Not only that, but David was the Planning Director through the first two years or so of the Rural Element process, and I chaired the Planning Commission through its whole process of reviewing, considering, and holding public hearings on the Rural Element, which took the better part of a year.
And still, we're scrambling to figure out what, exactly, the County Council is proposing to adopt on Tuesday, March 29. What does it mean, what will it change in the County, what sort of place will Whatcom County be if it's all built out as the Rural Element proposes?
We're struggling, and we spend a lot of time on these issues. So it's hard to see how people with lives and jobs and interests outside this esoteric little slice of policy can have a good sense of this proposal.
To update: the Council was busy, busy, busy on March 14 and 15. Upzones here, protections and restrictions removed there. I couldn't go to the sessions - they hold work sessions during the day, not so good for those of us with day jobs - but I'm told that even the stenographer was laughing because they were making changes so fast that they didn't know where they were or what they had just amended.
One of their more notable changes was to upzone some property in the Lake Whatcom watershed to 2-acre lots. It doesn't take a psychic to see what is going to happen to the moratorium on development on lots that are smaller than 5 acres. And this is happening days after the County Executive committed to taking drastic new measures to protect Lake Whatcom!
Anyway, back to the process. On the evening of March 15, hard on the heels of all this frenetic activity, the Council introduced. . .something. Well, it voted to introduce "an ordinance,' but nobody on the Council had actually seen the ordinance. Watch the video of the Council meeting -- you'll see. Whatever they "introduced" was still being worked on the next day, so it couldn't be posted until the end of the work day on Thursday afternoon.
But now the finished product has been posted. Click here for a web page with links to the latest drafts of the proposed Comprehensive Plan and Zoning Code.
Now what? Well, I think that we have until March 29 to take in all this information and submit comments. There's a public hearing scheduled for March 29, anyway, and the Planning and Development Services web site says that "the written record is open for public comments prior to that hearing." You can submit comments at any time to:
Whatcom County Planning and Development Services
Attention: Gary Davis
5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, WA 98226-9097
Not sure what to say? Join the crowd. We're in the same boat. But we're clawing through all the information, and if you have any questions, please -- ask away in the "Comments" section at the end of the blog. Agricultural protection (or lack thereof)? Lake Whatcom protections (or lack thereof)? Sprawl -- how much, where? If we know, we'll do our best to answer, and if we don't know, we'll tell you that, too!
UPDATE from David: Why, oh why did the sun have to shine today while I analyze this proposal? :(
While everyone thought that the county was supposed to put "limits" on rural development, they have now been so bold to actually weaken them. The current code limits how much you can cover your property with buildings and parking lots. They have taken that restriction out of the rural commercial and industrial zones. The picture below is an area along the Guide. The new standards would allow more than 14 acres of additional impervious surfaces in this area alone. Compound that throughout the rural areas, and guess what you get: more stormwater runoff and more traffic. And, development in rural areas rather than in urban areas.
Emerald or Toad Lake:
The following two images show the last minute addition by the Council to add 120 acres above Emerald Lake (Toad Lake) to a Rural Community designation, which is supposed to be based on the built environment in 1990. Using new accurate information published by Bellingham GIS staff, the second map shows part of the property to also be in the Lake Whatcom Watershed. This property also abuts forest lands, and traffic impacts city and state highways.
Spawl up I-5:
People often say that we don't want Whatcom County to become Marysville, or Lynwood. Why? Because people see the sprawl that has moved its way north out of the main urban areas of Seattle -- and don't like what they see as impacting their quality of life. While making maps for our submittal to the County Council, I came across a statewide map on Urban Growth Areas. It is pretty telling. The first map is a state perspective, and the second map is focused on Whatcom County. Notice how there isn't hardly any open spaces left along I-5 in Whatcom County? That is why growth management is so darn important to quality of life here, folks. (This map will be updated later to include the CAITAC proposal up the Guide as well.)