Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Growth Management Hearings Board’s Decision on Whatcom County’s Rural Planning, In a Nutshell: Part 1, Sprawl


I spent most of yesterday absorbing the Washington Growth Management Hearings Board’s 179-page decision, which found that more than twenty aspects of the rural land use plan and zoning regulations that the County Council adopted last year violate state law. 

Some of the problems that the Board found are bigger than others.  Some will require changing a few words; others will require some real thought on the County's part.

Before somebody chimes in that the Hearings Board is just a bunch of tree-hugging hippies who hate property rights, let me say this:  all of the cards are stacked in the County’s favor under the Growth Management Act, or GMA.  

  • The County’s plan and development regulations are presumed valid.  As the Board said, “This presumption creates a high threshold for challengers as the burden is on the petitioners to demonstrate that any action taken by the County is not in compliance with the GMA.” 

  •  The Board must rule in favor of the County unless petitioners show that the County’s plan and regulations are “clearly erroneous.”  In order to find the County's action clearly erroneous, the Board must be "left with the firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been committed."

  • Finally, in reviewing the planning decisions of cities and counties, the Board is instructed to recognize "the broad range of discretion that may be exercised by counties and cities" and to "grant deference to counties and cities in how they plan for growth.""
It's a tough, tough law for challengers.  The fact that the Board found more than 20 violations, even when it is required to give the County every possible benefit of the doubt, shows that there’s work to be done. 

Without boring everyone with an exhaustive list, I do want to mention some of the main issues that concerned the Board.  Even if I only talk about the main issues, it’s going to take a while.  So this blog will just focus on one big issue:  the issue of sprawl.  In the next few days, I’ll talk about some of the other issues.

The Board found that the quantity, scale and intensity of development that the County planned for in rural areas does not prevent sprawl. 

The sprawl issue has several components. 

The County’s main task in this planning exercise was to establish “Limited Areas of More Intense Rural Development,” which are places where businesses and dense housing can be located outside of cities.  These areas are supposed to be – yes – limited, but the County provided for uses that are larger and more intense than anything that most cities allow.  The Board also found that many of the “limited” areas were too large.  In techno-wonk terms, these issues are the LAMIRD zoning and LAMIRD boundary issues.  These are the issues that led the Board to impose invalidity.  

In addition, the Board found, more generally, that County’s plan did not contain “the necessary measures to reduce the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development in the rural area.”  The County argued that this is not the case, because its Plan includes a policy of concentrating growth in urban areas.   As the Board states,

The Board notes Policy 200-1 - "Concentrate the majority of growth in urban areas" – has not in fact constrained the County from adopting land use designations that provide capacity for all its projected population growth to occur in rural lands.  (Emphasis in the original.)

This takes us to the second sprawl-related issue:  rural population.

The Board found that the Plan treats rural population inconsistently.  This will require a little explanation.

The Growth Management Act requires the County to make sure that the County (including the cities) will plan and zone for enough development to accommodate population growth over the next 20 years.  That means that the County has to show that enough land is available for development – whether through denser development within cities, through the expansion of cities onto undeveloped land, or by allowing more new development in rural areas – for everybody to have a home.

The County's Comprehensive Plan allocates growth to urban and rural areas based on the Office of Financial Management's (OFM) twenty-year forecast. 

The County’s Plan says that 67,692 people will live in unincorporated rural Whatcom County by 2029. The 2010 population census shows there are already 65,041 people living in the County’s rural areas.  So, supposedly, only 2,651 additional people will live outside of cities by 2029.

That’s just what the County’s Plan says. 

What the County’s Plan does is completely different. 

As the Hearings Board says,

[U]nrebutted evidence demonstrates that vacant lots in existing rural areas can accommodate 33,696 additional people, where only 2,651, are expected and the parcels created by the County's LAMIRD designations alone result in the potential for an increase in population of 4,512.

So the Plan says that only 2,651 additional people will live in rural areas, but the County has actually planned and zoned for enough houses to be built for at least 49,440 people outside of cities.  The Plan is internally inconsistent.

Is 49,440 a lot or a little? 

The County’s entire projected population growth by 2029 is  46,615.

In its rural area alone, without a single soul moving into a city, enough houses can be built for 2,825 more people than the County's entire projected population increase between now and 2029.  And bear in mind that this is uncontested.  

Why does this matter?

A low population “estimate” for the rural area means that the County’s Plan has to provide for more development in cities.  More development in the cities means that the cities expand more onto undeveloped land. 

