Comp Plan Update Continues

Comp Plan update Chapter 5 – Utilities
2nd look at Chapter 2 – Land Use

Today’s Planning Commission meeting will involve a work session on Chapter 5 of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan, titled “Utilities.”  This work session will be held Thursday, April 23, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. in the Northwest Annex Conference Room, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. We will re-visit this chapter on May 28th to consider edits and try to “put it to bed.” See the calendar, below.

We will also take our second look at Chapter 2 Land Use (except for the specific UGA sections) to consider proposed edits. We have the edits from staff (red-line version starts on page 115), originally presented last month, and some I have proposed. This chapter has been the subject of litigation and amendments over the years, so there are not really any earth-shattering amendments proposed now. My goal in amendments was to reduce redundant language and clarify some reasons why we have the goals and policies we do. My “why we care about property rights” paragraph might spark some discussion (page 11).

Public Participation Plan

The Public Participation Plan was adopted at our last meeting without amendment.

EIS for Comp Plan draws usual suspects

The hearing for the draft EIS for the Comp Plan, held by the Department of Planning and Development Services (not the Planning Commission) on April 13, drew a small number of folks. Most of the comments were things I had heard before, which is not to say they are unimportant. You can read the comments HERE. The comment period has been extended to May 15. Send your comments to pds@co.whatcom.wa.us

Vacancy, again, for District 3 Planning Commission

I’ve just been informed by Sam Taylor, who represents District 3 on the commission, that he is resigning because he will be moving out of the area for a new job. Bummer for us, but I trust this is a great opportunity for Sam and his family.

Capital Facilities, Public Participation, EIS

Comp Plan update Chapter 4 – Capital Facilities

Today’s Planning Commission meeting will involve a work session on Chapter 4 of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan, titled “Capital Facilities.”  This work session will be held Thursday, April 9, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. in the Northwest Annex Conference Room, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. We will re-visit this chapter on May 14th to consider edits and try to “put it to bed.” See the calendar, below.

We took a long look at Chapter 2 (Land Use) at our our last meeting, We will re-visit it on April 23rd to consider proposed edits. Commission members are encouraged to provide their proposed edits in writing by April 13. If members of the public would like to propose specific edits, they can submit them directly to the commission at PDS_Planning_Commission@co.whatcom.wa.us.

Public Participation Plan

The meeting will actually start with a Public Hearing on the annual Public Participation Plan. This plan lists the topics and issues that have been “docketed” by the County Council to be considered this year, and describes the public process we will use to consider them. Because zoning and long-term planning is supposed to be predicable and “long-term,” the process is set up so people can’t just quickly get their pet code changes considered under the radar of the community. This Public Participation Plan is designed to give the community notice of anticipated issues to be considered.

EIS for Comp Plan this Monday, April 13

Because the Comp Plan probably will have significant environmental impacts, such as the growth in population, we are also required to do an Environmental Impact Statement. The draft EIS is complete and ready for public comment. A public hearing will be held by the Department of Planning and Development Services (not the Planning Commission) on April 13, 7 pm in Council Chambers.

The Draft EIS describes the existing conditions and identifies probable significant environmental impacts, mitigation measures to mitigate these impacts, and any significant unavoidable adverse impacts from the proposal. Four alternatives are studied in the Draft EIS addressing a range of population and employment growth levels and patterns.

The project website has the complete draft document, HERE. You can send comments now until April 24th to pds@co.whatcom.wa.us

Handy calendar to keep track of the Comp Plan schedule

I’ve created a google calendar so I can keep track of topics and deadlines for submitting edits for various chapters. You can view it, too HERE. As I have said before, the adopted schedule is subject to change, because we don’t really know how long things will take. I will try to update this calendar as soon as I know of changes.

Sign up for email notification of county government activities

There’s a bushel of lists you can get on, if you feel you don’t get enough email, HERE.

