This one takes the cake.
The happiest face that you could put on real estate in Whatcom County is that it is in the doldrums. What do we see? Empty houses. Few housing starts. Large inventories. "A buyer's market." Bellingham is helping to bring the market up a little bit, looking at County-wide figures, but what about the small cities? Grim, grimmer, grimmest. Ferndale, total homes sold down 33%; Lynden, total homes sold down 37%. Click here for the link.
What does County Council Chair Sam Crawford propose to do about this?
Provide more land for more houses.
That's right. Council Chair Crawford suggests that the fact that the Growth Management Hearings Board decided that Ferndale's boundary extended too far out into the green fields of the County (see previous post) doesn't reflect the fact that Ferndale's boundary takes in too much land. Rather, it's because the County is not planning for enough new residents in new houses. Link is here.
We just don't have enough vacant houses!
Now, someone will jump in to say that current market conditions are not the same as growth projections for the future. I understand that. As far as I can tell, though, what Sam Crawford and Jack Petree are arguing is based on past population growth, not informed future projections. Their argument appears to be that population growth between 2000 and 2010 was higher than projected, leading to a "therefore" that makes no sense to me: therefore, the County needs to put lots more land on the market to accommodate that higher-than-projected growth.
If the County hadn't accommodated sufficient population in Whatcom County over the past ten years, the bottom wouldn't have fallen out of real estate. Isn't that what the free market is telling us?
Clearly, Whatcom County's biggest problem at the moment is not that we don't have enough vacant houses. But it might be Chair Crawford's biggest problem. The County just lost before the Growth Management Hearings Board, and the natural human response is to make that someone else's fault. (Point fingers at population projections! It's their fault!). The size of his client base (he's a development consultant) depends on the availability of developable land. Less development, fewer sources of income. That's an incentive.
Finally, focusing on nonexistent "land grabs" and kvetching about the 20-year-old Growth Management Act during an election year keeps folks riled up -- a tried and true technique in this County.