In other words, the County is playing a shell game. 

It is planning and zoning for an enormous amount of rural development, but its Plan pretends that these rural lots and rural residential zoning don’t exist.  Then the Plan says that cities need to expand more, in order to accommodate population growth.

The result, as the Hearings Board found is a conflict with the goal of locating most population increases in cities.  In other words, sprawl. 


  1. The entire Comp. Plan is a shell game. As you point out, more growth in the cities is required to meet GMA mandates but, the same folks who gave us the bulk of the rural element gave us restrictions on growth in the growth areas.

    To understand what we have here imagine an architect who designs a home, has it built by a contractor then sues the contractor on the basis of architectural defects in the home.

  2. Jean,
    Thank you for distilling the rulings into something comprehensible by the layman/taxpayer.
    Abe Jacobson
    (much less) Baffled in Bellingham

  3. Jack,

    The County's plan currently plans and zones for massive amounts of new growth in rural areas AND provide for more expansion of cities. As a result, the County's existing and planned development potential is far in excess of the County's population allocation.

    The County can plan, zone for, and allow massive amounts of new development in the rural areas (as it has) and not provide for urban expansion, or it can rethink the amount of growth that it permits in rural areas and emphasize new urban growth. If it does either of those things, or some combination, the Plan won't be a shell game.

    Of course, the County can also pretend that it's going to have a massive influx of population, in order to try to maintain the shell game and justify its rural sprawl. But that wouldn't be responsible planning, and perhaps County taxpayers will draw the line at some point.

  4. Jean,

    Both “sides” of the discussion agree, Whatcom County’s planning efforts have resulted in catastrophic failure in recent years. That is largely because the planning department has been focused on planning to stop growth rather than on managing growth. The architects of the plan were dedicated to the failure of the plan.

    Let’s look at some of the shell games played in the recent Comprehensive Planning process as well as in the Rural element plan because the two are linked.

    As you say, the cities need enough land supply to accommodate the growth projected for them. In determining how much land was needed the County’s professional planners and citizen advisors:

    • Assumed lands inside the city would accommodate as many as twice the houses the lands were zoned for. Bellingham’s city planners estimated that error alone resulted in about an 8.9% error in capacity to accommodate growth inside the city.

    • Counted lands zoned for Industrial uses inside the City as capable of accommodating thousands of new residents despite the Port of Bellingham’s own explanations that much of the land would not be available inside the planning period nor, for some of the land, would it ever be available. Conservatively that is a 4.4% error.

    • Counted hundreds of acres of land inside the Urban Growth Areas of the cities as accommodating up to 7 homes per acre despite its being zoned as Agricultural land of long term commercial significance and its being counted in the County’s inventory of land to be permanently preserved for farming.

    • Assumed that one out of every 14 jobs in Whatcom County’s future would be located in those very LAMIRDs you believe to be too large with absolutely no analysis of how much land supply is necessary to accommodate those jobs. Inside the LAMIRDS the county adopted it appears job accommodation per acre will have to exceed accommodation per acre levels seen inside the city's best job areas.

    • Removed very high density development (Loomis Trail, South Hill, West Blaine and others) from the Urban Growth Areas, zoned it at one unit per ten acres despite 4 homes per acre already existing on it. Then, many count that already existing growth as being "new" rural growth in the County in order to demonstrate what a bad job the County is doing. Fortunately, neither the County's attorneys nor the Hearings Board members worry very much about math.

    • And on, and on, and on…

    Your Blog’s name is entirely appropriate. I hope someday we really do get Whatcom Planning. After all, a decade of "de-planning" is more than enough.

  5. The statement that "the planning department has been focused on planning to stop growth rather than on managing growth" is just silly, as my blog and the Hearings Board's decision both show. The planning department follows the direction of the Executive and the County Council, and the buck stops there. In addition to the expansive encouragement of excessive growth discussed in my blog, the County has extended expired permits and has settled with every developer (except Governors Point) that files a petition. That's not stopping growth.

    Nobody included West Blaine in any counts of rural development capacity. The figures that I used in our brief, that the Board cited, and the County did not contest, are extremely conservative because they only consider development capacity based on (1) vested vacant lots as of 2009, and (2) residential development capacity within LAMIRDs. We did not even take into account the housing that can be built in rural areas outside of LAMIRDs, and the additional population that those houses will accommodate.

