The lawyer that represents Governor's Point was quite incredible tonight. One of her comments that struck out is that "nimbyism" is not a LAMIRD criteria. She also said: neither is politics.
Several speakers that live, work and have been raised in the rural areas of our county decried the input that the Council was receiving from "them city folk" in Bellingham. "Maybe we should put a toll road on the Guide so that all the people from the city can come look at us," said one (or something to that effect).
So, why should people in urban areas care what is happening in the rural areas? For me, there are three principle reasons:
(1) We Pay for Sprawl. It is hard to argue with the folks that say that those that live in the city really have no reason to have input on what they consider rural character. I can think of a few reasons, such as making sure that the development doesn't interfere with our resource based industry. But, the most compelling issue for me is that us "city folks" pay for that rural sprawl.
A farmer spoke tonight about how he remembered how all the roads were dirt when he was growing up. The State just spent $172 million on widening the Guide in order to address safety and congestion issues that was largely caused by sprawl. As the State says on their web site: when the Guide Meridian was first built, the two-lane road adequately served the needs of drivers. The 20,000 drivers that now use the road on a daily basis south of Lynden exceeded the limits of the highway.
Let's speculate for a minute on what $172 million could have bought us. We need to recognize that at least some investment was needed for safety improvements. Let's just say $50 million for safety. That leaves $122 million after safety. Let's say we decided to invest $50 million on improving the safety of all our railroad crossings so that freight could safely get to Cherry Point. Now we have $72 million left.
Now, remind me. What was the price of that new jail you want to build? Just think what sprawl costs you in real economic development.
(2) Logical Outer Boundaries. The county has significantly weakened the policies that designate rural business or limited areas of more intensive rural development. Please review the comprehensive plan policies for Rural Community. These are Type I LAMIRDs that are supposed to be based on the built environment when Growth Management passed in 1990.
Where the county was allowed to expand boundaries to a "logical outer boundary", such as roads and other natural features, the County Council -- much like a wildfire, leapt across the road and added additional areas into their boundary. Changes to the logical outer boundary from the Planning Commission recommendation were made in Custer, Glacier, Hinotes Corner, Maple Falls, Nugents Corner, Pole and Guide, Sudden Valley (outside the development), Van Wyck and last but not least: the Guide Meridian from Smith up through Laurel.
View County Council maps: click here
View Planning Commission maps: click here
(3) Rural Businesses. The Growth Management Act allows nonresidential uses (layman terms: commercial or industrial development) to intensify if they are "isolated" and allows new development of isolated cottage industries and isolated small-scale business. By my count, there are seven areas proposed for this designation. Almost all of them make sense, such as the store at Van Zandt or Welcome. The one that stands out is Birch Bay-Lynden and I-5.
And here come the lawyers. Property owners are well represented in this area by attorneys Swanson and Wolfe in defending decisions to allow commercial and industrial development in this area since 1990. The aerial photos clearly show there was no development in this area, and development in this area has to meet these three key terms: 1) isolated; 2) cottage industry; and 3) small -scale business.
Now, look at the proposed zoning map for this area (click here). Do you think that the extent of these zoning designations meet a definition of isolated? There are two zoning districts proposed in this area: RIM and RGC. Now look at the proposed zoning code for these two zones (click here). The RGC zone starts on page 19 of the proposed zoning amendments. The RIM zone starts on page 37 of the proposed zoning amendments.
Now tell me how any of those uses are small scale business or cottage industries?
Attorneys representing developers have succeeded in even further weakening the provisions of this zoning code by increasing the size of buildings allowed in this zone from 12,000 square foot buildings to 30,000 square foot buildings. In other words, a place the size of Hardware Sales is to be considered a small scale business in rural areas. And they have increased the amount of impervious surfaces that are allowed, increasing runoff to the Drayton Harbor watershed, a designated Shellfish Protection District.
But, what makes this even worse is that this pattern of rural business can be repeated time and time again throughout the county. This designation isn't limited by the Growth Management Act to the areas that existed since 1990. This is new development.
Policy 2HH-3 (page 14 of Comprehensive Plan policies), indicates that this proposal for this intense rural business can spread every half mile throughout Whatcom County. And, the half mile can be done away with when separated by a "major road" or "other physical feature."
If this is the County Council's idea of discouraging low-density sprawl, I would hate to see a proposal that encourages it!
So, in answer to the question about whether we are Nimby's or if this is politics: my interest in this issue is not about nimby's and isn't about politics. Unfortunately, the lawyer is trying to make it about that in trying to defend 1 acre lots on pristine marine shorelines as rural.
Get real. Get Whatcom Planning!