Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ferndale UGA: Right Size?

Has Ferndale finally proposed an Urban Growth Area that is the right size? 

Following our successful challenge to the County Council’s decision to expand the Ferndale UGA, we now have a new proposal from the Ferndale City Council to review.  
The latest proposal from Ferndale is encouraging.  The city has now completed updates to the sewer, water, transportation, stormwater and fire district plans.  The city has proposed additional reductions to the UGA.  Most of the area within the Drayton Harbor watershed is removed from the UGA, being held in "reserve for urban growth".  The city continues to work on increasing density within the urban areas.

Getting the Ferndale UGA the right size is important.  Ferndale is one of the least dense urban areas in Whatcom County -- in fact, in Washington State.  Recent Census data (click here) shows that out of 253 Urban Growth Areas in Washington State, there are just 7 UGAs with less population per square mile that are comparable in population to Ferndale.  Bellingham, on the other hand, is in the top 50 of population per square mile.

In Whatcom County, Ferndale doesn't measure up, either.  Lynden and the Foothills UGA are fine examples of small UGAs that meet density expectations.

Urban Growth Area Name
Total Population, 2010
Population Density (Persons / Square Mile), 2010
Bellingham UGA
Lynden UGA
Whatcom County Foothills UGA
Nooksack UGA
Everson UGA
Birch Bay UGA
Ferndale UGA
Sumas UGA
Blaine UGA

As we look into the future, which is the primary reason for "planning", we should use these facts to help change the trends.  The Census data is a snapshot that planning might work to correct.  We should turn to our planning documents for that guidance. 

When we look at the County's Comprehensive Plan, it sets expectations for urban densities -- allowing the smaller cities to be less dense than Bellingham, but still setting benchmarks.  What does the plan say, and how is this latest proposal meeting that expectation?

The County's Comprehensive Plan says that Ferndale should plan at densities averaging 5 to 10 units per acre.  But in the proposal adopted by the County Council last year, and in this latest proposal, they continue to analyze the size of the UGA at densities below the range set in the plan:  4.7 units per acre.  Why plan if you don't intend to follow it? 

Thanks to the staff at Whatcom County that provided me with electronic records within 24 hours, I have been able to "crunch the numbers" before posting this blog.  When I adjust the density calculation to at least 5 units per acre, and update assumptions using new Census numbers, the UGA proposed by Ferndale is 71 "net" acres too large -- or around 150 overall acres. While this isn't the balanced size the County is reporting, it is closer to being the right size than the previous proposal.   

The question now turns to whether they have proposed a UGA in the right place, and with the needed public facilities and services.

But before we leave the conversation of density too quickly, as a region and community, it would behoove us to think real hard about whether having growth in outlying communities at even 5 units per acre is good for our county.  Agricultural lands and sensitive lands surround these "urban" areas.  As they grow out, they grow into our resource lands and critical habitat.  Are we better off having the type of densities like Bellingham has achieved to accommodate future populations in order to protect our resource-based economy? 

Look at the following two images produced by Bellingham GIS staff (available on the web) to graphically show the difference in density that is taking place in Bellingham compared to other areas, and in the time period of 1990 to 2010.

 1990 Density

2010 Density

We need to think whether to encourage growth at 5 units per acre as planned in Ferndale, or to encourage growth at 10 - 15 units per acre.  Future generations depend on decisions that are made today on this subject.  

The city should be encouraged to plan wisely -- they are headed in the right direction. But, that doesn't mean that we don't need to hold the county and city accountable to making sure that they achieve the densities that they have planned for, so that we are not back in 10 years expecting yet another expansion of UGAs into resource lands. The county and city need to enact minimum densities, and purchase/transfer development rights off our agricultural lands.  They need to get going on this before it is too late.

The Whatcom County Planning Commission  is scheduled to have a public hearing on the Ferndale UGA proposal on July 14, 2011.

 Up Next:  Ferndale Public Facilities and Services


  1. Good Morning,

    Some good points to ponder.

    Could you clarify something for me? The following sentence is an odd one because you mention all 253 urban growth areas in Washington State in conjunction with the comment that of all the UGAs in the state comparable to Ferndale's in terms of population, only 7 are less dense than Ferndale.

    The fact that there are 253 UGAs is irrelevant to your comparison. Including it makes it seem as though 245 of the UGAs are more dense than Ferndale's which is, of course, not your intention.

    So, the question is, "What population size do you consider to be comparable to Ferndale? If one goes out 1000 persons each way from Ferndale's population there appear to be only seven cities total that would be comparable.

    If we know how many cities we are speaking of as being comparable to Ferndale in terms of population, the comparison makes more sense and, other comparisons that may perhaps explain the situation can be made.

    Here's the quote from your piece...

    "Getting the Ferndale UGA the right size is important. Ferndale is one of the least dense urban areas in Whatcom County -- in fact, in Washington State. Recent Census data (click here) shows that out of 253 Urban Growth Areas in Washington State, there are just 7 UGAs with less population per square mile that are comparable in population to Ferndale. Bellingham, on the other hand, is in the top 50 of population per square mile."

  2. As always, a fascinating and illuminating post, David.

    I've come to think about Ferndale as being about ten years behind Bellingham in terms of its urban planning. They're still into that pro-big box, pro-strip mall, loose residential sort of planning that plagued Bham in the 90s, but you can tell the city is waking up to its future. They'll get there.