Next County Council meeting April 14
FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

County land use policies reviewed March 26

Comp Plan update Chapter 2 – Land Use (except for the UGA details)

This week’s Planning Commission meeting will involve a work session on Chapter 2 of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan, titled “Land Use.” This is the largest chapter of the Comp Plan, and we will not be considering the details of Urban Growth Areas (UGAs) in this week’s meeting (March 26, 6:30), See the entire year’s schedule below.

The specific UGA boundaries and policies are subject to the final population projections we decide to plan for, and that decision will not be made until the summer. The cities are working on their UGA proposals now, and if you have particular ideas or issues, you should get involved in the city discussion. If you wait until it gets to the County, you’ve missed most of the critical decision-making process.

Here’s a list of the sections of Chapter 2, and page numbers of the red-line version of the draft:
Overall Land Use, p.2
Urban Growth Areas, p. 18 (details in July)
Rural Lands, p. 76
Urban Growth Area Reserves, p. 97 (details in July)
Special Study Areas, p. 101
Comprehensive Plan Designations Map, p. 106
Open Space, p. 110
Essential Public Facilities, p. 116
Adult Businesses, p. 131
Historic and Cultural Resources, p. 132

I’ve been plodding through the red-line version of the draft and am at 95 of 141 pages as I write this. There’s a lot here! Issues that might be of interest to my dear readers include:

  • Airport noise, p. 10
  • Encouraging voluntary compliance with regulations, p. 12
  • Property Rights, p. 13
  • Encouraging acceptance of cultural diversity, p. 14
  • General UGA policies and how development will proceed in UGAs, p. 18
  • Development goals and policies in the Rural zone, where much of the contentiousness occurs, p. 76
  • Protecting water resources, p. 80
  • Protecting drinking water quality, p. 82
  • LAMIRDS, p. 88
  • Citing “difficult to cite” public facilities like port, rail, air, dumps, towers, water & Sewer plants, p. 116
  • Jail, p. 123
  • sex offender housing, p. 129
  • Preservation of archeological sites, p. 133

This work session will be held Thursday, March 26, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. in the Northwest Annex Conference Room, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. The public is invited to submit written comments and/or attend the work session to provide oral comments. Written comments may be submitted PDS_Planning_Commission@co.whatcom.wa.us

PC adopts a schedule for slogging through the Comp Plan

There are eleven chapters plus appendices, the Critical Areas Ordinance and some other assorted documents that must be addressed in 2015 and sent to the County Council for their final consideration by June 2016. In order to do all this, the Planning Commission has adopted this general process:

  1. Staff presentation, public comment and discussion of a chapter. My hope is that this will identify areas of concern, and if needed, we can assign a committee to work on language outside of the meeting.
  2. Two meetings hence, consider that same chapter with PC proposed amendments. We are strongly urging amendments be submitted in writing 10 days in advance of this second meeting, so the public and the Commissioners have a chance to read and consider them beforehand.
  3. Schedule additional meeting time to finish the chapter, as needed.

Of course nothing is etched in stone. We’ve already changed our schedule because we decided to table Chapter 1, Introduction, until after we’ve reviewed the body of the plan. Here’s the year-long schedule, subject to change!

Mark your calendars for the chapters that interest you, and read ahead so you are prepared. Here are the draft chapters. The Commissioners have requested an editable version of the clean draft, so that they can type their edits directly. I’m not sure this is being posted on the website, but if you want to prepare some amendments, your favorite PC can probably share an editable document with you. Of course, you can’t proposed your own amendments directly — you’ll have to recruit a Commissioner to do that.

Next County Council meeting March 31
FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

First work session on Comp Plan update March 12th

This week’s Planning Commission meeting will involve a work session on Chapter 1 of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan, entitled “Introduction and Growth Projections.” We will also discuss and decide on how we as a Commission want to work through all the chapters. We have to do about one chapter a week to get through it all by the end of the year, and give the County Council time to do their thing before final adoption. We will hold extra meetings if necessary, because we are on a deadline for final adoption by the Council in June of 2016.