    Right now, using this very conservative estimate, the County can accommodate 106% of population growth between now and 2029 in rural areas. If we actually included residential development capacity that exists in the rural areas outside of LAMIRDs, we'd probably find that the County can accommodate 110%, 125%, who knows what (larger) excess population in rural areas. The County surely doesn't know.

    As for the rest of your various claims, theories, and revisions of history, which have nothing to do with my blog, you do, as always, have the option of testing those theories in court. Or starting your own blog.

  6. While I normally at least grudgingly admire Jack Petree's tenacity, in this case I find myself profoundly confused as to whatever point at which he may be driving.

    It sounds like he is trying to channel Al Pacino in saying "I'm out of order, your out of order, the WHOLE COUNTY is out of order!!!"

    Not so fast there, Serpico.

    It is the current County Council that has presided over... what is it... TWO orders of invalidity from the GMHB, now?

    At what point do we stop blaming previous Councils?

    I can appreciate that Mr Petree can point to a list of mistakes that were not committed by the current Council. But the notion that there is blame to go in all directions in a manner that is ostensibly equal because the Comp Plan in the past was in some ways flawed, rather ignores the harsh words that the GMHB has leveled at those actions taken by the current County Council, as well as actions that the current County Council failed to take.

    Declaring the entire Comp Plan to be some sort of shell game is an extraordinary claim, which calls for extraordinary proof. That extraordinary proof is not forthcoming. A list of mistakes that support a tepid argument that the County Comp Plan has been flawed prior to 2010, is insufficient to establish that there should be a pox upon all planning houses.

    I remain unconvinced by Mr. Petree's argument that the County Comp Plan is nothing more than a shell game. I find the facts offered by Mr Petree to be insufficient to support such a claim. And as such, and by the authority appointed to me by this blog, I am issuing an order of invalidity on Mr. Petree's claim.

    The 2009 County Council left the 2010 Council with a Comp Plan that was, whatever its other flaws or shortcomings, at the very least presumed to be legally valid.

    Since the composition of the County Council dramatically shifted in 2010, there has also been a dramatic shift in the number of orders of invalidity have been handed down to Whatcom County from the GMHB. Up from... lets see... I count... ZERO orders of invalidity circa 2009. And now... lets see... carry the... I count... TWO orders of invalidity circa this afternoon.

    Those members of the County Council that act in solidarity with the spirited local property rights advocates, upon achieving a controlling interest in the Council made it their first order of business to spend 2010 aggressively nullifying what was done in 2009. The new blood on the Council has taken aggressive action to subvert the spirit of the GMA, and in some cases act in derogation of the actual letter of the GMA.

    In the words of Dr. Phil.... "How's that workin' for ya?"

    It is time to start taking the County Comp Plan seriously, and to stop treating it like a shell game. David Stalheim never treated it like a shell game when he was in the Planning Department, and Jean Melious never treated it like a shell game when she was on the Planning Commission.

    In my opinion, David's and Jean's unwillingness to play games with the Comp Plan factors strongly into the reasons why they are no longer involved in working on that Comp Plan.

    Here's a thought... how about we entertain the notion that we might not be complying with the GMA, and maybe... just maybe... we start trying to comply with it and see what happens.

  7. Jack is the master of distorting data and information in order to paint the story that he wishes to hear. After all, he is a fiction writer. His comments here have been asked and answered a thousand times, but Jack continues to perpetuate false conclusions. Quickly, let's refute them.

    Jack: "Assumed lands inside the city would accommodate as many as twice the houses the lands were zoned for. Bellingham’s city planners estimated that error alone resulted in about an 8.9% error in capacity to accommodate growth inside the city"

    Fact: No source for his claim. In Bellingham, there was a limited area where the city's zoning allowed just 2 homes per net acre. The county used "achieved densities" that showed these areas developed at 4 units per net acre after taking out steep slopes, etc. Jack's claim of an 8.9% error for the entire city is hogwash. The UGA record (p11) states: "The LCA [land capacity analysis] looks good and we think it now represents a more realistic view of Bellingham's likely buildout capacity....We want to thank you...for your work on this. Despite the abuse you are getting from some, you have done tremendous work in a very short timeframe." (June 10, 2009 email from Greg Aucutt, City of Bellingham Senior Planner to Matt Aamot)

    Jack: "County lands zoned for Industrial uses inside the City as capable of accommodating thousands of new residents..."