    Ferndale has one of the most charming "cores" of any city around these parts. It would be a shame to see Ferndale cast that aside.

  3. Jack,

    It is a challenge to write something short enough for a blog post but long enough to provide information. The link to the data source was provided in the blog, so you (or anyone else) can download the data and analyze it your own way.

    I did change context in that paragraph. The UGAs are difficult to compare as a whole as some have virtually no population (Cherry Point). Bellingham is compared to the whole list. Ferndale is I. The bottom half statewide, but there are just 7 UGAs with higher total population than Ferndale with less density. There are also some smaller UGAs, like less than 1,000 people, that had higher density than Bellingham.

    Two more points: the calculations exclude areas covered by water, and the same analysis can be done based on city limits and achieve the same results regarding density.

  4. David,
    Have you found any lint?

  5. All this stuff is great, but is irrelevant.

    You should have attended the the Ferndale Planning Commission meeting at which they struggled with the reductions in the UGA. You'd have loved it.

    They view you with disdain, because they think you are pursuing your own agenda, which they think is far different from that of the citizens of Ferndale.

    The reading of your letter was greeted with derision.

    They are fully aware of the $45,000 in legal fees imposed on the citizens of Ferndale by the cost of the defense of your appeal.

    Take care.

  6. I was thinking, earlier today, that Whatcom County is such a pleasant and polite place that the phenomenon of creepy anonymous comments is particularly jarring.

    Cowardice and anonymity go hand in hand, so here we have creepy threatening anonymous commentator.

    Ferndale brought its litigation costs on itself, of course. And it's possible that some people in Ferndale would greet thoughtful comments with disdain, but that would only speak badly of them.

    Of course, who would know, because creepy threatening anonymous commentators make up their reality.

    Jean Melious

  7. I find it fascinating that great stuff about density and sizing UGAs is irrelevant. Well, it clearly was irrelevant to the county and city for the past 20 years of GMA implementation in Whatcom County, but our case made it very much relevant.

    As for "agendas", I'm not sure who out there doesn't have an agenda. Isn't that what public participation is all about? Hearing what everyone's agenda or concerns are and then reaching decisions? Not only is having an agenda a good thing, I get thanked consistently by people for publicly discussing my agenda with growth management planning in the county. The agenda is:

    * Protect resource lands so that future generations can rely on this sustainable economy (and by future, I mean 50 - 100 years out)
    * Protect our environment, water quality and shellfish growing areas.
    * Ensure that our urban areas develop at density to minimize public costs for facilities and services, and meet the two issues above)
    * Develop a sustainable economy with family wage jobs, not a false retail based economy.
    * Ensure that our actions are equitable to all income groups and races, and not benefit the privileged few.

    Does that agenda conflict with the citizens of Ferndale?

  8. So the question remains. What were the parameters for chosing cities of similar size to Ferndale in your analysis...

    Simple question... simple answer

  9. "Ferndale brought its litigation costs on itself, of course. "

    Of course.

  10. Mr. Stalheim,
    Whatever your agenda, the citizens of Ferndale see you as a carpetbagger.

    You write, "Does that agenda conflict with the citizens of Ferndale?"

    It doesn't matter, does it?

  11. For those that don't know what a carpetbagger is, here is a description from wikipedia:

    It is interesting that almost all the examples of political carpetbaggers are Republicans. And certainly, I have only lost money in seeking GMA compliance, not gained any -- nor will I ever.

    As for the name calling, it really is childish, don't you think?

  12. Carpetbagger? Based on its historical lineage, that's a term that might apply, say, to somebody who moved to Whatcom County from California in order to start a development business. If the carpetbagger then got involved in politics in order to increase the profits of his business, it might even be double-carpetbagging. For some reason, though, the people who use that term just can't seem to apply it properly.

    Looking on the bright side, David, you've been called worse. Heck, I've been called worse. Not to my face -- just by the anonymouses.

  13. Mr. Stalheim,
    From your link: " In sum, carpetbaggers were seen as insidious Northern outsiders with questionable objectives meddling in local politics, buying up plantations at fire-sale prices and taking advantage of Southerners."

    To be clear, I didn't call you anything. I mentioned that some see you that way. There's a difference, isn't there?

    So now, having lost on almost every issue, you appeal in Superior Court in Thurston County. The result is that everyone has to travel to proceedings, at great cost to the taxpayers.

    Why did you do that in that manner?

  14. "To be clear, I didn't say that your mother wears army boots. I mentioned that some believe that your mother wears army boots. There's a difference, isn't there?"

    Sure, there's a difference. Name-calling and then trying to hide behind "some say" is even less classy than name-calling.

  15. Jean Melious,
    Perhaps you'd be willing to address the issue of the choice of Thurston County Superior Court?

  16. Anonymous,

    I have no idea what you're talking about.

  17. Anon --

    There were three petitioners on the Ferndale-Birch Bay UGA: Futurewise, C. Dean Martin, and a group of citizens including myself. Mr. Martin chose to appeal the GMHB decision to Superior Court because of the Agricultural Land issues, but also because of Puget Sound Water Quality.

    Some of the petitioners that I worked with joined in that appeal for support on getting court clarification regarding those issues. How and where that was filed was a decision of another party -- not ourselves. Since the Hearings Board is a state agency, it might be a requirement to file in Thurston County -- but I just don't know.

  18. David Stalheim,
    Thanks for the explanation.