We, the staff and I, as Chair, will be proposing that we introduce each chapter, take public comments, and discuss and get questions answered from staff, but hold off on considering any substantive amendments until they can be considered in writing two meetings hence. This way both the commission and the public will know in advance what amendments will be considered and have the language in writing. Officially, we only have to have one public hearing for the entire document, but that would be crazy. We will be taking comments on each chapter as we go along, but it won’t be a “public hearing” in the legal sense. As soon as the PC agrees to a process, we can share the entire schedule, so you’ll know when your favorite topic is coming up for consideration. Here are the Chapter 1 documents

This work session will be held Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. in the Northwest Annex Conference Room, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. The public is invited to submit written comments and/or attend the work session to provide oral comments. Written comments may be submitted PDS_Planning_Commission@co.whatcom.wa.us

New County website breaks all your old links

Whatcom County switched to a new website last week, and all the links in all my previous posts are probably broken. Sorry about that, but I’m not going to go back and fix them.

EIS for Comp Plan open for comment

Because the Comp Plan probably will have significant environmental impacts, such as the growth in population, we are also required to do an Environmental Impact Statement. The draft EIS is complete and ready for public comment. A public hearing will be held by the Department of Planning and Development Services (not the Planning Commission) on April 13, 7 pm in Council Chambers.

The Draft EIS describes the existing conditions and identifies probable significant environmental impacts, mitigation measures to mitigate these impacts, and any significant unavoidable adverse impacts from the proposal. Four alternatives are studied in the Draft EIS addressing a range of population and employment growth levels and patterns.

The project website has the complete draft document, HERE. You can send comments now until April 24th to pds@co.whatcom.wa.us

Sign up for email notification of county government activities

Ever since I was appointed to the Planning Commission, I have wondered, and asked, how to get on any list to be notified about hearings,etc. Obviously, as a commissioner, I got those notices, but I wanted to see what the general public was getting. Various staffers told me I could sign up on the website, but I could never find where. NOW, you can do it! There’s a bushel of lists you can get on, if you feel you don’t get enough email, HERE.

Next County Council meeting March 17
FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

PC takes another hit at marijuana zoning regulations

The Planning Commission was unable to garner enough votes to recommended the draft marijuana zoning rules at our last meeting. The current temporary rules will expire soon and the Council needs to adopt something permanent, but the PC is going to try one more time at tonight’s meeting to get a proposal we can all recommend. There will also be another public hearing. Agenda materials HERE. The meeting begins at 6:30 at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads.

The Commission will also be reviewing business rules for possible changes. I was elected Chair at our last meeting.

Looking for volunteers to help with Comp Plan youth outreach

The Comprehensive Plan update, which will spell out where we want to go in the next 20 years, and how we want to get there, has a strong public participation requirement. The planning staff will be doing outreach to the usual suspects but they are also expected to reach out to people not usually involved in planning issues. This would involved most of the citizens of Whatcom County, unfortunately, but I am particularly interested in getting some young people involved. It’s their future. In twenty years they will be settling into careers, raising young families, thinking about that second house. Us old folks will be winding down, if not in the ground.
There are a number of things we could do to get input from youth, from general publicity in the schools to class presentations. The limit is only on the amount of time we want to spend. This is something I want to do personally, but I have limited time. I’m looking for others who may be more time and perhaps established connections with the schools, youth organizations, etc. If this interests you, please contact me via email or at the phone number at the bottom of the page.

First work session on Comp Plan update March 12th

Work session regarding Chapter 1 of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan, entitled “Introduction and Growth Projections.” Review of Chapter 1 is associated with the periodic update of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan and the urban growth area review, which are both required by the Growth Management Act under RCW 36.70A.130.

This work session will be held Thursday, March 12, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. in the Northwest Annex Conference Room, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. The public is invited to submit written comments and/or attend the work session to provide oral comments. Written comments may be submitted PDS_Planning_Commission@co.whatcom.wa.us

Some other things happening

Ecology seeks input on proposed Bellingham Costco wetlands plan
Whatcom County wins appeal, doesn’t need to restrict rural wells

Next County Council meeting March 3
FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

Marijuana Zoning Fixes on PC Agenda

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Thursday, February 12th to amend Whatcom County zoning code on recreational marijuana type uses. The Planing Department has had over six months working with the interim code, and is not proposing some minor modifications to clarify language.  Agenda materials HERE. The meeting begins at 6:30 at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads.