    Fact: Why doesn't Jack tell you first and foremost that he is referring to Bellingham's waterfront? He makes it appear that we are talking about the airport or Bakerview area. Purposefully misleading.

    Jack: "Counted hundreds of acres of land inside the Urban Growth Areas of the cities as accommodating up to 7 homes per acre despite its being zoned as Agricultural land of long term commercial significance and its being counted in the County’s inventory of land to be permanently preserved for farming"

    Fact: There is a difference between comprehensive plan designations and zoning. Agricultural lands of long term commercial significance are designated on Map 18 in Chapter 8 of the Comprehensive Plan. There is not one acre within urban growth areas designated for agricultural lands of long term commercial significance. There are lands zoned for Agriculture, and as the code says, the "secondary purpose of this district is to serve as a holding district when located within the urban growth area Comprehensive Plan designation to allow agricultural uses in the near term while protecting the area from suburban sprawl and preserving the potential for future urban development consistent with the protection of this resource land." (WCC20.40.010)

    As for counting in the inventory, read the Agricultural Strategic Plan. "The county has both policy and regulatory designations of agricultural lands. The policy benchmark is the Agriculture Comprehensive Plan designation which currently covers nearly 85,000 acres. By this benchmark, the county falls short of its 100,000 acre objective by about 15,000 acres." (pg. 6)

  8. And so we see that Jack Petree is correct to feel threatened by David Stalheim, who is experienced, knowledgeable, competent, and straightforward.

    Jack's point is to try to divert us from the whole point of this blog, which is that the County's plan does not meet the primary goal of the GMA: preventing sprawl. That's a fact. Jack can't refute it.

    And let's throw a few more facts into the mix:

    The County gave the defense of this plan its absolute best shot. Not only did the Prosecuting Attorney's office work on the defense, but the County paid $40,000 to Lesa Starkenburg-Kroontje, a Lynden attorney who represents developers and property owners. In fact, she represented several property owners during the Comprehensive Planning process, managing to get them increased development rights.

    It defies belief to think that Ms. Starkenburg would have fought with all of her might to uphold a plan that was hostile to developers, the folks who provide her bread and butter.

    Other than Governors Point (off of Chuckanut Drive south of Bellingham, a longstanding soap opera that has its own script), no developer challenged this plan.

    So when Jack claims that the County's planning fails because it focuses on stopping growth, let's see that claim for what it is.

    Purest BS.

  9. Threatened?

    David has never threatened me. That comment is a bit of an insult to David is it not?


  10. I am afraid I stopped listening to Jack some time ago. Too much misinformation so I do not even read it. Jean and Davide you have better things to do than spending anytime refuting half truth. This much I do know Jack Petree will never stop.

    That out of the way. Excellent summary of a dilema that the county has faced for some time and only now will have to fully confront. Having overly large urban growth areas for years did not stop rural development. Ignoring the number of existing rural lots and the potential number of new rural lots will not work either.

    This issue is well beyond the LAMIRD problem and I am sure it is an issue in other counties as well. Thank you Jean and David for working so hard on this and raising this issue. It will be very interesting to see what kind of solutions our creative council members can come up with. The amount of rural development raises a challenge in terms of capital facilities to support that kind of growth.

  11. Dan, another decision-maker had also told me that they stopped listening to Jack as well due to the misinformation. I do waste too much time responding to his stuff. However, the issues he raises makes me research more.

    For example, Jack got a piece published by the American Planning Association that misuses population estimates in order to reach conclusions that Jack wants to hear. In order to disprove his theory, I am downloading county plat and building permit data in rural areas to show the amount of growth that has happened during the period when growth management should have been implemented.

    It will be an informative piece that will be used in any future challenges to creative attempts by the county council to sidestep true growth management planning. It is the evidence needed to overcome the obstacle that we face in the presumption of validity given to the County.

    By the way, Shane, it has been three invalidity orders in one year. Two different orders for the rural element, and one for the permit extension. If there were invalidity orders before in Whatcom County, it would have been back in the 1990's.

  12. I stand corrected. There have been THREE orders of invalidity.

  13. David, it’s always disappointing to read your posts.

    The City did not agree with the 4 unit per acre minimum, provided you with testimony stating this, provided justification as to why the zoning is acceptable, and council adopted a resolution that rejects the idea.

    See page 3 of 16, Resolution 2009-14, #2 says, “There is no “bright line” rule in state law that defines urban density as at least four dwelling units per acre. The burden of proving otherwise rests with the County.” This was obviously adopted to protect zoning choice.

