesting and sprawl in his January 13, 2011 article in Crosscut online news.
In order to begin discussion as to whether or not development allowed in Whatcom County rural areas would substantially interfere with the goals of the Growth Management Act, I would point you to the proposed amendments to the Whatcom County Zoning Code submitted by County staff on September 7, 2010, or the recommendations of the County Planning Commission on October 8, 2009.

The rural land division moratorium does nothing more than what the Order of Invalidity already provides.  What is needed in order to lift the Order of Invalidity is for Whatcom County to pass a Rural Element that is compliant with the Growth Management Act.

Meanwhile, Whatcom County has filed motions to rescind the Order of Invalidity, and have filed motions to stop my voice from being heard in these proceedings.  It is important to get informed on these rural issues.  Support the efforts of Futurewise because they have a seat at the table, trying to make sure that we Get Whatcom Planning again.

For a previous post on the history of why it may be "too late" in rural areas, see my October blog post.


  1. David,

    According to the County's motion to rescind the determination of invalidity, the adopted 60-day emergency ordinance (coupled with the 6-month extension) "eliminates any substantial interference with RCW 36.70A.020(2), which was the basis for the Board's invalidity determination."

    Do you agree? If not, why not?

  2. Land division doesn't cause traffic impacts, increase impervious surfaces, demand fire, police or school services. Physically developing the property does cause these impacts -- hammers, bulldozers, etc. The moratorium only stops the division of land.

    I submitted detailed comments to the council so that this information could be used to counter the lame argument coming from the county. They need to pass a compliant plan, and they should mediate this issue for quick resolution. Too many people that could develop in legitimate rural areas, like Glacier, are caught in the middle.

  3. I apparently do like banging my head against brick walls (I've been responding to Jack Petree attacks in the Herald Politics blog, which falls into that category). I also testifed at the Council hearing last night, as did Cathy Lehman on behalf of Futurewise.

    There was no presentation about the purpose or effects of the moratorium ordinances, so if Anon 777 or any other curious member of the public had attended in hopes of finding out what the ordinance would do, why it had been proposed, or how it related to the Order of Invalidity -- in other words, why their elected body was spending time on such a thing -- they would have been out of luck.

    The vote to approve the ordinances was 5-2, in case anybody was in suspense!

  4. I did not attend because I have no hope that doing so can be effective in a vacuum.

    It has been my experience that virtually all important decisions are made far in advance of any Council meeting. Given the makeup of this Council, I'm not sure much can even be done behind the scenes (short of hiring Jack Petree or Jack Swanson to do our dirty work - mercifully I've not reached that low point).

    Jean, responding to Jack Petree is, as you say, an exercise in futility. Why bother? That being said, thanks for teaching me a new word: 'prolixity'. Very appropriate considering the context.