The Commission will also be electing a new chair and reviewing business rules for possible changes.

Council Appoints Knapp and Oliver to Planning Commission

After postponing their vote on appointing two new members of the Planning Commission for District 1, the Council got a passel of applicants. You can see all the applications HERE starting on page 375. The Council chose Nicole Oliver and Michael Knapp. Oliver works for the City Of Bellingham, including eight years as Communications Coordinator for the Planning Department. Knapp (page 391) has 40 years of experience as an architect and urban planner, including serving as Director of Whatcom County’s Planning & Development Services in the 1990s. They join seven other Commissioners – the list is HERE.

County code enforcement gains new tools for quicker response

PDS Director Sam Ryan had an op-ed published in the Bellingham Herald recently about what’s new at PDS. Read it HERE.

Charter Review Commission Meeting Schedule

Sort of off-topic but who else is going to let folks know when the Charter Review Commission is meeting? Meetings are scheduled on the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month at 6:30 pm, mostly at the Civic Center Garden Level Conference Room, 322 N. Commercial, Bellingham. But the next meeting, on Feb 23, will be at Lummi Administration Center, 2665 Kwina Road. Find all their business HERE.

Critical Areas Ordinance Update a part of the Comprehensive Plan Update

I focus in these posts on the business before the Planning Commission, but before a lot of things get to the PC, there has been a lot of work done by a lot of other people. One of these documents is the Critical Areas Ordinance. Here’s the schedule for their work this year and next. they will deal with flood issues, wetlands, geohazards, and agricultural lands. They meet on the third Wednesday of each month from 3:30-5:30 pm at the County Annex, NW and Smith Roads. They’d love to have some company.

Next County Council meeting March 3
FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

Third try at crafting Special Event facility rules January 22

The Planning Commission will hold a work session at its next meeting to try to come up with clear and fair rules that protect neighborhoods from the adverse impacts of big, noisy, crowded special events. Agenda materials HERE. The meeting begins at 6:30 at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads.

Planning staff has been focusing on making the existing rules clear and easier to work with. There was never any intention in bringing up this issue to substantially change the rules in place.

Commission members are focusing on how to delineate to whom (or what situations) the rules should apply  and not apply. Now that people better understand the rules in place, they don’t like them. So the discussion continues. Here’s some background from previous posts: Sept 10  Sept 24

Two seats on Commission to be appointed January 27;
Deadline to apply Jan. 20

I wasn’t the only one not paying attention to the deadline for applications for the two seats up for appointment to the County Planning Commission. Only three people applied by the January 6 deadline, so the Council extended the application period to January 20, 10 am. HERE’S HOW TO APPLY.

Both seats are for the 1st District. The district boundaries are the same as the County Council. Here’s a map. If you are near the boundary, look yourself up HERE. OK – no excuses for not applying.

Those who read my posts on Planning Commission business regularly should have a good idea of the subject matter we deal with. However, the next two years in particular will be focused almost exclusively on the update to the County Comprehensive Plan. We won’t be dealing with smaller code revisions and zoning change applications. I’d be happy to talk to anyone who is thinking about applying.

Vacation Rental Regulation Rebuffed

After a full evening of testimony from mostly owners/operators of vacation rentals, the Commission voted 8-1 to recommend to the County Council a simple code change defining specifically that vacation rental units are permitted uses in residential zones. They are already allowed in the code, but not identified by name.

I voted with the majority. Here’s why: Only one of the many owners who spoke even mentioned the proposed regulations and the one that did said they would inflict “profound harm” to his business. Upon questioning, it was only one provision of the proposed rules that was a problem for him — the limit of one unit per lot — and it is not clear to me if what he is doing is legal anyway. But I’ll leave that alone. The owners really didn’t make the case that the really basic and reasonable proposed rules would be a burden on them. They mostly talked about how nice it was to have guests from different places, and how nice and responsible they were as owners. And also how much money their business brings to the county. None of which is relevant, in my opinion.