    Also, after providing reasons why the city supports as low as 2 units per acre both inside the city and in the UGA, the attached letter states, “In addition, we know of no provision of the State GMA that defines what is “urban” or that requires all land in cities or UGAs to be zoned for at least four units/acre. The burden of proof for this requirement rightly rests with the County."

    In fact, Bellingham provided the County with two LCA analysis, one showing the capacity with a 4/du minimum and one showing their zoning. The difference was over 2,000 persons.

    It is pretty obvious that the city was protecting it’s character and right to zone how they choose.

    Of course, you already know all this.



  14. How much like Jack Petree anonymous "Disappointed" sounds! A remarkable coincidence. And a good way to continue to suck up David's time, going back over revisionist history that isn't relevant to the topic of the post.

    Now, to be fair, it took the County 13 months to get three invalidity rulings. Or, you could say that the County has a three-straight-year record (late Dec. 2010: rural element; mid-2011: permit extension; early Jan. 2012: rural element.)

    Either way, it must be a record.

  15. I knew that Jean would be disappointed with Disappointed because she knew it would suck up my time. But, this is an easy response.

    There is a difference between zoning and land capacity analysis. There is a difference between net acres and gross acres. You must be a wonk to understand that difference, so instead I will end with a quote from Petree's losing arguments in 2008 (regarding this subject:

    "The Board further notes Petitioners’ concern over Bellingham’s prerogative to plan for the level of density it desires within the City’s borders. Although a UGA boundary drawn smaller than Bellingham may have originally recommended will undoubtedly entail changes in how the City will accommodate its allocated growth, this does not displace the City’s authority to plan within its borders. Given the GMA’s directive to counties to assign UGA boundaries, it is a statutorily permissible restraint.

    "Therefore, based on the prospective planning aspect of the UGA, the relative low density currently being achieved in the City of Bellingham, the lack of sprawl reducing measures in Bellingham’s current development regulations, the inability of the City to deliver urban services to a large portion of the UGA, and the City’s commitment to consider measures to enable the achievement of Whatcom County’s assumptions as to the Bellingham UGA, the Board does not find it clearly erroneous for the County to base its land capacity assumptions on measures not yet adopted by the City. Further, the City has time to implement these measures and has made a commitment to consider making these measures a reality early in the planning period." (FDO, Case No. 08-2-0021C, pgs. 34-35)

  16. Easy to check facts:

    The exact set of data David has sworn to run to earth and disprove is the exact data David had a hand in submitting to the Hearings Board (keep in mind, the Hearings Boards are legal entities and quasi-judicial in nature) in two different cases, including the one he cites in his comment. The Hearings Board specifically pointed to that data as important in making its decision in the case David cites. So David is now saying a case relying on data he provided in two legal processes but now claims was in error, nevertheless proves his case today based on the fact that he thought the data to be correct before he discovered it was incorrect, at least for a couple of days.

    So, the data was correct enough to submit as evidence in two legal cases but, earlier this week it was incorrect because something else needed to be proven but today it is correct, for the time being, because it is needed to prove something yet again.

    I am unsurprised by this serpentine argumentation.

  17. I sure would like to move this back to the original point, which Jack/Disappointed have made every effort to obscure. And that point is:

    When you look at development capacity in Whatcom County, you have to look at rural development capacity.

    You have to look it straight in the eye. Count up the number of lots. And acknowledge that the whole point of permitting those lots was for people to build houses on them.

    Those people count, too. And they need to be counted when the County does its planning.

  18. And that is the entire point of all this discussion. The data shows that Whatcom County had tens of thousands of existing lots in the rural areas along with the potential for tens of thousands more even when we were seeing more than 90% of our growth take place inside the city growth areas.

    Our response? Deliberately strangle growth in the cities and force it into the rural areas.

    We have proven people will live in the cities if we give them choices they want. We have proven through our planning we prefer they live in the unincorporated county.

    Enough said.

  19. Neither "we" nor "you" has shown that anybody has "forced" people to live in rural areas.

    The County has absolutely proven that planning and zoning for rural development, and incentivizing rural development, works very well to ensure that development will occur in rural areas.

    Not only has the County planned and zoned for huge amounts of dispersed rural growth, but it has required taxpayers to subsidize that growth heavily -- because development in the unincorporated County, unlike development in the cities, does not even help to pay for itself through impact fees.

