Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Aurora North?

I'm reminded of a quote I read in a travel magazine about a place where I once lived that said something like:  "Once you get past the mind numbing clutter and sprawl, there is a nice community."

More than fifteen years ago, I recall driving through Bellingham as I was headed north for a river rafting trip.  I drove up the Guide and thought:  "UGH!"  What happened here?  I never thought I'd really want to live here based on that first impression.  And wasn't the Growth Management Act meant to control this sprawl and encourage smart development in our urban areas?

Much as Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography, most people would be hard pressed to define urban sprawl, but they know it when they see it.  When it comes to the Guide -- I've seen it.  Textbook sprawl.

Here we are twenty years after Growth Management passed, and the county is proposing to abolish any limits on the extent of building size you can put into commercial and industrial areas up the Guide.  While they say there are limits of 30,000 square feet in the ordinance, all it takes is a separation of a foot to build yet another 30,000 square foot building.

Is this what Jack and Clayton Petree meant when they write about "Preserving Traditional Rural Character in Whatcom County?"  Click here for their letter.

I still recall the conversation that the Planning Commission had regarding the Guide.  The Planning Commission, after great debate, chose to limit development to nodes along the Guide:  Smith, Axton, Laurel, Pole, and Wiser Lake.  These are all areas that had development back in 1990 when the Growth Management Act passed.  There still were open spaces left between these nodes -- which functioned to serve the rural community.

Yet still, the Planning Commission debated whether the Guide was a lost cause.  I think the County Council proposal definitely gives up on the Guide. The commercial and industrial corridor has basically been extended all the way from the Bellingham UGA through Laurel.  Then, there is a small break in the Ten Mile Creek area for some agricultural lands, and then you have more intensive development all the way to the Nooksack floodplain and Lynden. 

Caitac:  I'm not going to detail this issue much, but the public needs to recognize that the County Council proposal doesn't show the Caitac proposal yet.  There is an active application and settlement agreement with Caitac that will go to hearing soon.  Caitac application link here  Meanwhile, the agents for Caitac have been busy with amending the plan and code to smooth the way for their proposal.  You can review their letters on the PDS website from their attorney.  (Comment Tracker)  Some of Caitac's input that the Council has accepted includes eliminating language that requires "isolation" from urban areas for "rural tourist" facilities, stripping the size of cluster development in order to "urbanize" -- oops, that is "protect the rural character" of their intensive housing development planned around their "rural tourist" facility. 

Caitac adds to sprawl up the Guide.  Will it happen some day?  Yea.  But, should it be coordinated with Bellingham and the sprawl up the Guide?  Yea. 

Is it too late for the Guide?  Probably.  But, we certainly shouldn't be encouraging development there before we develop our urban areas.  And, we can certainly work to preserve our open spaces along this corridor through building size limits, design and sign controls, buffers, and other measures to protect our Rural Character.  I'm not willing to give up on it and see this turn into Aurora North.  Are you?

If you are, then please let the Council know that they missed a spot in their designation.  I'm sure he'll be in next year asking for a free upzone.

The hearing is on the 29th.  7 p.m.  Council emailExecutive Kremen emailPDS email

Here is what my map of the Guide is under the County Council proposal. 


  1. And I'm reminded of a comment made by a developer at a public hearing in another jurisdiction: "Sprawl is inevitable, so let's get on with it!"

    I think that sentiment is probably widespread in our development community here. And many people outside the development community have low expectations in Whatcom County. We look at the sprawl further south and think that it's all we deserve and all we'll get. And that can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    But I also think of a story that John Belisle told me, about an old-timer he met. That gentleman remembered what a treat it was, when he was a boy, to come to Whatcom County to drive up the Guide because it was so beautiful. There's still some of that left, in some areas.

    And there's ag land in back of the sprawl. More on that later.

  2. One wonders what principles County Council believes they are defending.

  3. google 'right to property'