However, there also needed to be a case made for the regulations in the first place. None was made. The owner of the vacation rental that has been the target of the complaints to the County Council that kicked off this whole thing was in attendance. The commissioners questioned him on the complaints lodged by his neighbors. The tipping point for me was learning that the Sheriff had never made a call on him responding to a complaint. In other words, the neighbors didn’t use the rules we already have about noise, etc, to try to get their concerns addressed. Read my discussion of current enforcement options HERE. If real problems do arise in the future surrounding vacation rentals, we can always revisit this issue then.

Hearing on regulation of vacation rentals January 8th

At our only Planning Commission meeting in December, we previewed proposed new zoning rules for properties rented out as short-term vacation rentals. On January 8th, we will hold a public hearing on the proposed rules, starting at 6:30 pm at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads. I would suspect that it will be standing room only in our little meeting room, so if you want a seat and plan to speak, come early. It’s clear there is a lot of interest in this topic, so I’ll take a bit more time to lay out the choices and concerns.

THE PROBLEM: With the advent of internet listing sites such as AirBnB and VRBO, renting out your home, or a second home, as a vacation rental is easier than ever. Rural neighborhoods that used to be quiet most of the year now have people in those vacation homes much of the summer and beyond. Neighbors are now complaining about the additional noise and traffic.

CURRENT ZONING RULES: Any residence permitted in the zoning code may be rented to another party, regardless of duration. So currently there are no restrictions on where, as in what zone, a vacation rental may be, as long as it is a permitted residence. The zoning code defines and restricts bed & breakfasts, rooming houses, hotels, and motels, mainly to commercial and high density residential areas, except for B&Bs that can be most places with a permit. The Rooming House definition could be interpreted to include vacation rentals, if we were interested in banning them from rural neighborhoods, but I don’t think that’s what anyone is suggesting and not without a huge fight.

CURRENT ENFORCEMENT OPTIONS: If the main problem is noise impacting the neighborhood, the neighbors can call the sheriff who can cite either the renters or the property owner under the “disorderly house” provisions (WCC 9.40). If the property is being rented out as an event venue, such as a wedding, then the Special Event Venue rules come into play, which requires a permit and are currently very restrictive. Complaints for building and zoning violations can also be filed with county code enforcement.

THE PROPOSAL: The proposed amendment is fairly simple. It would explicitly permit vacation rentals in the same residential zones as B&Bs, requiring an Assessory Use Permit, which is approved by planning staff and is the same type of permit needed for any home business enterprise on residentially-zoned property. Proposed operating rules for vacation rentals include: one unit per lot; if an ADU on site, the owner must also reside in it on the house; no more than 2 people per legal bedroom; no outdoor signage; don’t become a nuisance to your neighbors; one extra parking space; post rules of conduct for the renters; pay your taxes and be a legitimate business; have adequate and safe utilities.

IF YOU WANT TO WEIGH IN ON THIS ISSUE: I have at least a couple of criteria I consider when reviewing zoning rules. One is that there has to be a legitimate problem that can be solved best by zoning rules. Another is there has to be a benefit to the property owner who has to comply with the rules, otherwise they will just ignore them and hope they stay under the radar. Sometimes the benefit could just be that they are no longer operating in a legal/zoning gray area, can get a permit to show they have the right to do what they are doing, and ward off complaints. And does the benefit to the property owner and/or the public outweigh the regulatory burden.  Anyone testifying at the hearing would help me out by addressing these two points. Written comments may be emailed to PDS_Planning_Commission@co.whatcom.wa.us

A COUPLE OTHER QUESTIONS:
To vacation rental owners: Specifically how would these proposed rules impact you?
To neighbors: If the 5-bedroom vacation rental home on the lake next door to you were occupied instead year-round by a 7 member family, including teenagers, 4 cars, lots of friends, jet skis and trampolines, would they have a greater or less impact on the neighborhood than a vacation rental?

