Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sprawl or "Local Circumstances"?

Does Ferndale need even more room to sprawl -- er, grow? The Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board is in town today to hear the appeal of the County Council's decision to expand Ferndale and Birch Bay’s "Urban Growth Areas" (or UGAs) last August.

Arguments against expansion include the following:

• Population projections don’t show a need for more urban expansion, or, in the words of Futurewise’s brief,

Because the record shows that the expanded Birch Bay and Ferndale UGAs are larger than needed to accommodate their adopted population and employment projections even after making deductions for pending projects, critical areas, two deductions for public uses, infrastructure, market factors, and occupancy and density factors, these UGAs are non-compliang with the Growth Management Act;

• The County didn’t show that Ferndale could provide adequate water, wastewater, and fire protection services in the expanded urban areas;

• The County didn’t identify open space corridors between Ferndale and Bellingham, as required by the Growth Management Act (it’s not a joke to say that we have “Bellingdale” or “Ferningham,” since there’s no separation between the two);

• The UGA expansions will not protect waters of the state, including Drayton Harbor and its Shellfish Protection District;

• The County failed to identify and evaluate agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance affected by the expansions; and

• The County did not provide for early and continuous public participation, as required by state law.

The County’s responses state that:

• “Local circumstances” support the County’s decision to approve oversized UGAs;

• The UGAs are oversized by a “de minimis amount,” so it doesn’t matter that they’re too large;

• The County is not required to protect water quality when it expands UGAs because it was only expanding UGAs, not revising other parts of the Comprehensive Plan;

• The County did “designate” agricultural lands, and the fact that it never did the analysis required for designation doesn’t matter;

• Planning for open space between the cities can happen in the future and didn’t have to happen now; and

• There was adequate public participation because the participation that preceded the 2009 adoption of UGAs (by the previous Council) ought to count, because citizens could speak about whatever they wanted during open public session, and because there was one public hearing preceded by notice (the staff report was available to the public only 4 days before the hearing was held).

Ferndale argues:

• The UGA expansion just “gives back” 476 acres that the County took away from Ferndale in 2009;

• Because the County and Ferndale agreed on the expansion of Ferndale’s borders, the County was not required to justify the expansion;

• The previous decision about the appropriate size of Ferndale’s UGA was just “planning by computer” and didn’t factor in “community assumptions, sense of place, or vision for the future”;

• Local circumstances demand a larger UGA (“Ferndale speaks volumes as to what only Ferndale can know about itself”);

• Even though Ferndale didn’t have capital facilities plans in place when the UGA expansion was approved, it is the process of adopting wastewater and fire plans that will provide for service; and

• There is no absolute requirement to adopt open space between cities in order to prevent strip development, so the County was not required to do so.

Should be an interesting day.

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