    The County is now reaping the results of its choice. How's that road fund looking. . .

  20. "Fun" debate. I know Ms. Melious would prefer to talk about rural, so here's some interesting information from the 1970 Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan:

    Whatcom County's 1970 Comprehensive Plan noted that in 1969 "the entire population growth projected for the next 20 years could be entirely accommodated within the present built-up and non-farm rural areas" of the county. Further, according to the plan, "in 1969 alone, a sufficient number of lots were proposed for subdivision to take care of the entire 20-year population increase."

    The last comment from the Comp Plan is the most interesting - in one year there were enough lots proposed or created for 20 years of growth. Wow.

  21. History is indeed interesting. Clayton's quote was from a plan that was adopted 20 years before the Growth Management Act. The point must be to show that the passage of the GMA didn't affect Whatcom County's planning in the least.

    Speaking of history, and of all of the development potential in unincorporated areas, the Herald did a fascinating, in-depth series of articles on the County Council's shenanigans circa 1999-2000. Anybody who's purporting to talk about the history of, and reasons for, development in Whatcom County's rural and agricultural areas needs to understand exactly how and why we have so many residential lots outside cities. Aubrey Cohen and Ericka Pizzillo wrote most of the articles, and I highly recommend them to anybody interested in history.

    More on that another day.

  22. I brought it up as relevant information, hoping there might be a bit of discussion. The abundant rural land supply has been pretty constant for over 4 decades. As you point out, land use planning law has changed, the kind of urban planning we do has changed, rural planning law has changed, the fee structure in both the city and county have changed, etc.

    I wouldn't mind reading those articles - is there a link to them?

  23. No, no link, I had to buy them from the Herald archives. One way to keep our daily paper going, I suppose.

  24. Clayton, numbers from documents without the accuracy or the context of the information analyzed can prove to be very useless information. What was the growth projection in the 1969 plan? If the 20 year growth projection was small, which I presume to be the case, then the context of this comment is totally changed. The real growth hadn't yet started in this county.

    I just received all the data of recorded land divisions in Whatcom county from the 1800's through 2009. I haven't yet gotten to the point of analyzing the data for rural areas.

    Just looking at raw numbers, the recorded plats did jump a bit in 1969 to 41. This paled in comparison to 1975 which shows 116 recordings. In 1989, there were 267 recordings, and until 2000 the average was 230 recordings per year. In context to this history, 1969 was a blip on the radar screen.

    For five years (2000 - 2005), the recordings dropped to 188 per year, and then they picked up for the next three years to 233 per year until the recession hit.

    The bottom line: your quote about the 1969 comprehensive plan is insignificant to the history of growth that happened from 1990 to the present day in Whatcom County. The real story is the amount of lots that were entitled during the past 20 years in rural areas. That is the point of Jean's blog post, and why we prevailed in our challenge of the county's "rural plan".

  25. It really depends on how many lots are created per request. I believe 1969 is when the first Sudden Valley plat request was granted for 158 or so lots...

    Although the quote above said "proposed for subdivision" and you gave the number for recordings so they probably aren't the same thing, time frame wise.

  26. Yes, it depends on how many lots -- and when they were developed. Looking at the record shows that there were other recreational subdivisions during that time period, including developments in Birch Bay, Glacier Springs, Parisdise Lake, Mt. Baker Rim, etc. It is very likely that the 1969 plan reference was to these recreational subdivisions.

    Development of permanent housing was during the GMA era when sewers and water systems were extended and upgraded to many of these developments. That is when it went from recreational to permament. I am hoping to be able to eventually put number of lots to these plats and correspond when homes were built on the lots. All in my "spare" time.

    Of course, not one home in Sudden Valley, Glacier Springs, Birch Bay, etc. pays transportation impact fees or school impact fees or park impact fees, but they cause impacts to all of these public facilities and services without paying the costs.

  27. It just exactly occurred to me, at this moment, that the term "shell game" relates to the "nutshell" theme. Sadly, it wasn't intentional. Sometimes I think that any intelligence I have is subconscious.

  28. Thanks Jean and David for continuing to provide clear information about what's going on, and for acting on your information and knowledge.