Looking beyond this immediate proposal, people interested in ensuring adequate and affordable housing for residents of Whatcom County might want to pay attention to the long-term impacts of housing being “converted” to vacation rentals. Whatcom County has some very desirable vacation areas, and homeowners as well as business people may find it profitable to buy properties specifically as vacation rentals. This will reduce the housing stock available for people who live here, and increase the cost of what’s available. We are already struggling with this issue. It will only get worse.
Next County Council meeting January 13
FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

Municipal Stormwater Permit amendments on Agenda

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on a proposalto adopt minor code amendments to WCC Titles 20 and 16. The purpose of these proposed amendments is to properly designate the Director of Public Works, or his/her designee, as the administrator of the Western Washington Phase II Municipal Stormwater Permit, with the enforcement provisions overseen by the Director of Planning and Development Services, the Director of Health, the County Sheriff, or their respective designees. The hearing will be held at it’s next meeting, Thursday, November 13, 6:30 pm at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads. AGENDA MATERIALS
These amendments are described as housekeeping, driven by changes in state law. I haven’t read through it yet, but it deletes one paragraph and adopts 12 new ones. If you are familiar with these provisions, I’d appreciate your take on them.

Mineral Resource Lands amendments go to County Council

On October 23rd, we held a hearing on changes to the process to designate Mineral Resource Lands, and permit process for surface mining. Here’s my discussion.
The two competing proposals before the PC are attempts to fix the process so that Whatcom County can actually designate some more MRL for future (sand, gravel, hard rock) needs. Both versions will be considered by the council, but the PC recommended the version developed by the surface Mining Advisory Committee.
I continue to be unconvinced that either will really address the problem we have. We have no Mineral Resource Land in reserve for future needs, and continuing to designate new parcels piecemeal will also continue the situation that focuses the discussion on the appropriateness of mining on that particular parcel. When this happens, we don’t have the big picture where we can say “what other land would be more appropriate for mining?” Whatcom County has done some analysis of mineral resources but have not taken these forward to designate MRLs.
The PC adopted my motion that we strongly recommend that Whatcom County take a lead role in designating mineral resource lands of long-term commercial significance in order to protect them from incompatible uses, as opposed to the present process of landowner initiated amendments.”
This issue is tentatively on the Council agenda for Nov. 25.

Sam Taylor Appointed to District 3 Vacancy

The County Council has appointed Sam Taylor to the Planning Commission. Taylor currently works for the City of Ferndale as City Clerk, whose duties include serving as liaison between the public and City Council. He also worked as Politics reporter for the Bellingham Herald and originated the Politics Blog for the Herald.

My Impressions of Town Hall on Comp Plan Update

Last time I punted on sharing my impression of the Town Hall on the Comp Plan. So here goes: I heard a lot of people talk about how long their family has lived in Whatcom County. Somehow that is seen as a selling point when expressing opinions about Whatcom County planning, and other subjects. The implication is that they were farmers, fishermen, loggers way back when and that gives their descendants “cred” on policy issues.
I have lived in Whatcom County almost 25 years, and my ancestors were farmers, homesteaders, missionaries, too, just not here. In fact almost everyone has a similar family experience of farming the land in past generations, and this history does color on the way we all look at our surroundings.
I am focused on the future of Whatcom County and what we need to do to live here in harmony with the physical environment. When people tell me their great grandpa cleared land and farmed here, I think of all the things that generation did to destroy salmon habitat, pollute streams, cheat the Indians out of their treaty rights, cut down the vast forest. We all have some atoning to do for the sins of our ancestors.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to take a class on Pacific Northwest History, I recommend the book “Land Use, Environment, and Social Change: The Shaping of Island County, Washington” by Richard White. Originally published in 1980, I suspect very few old-timers have read it, but as a “newcomer” I have. Sometimes it’s the newcomers who can see what’s really happening, without the narrow view of their own personal experience.
Next time I’ll tackle the issue of children not being able to find jobs in Whatcom County. Personally, I’m glad my son finally moved out and got a real job somewhere else.

