Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ferndale UGA: Round 3

In response to our successful challenge of the Ferndale UGA expansion, Ferndale and Whatcom County are undertaking a process to address the recent Growth Management Hearings Board decision.  The Hearings Board set a compliance deadline of August 8, 2011.

UPDATE:  The City of Ferndale has put a page together on their UGA review.  Click here

What do you think it will take for them to consider placing the UGA where it does less harm to sensitive watersheds, agricultural land, or critical areas?
What do you think it will take for them to identify the most efficient and effective places to extend public facilities and services, without diminishing levels of service below established minimums?

What do you think it will take to size the UGA based on the adopted densities in the plan, and to adopt mechanisms that ensure those densities are achieved?

As you can guess, what I have read from the city (Bellingham Herald link) and the county (Ferndale page) fails to meet these expectations. 

I know that the city can do it right (not sure about the county council).  I'm hoping that concerns are addressed in the process, or we will be back in front of the Hearings Board again.    

The Environment Matters:
The first city staff report (Bellingham Herald link) shows alternatives UGA proposals, but fails to discuss any environmental factors that might influence the choices.  The area to the north (Vista Malloy) includes the upper parts of the Drayton Harbor Watershed, which due to water quality problems, has been declared a Shellfish Protection District.  The area to the west is within the Birch Bay Watershed, also declared a Shellfish Protection District.

·         If there are viable alternatives, should growth be directed away from impaired watersheds and water bodies?  If the desired densities are used based on real growth projections, how much less of an impact into these watersheds would be necessary?
·         Whatcom County has special stormwater standards and financing mechanisms for Birch Bay and Drayton Harbor.  What are the city standards, and are they equal or better? Show us those standards. 

Why doesn't the city and county show the mapped environmental resources on alternatives before decisions are made?  Here is a simple map that shows watersheds and the proposed Vista Malloy addition to the UGA. 
Capital Facilities:
Reportedly, the city has now completed updated public facility and service plans that cover the planning period and all urban facilities and services, including fire.  Unfortunately, the staff report or web page of the city and county don't identify where this information can be obtained.  The choice of urban growth boundaries should be dictated also by the efficient delivery of public facilities and services without service levels falling below locally established minimums.

Density Matters:
The Hearings Board found that the expansion of the Ferndale UGA was internally inconsistent with the comprehensive plan.  The size of the urban growth area is directly related to how many dwellings per net acre are planned.  The comprehensive plan expects that Ferndale plan at densities averaging five to ten units per net acre.  The current analysis continues to size the urban growth area at less than five units per acre. 

The comprehensive plan says "Ensure that cities have adopted mechanisms which will encourage densities at desired levels."  In a separate part of the Board's decision, they note that the term "ensure" is stronger than the term "should" or "encourage".  The question is whether at the time the County authorizes a UGA expansion it had "ensured" that the city has adopted mechanisms which will encourage densities at the desired levels.

To be fair, I think Ferndale is making great progress in this area.  The city rightfully boasted several measures that they have taken over the past several years to ensure that densities do occur at higher levels.  But, they have not extended those requirements to the lower density, single family zones -- exactly the sprawl creating zones that will cause further urban expansion if the city (and county) don't adopt measures to "ensure" that densities occur at desired levels. 

Ten or twenty years from now, when another round of expansions into our resource lands are proposed, these stands on density and choices of where to grow will matter. 

I trust that Ferndale will help Get Whatcom Planning by making this plan right this time.  Take the time to do it right so resources aren't wasted.  Check in with the City and County to see if they have any updated information as they go through this review process. 


  1. David, there is a web section that I created to serve as a repository for information pertaining to the UGA revision. You can visit it here:

    Sam Taylor
    Ferndale City Clerk

  2. Thanks for getting the information out for public review, Sam. I am booked with working on another case, but do plan to review your information and provide comments.