    As a citizen on the subarea planning committee for Lummi Island (early naughties, ~2000-2006) I remember all too well those who wanted Lummi Island to 'develop to the max'. One fun tactic, a forerunner of the recent LAMIRD nonsense, was trying to designate all of Lummi Island a LAMIRD, without bothering to point out this 'minor' change to the Lummi Island citizen planning committee! The logic: Lummi Island has clear physical boundaries; and All Growth of the Built Environment is Always Good, and the Faster the Building the Better.

    Fortunately, Lummi Island has many savvy residents who read *every* draft of the subarea plan. They discovered the insertion (presumably done or at least approved by Sylvia Goodwin, the PDS lead for the LI subarea planning process. (Ms Goodwin moved on shortly thereafter to become the POB Director of Planning, including the waterfront re-development project.)

    Island citizens successfully argued to remove this attempt to LAMIRDize Lummi Island on substantive grounds, including the lack of (a) *any* ferry transportation subarea plan guidelines for handling a swollen LAMIRD-increased population, beyond trusting the Exec and Council to handle ferry planning; and (b) decades-long evidence of increasing saltwater and arsenic in north island wells, in parallel with increased population.

    As I followed the recent LAMIRD expansion-beyond-reason 'plan', I remembered what happened on Lummi Island. I wondered whether most people living in the proposed designated LAMIRDS really understood what would mean to their lives, including the 'joys' of zoning that allowed more dense and industrial development in their rural areas than many cities. Sure there were hearings and Herald articles, but since the LAMIRD and other zoning phrase ensure glazed-eye responses in most people, I'm pretty sure that the majority were clueless. Property owners who would directly benefit $$$ of course knew, but that was a small minority -- maybe 1%?

    I think that the LAMIRD ploy is a tactic in a long-term strategy/desire to fully urbanize all of Whatcom County, one step at a time: (1) expand UGAs to shrink rural acreage and uses, (2) transform more acres of rural land into urban-like LAMIRDs, (3) kick the infrastructure cost can down the road, (4) hope no one is watching or that they'll wear down, go away, rollover ...

    I'm grateful for the fact that citizen checks and balances like appeals to the GMHB still exist. Legally restricting all decisions, without appeal, to *any* particular set of local elected officials and their appointees is not good. As it is, the deck is stacked (as Jean points out elsewhere) strongly on the side of local governments.

    Speaking of checks and balances, for those who haven't heard yet, there is a bill in WA Senate committee right now (SB6154) that would eliminate the right of 'mere citizens' to appeal local governments' land use decisions, specifically those citizens who've made the effort to participate actively in public hearings etc on an issue before our electeds pass whatever laws they chose to enact.

    I imagine that even Jack and Clayton would agree that our state government shouldn't try to abrogate WA state citizens' constitutional right to appeal government decisions they disagree with. That's what SB6154 is about. I've written to the committee chair and vice chair to kill this monster ASAP. Hope others will join me.

  29. Jack has, of course, taken on a citizen appeal himself, so you're probably right that he'd agree that the bill you describe is wrong.

    It is true that planning issues are boring. And this fight has been going on for two decades now, so I'm surprised that so many people -- like you, Wynne -- are still hanging in there.

    I think that there are a couple of reasons that many people have no idea what's going on with the County's rural planning. One reason is that the Herald doesn't have the capability (money and personnel, not ability) to do the kind of reporting it used to do. The depth of coverage of these issues just isn't there.

    It's a bit of a frustration that this very important Hearings Board decision only was discussed as a Lake Whatcom issue in the Herald. A lot of my friends, who have heard me talk about the rural element case over the past year, had no idea what I was talking about when I started talking about our great result in the case. "I didn't see anything about that in the paper!"

    (Which probably reflects Lake Whatcom fatigue as well -- people are tired of that one, too, and probably skip those articles after years and years of the same old, same old!).

    The other reason is that the County didn't make any effort to involve the public in its planning. It did no -- that's zero-- outreach to the public when it rejected the Planning Commission proposal and created the proposal that was just invalidated. As David commented under Part 3 of this trilogy, the County didn't even hold night meetings or hearings for a year and a half. It only met during working hours. That's how uninterested it was in the opinion of people whose employment is not based on land development.

    And when the County finally started a public process, it was so confusing that most citizens couldn't follow what was going on. During the last hearing on the rural element, I talked to some residents of North Bellingham who had wanted to testify against increased density. But the Council was only hearing "testimony on changes made by the Planning Commission," and they didn't know what that meant, so they didn't say anything. Other people didn't know that the Council was geared up to approve the whole plan that night, and thought that there would be another hearing on the whole plan at the following meeting.