Cherry Point Economic Study

The Center for Economic & Business Research (CEBR) at Western Washington University conducted an independent, non-partisan, in-depth study of the impact of the only Whatcom area zoned for heavy industrial use: Cherry Point. Three major corporations operate at Cherry Point – BP Cherry Point Refinery, Phillips 66 Ferndale Refinery, and the Alcoa Intalco Works Smelter.
Read the study HERE.

Some other news

North Whatcom farmers approve districts for securing irrigation water
State’s $260M project would restore Nooksack River delta north of Bellingham
Legislature should back smart growth tools for smaller cities
Dr. Charles F. Wilkinson, three lectures in Bellingham on the Boldt Decision of 1974

Amendments to Surface Mining rules considered

We had a work session on amendments to surface mining permitting processes and mineral resource land designation criteria at a meeting last month. On October 23rd, we will have a hearing on these changes. The Sept 23 agenda materials are HERE

The purpose of designating Mineral Resource land is to let current and future land owners know that there are valuable mineral resources under the surface, and to discourage development of that land that would be incompatible with future mining. However, Whatcom County has defined it’s mineral resource lands by identifying the current, active mining permits only. This means that Whatcom County has no Mineral Resource Land (MRL) in reserve for future mining.

It also means designating a new parcel a MRL has become synonymous with an application to actually mine that parcel. But MRL designation is not a “right to mine”, the way agricultural or forest zoned land is. The owner must always make a separate application to begin mining which most likely requires a public process.

Because of the above-mentioned confusion about what MRL designation is, the only applications in recent decades to designate new MRL became a fight over whether that particular parcel should be mined. And public opposition killed both applications.

The two competing proposals before the PC are attempts to fix the process so that Whatcom County can actually designate some more MRL for future (sand, gravel, hard rock) needs. Exhibit A was written by Carl Weimer and Barbara Brenner, and includes combining some aspects of the MRL designation with the environmental studies that are required for the mining permit itself. Exhibit B is the proposal that emerged from the Surface Mining Advisory Committee (SMAC) after considering the Weimer/Brenner proposal. The differences are detailed in the agenda materials.

I’m not convinced either will really address the problem we have. We have no Mineral Resource Land in reserve for future needs, and continuing to designate new parcels piecemeal will also continue the situation that focuses the discussion on the appropriateness of mining on that particular parcel. When this happens, we don’t have the big picture where we can say “what other land would be more appropriate for mining?” Whatcom County has done some analysis of mineral resources (see links below) but have not taken these forward to designate MRLs.

The Commission asked for more information, and here’s what we got:
Final SMAC Report from 2004
Comparison of Designation of Mineral Resources
Mineral Resources Background Report-Whatcom Co, 1994
 Snohomish Co Comp Plan-Land Use Element  
Skagit Co Comp Plan Land Use Element
Also an Aggregate Resource Inventory Study, 2003, that was too big to upload.

District 3 Position Application Deadline October 21st

We need to find a new Commissioner to represent District 3 (mainly west of the Guide) to help us with the important work of updating the 20-year Comprehensive Plan. For those of you in the 1st District, we have two seats expiring in January.
If you are interested, don’t hesitate to call me at 319-8287 to discuss any questions you have. The application deadline is 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. Nomination and appointment are scheduled for Tuesday, October 28 at the regular evening Council meeting. DETAILS

My Impressions of Town Hall on Comp Plan Update

The Whatcom County Planning Commission hosted a town hall meeting to present to the publi an overview of what the Comprehensive Plan update will involved, and get general comments from the public before we start the 2-year process.  Project information is available on the County website. Written comments are HERE. Comments were dominated by the theme of family-wage jobs, protecting and expanding industrial jobs at Cherry Point, how long individual speakers’ families have lived in Whatcom County, and lamenting that children can’t find jobs here in Whatcom County.
I want to get this out to remind you about the deadline for the vacancy, so I’m not gong to elaborate on my thoughts now, but will next time, and at the PC meeting this Thursday.

Next County Council meeting October 28
FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule