Council begins Comp Plan review with big hearing

The Planning Commission finished up its work on the Comprehensive Plan update at it’s last meeting, and sent it on the County Council. To kick off their review, the Council held a public hearing last Tuesday. Both the anti-coal port and pro-port groups hyped the hearing and it was standing room only. As I mentioned in my last message the Lummi Nation Planning Department has submitted language to amend the Cherry Point UGA to exclude development for coal and oil export facilities. Here are their submitted comments. I’m pretty sure a lot of people on both sides of the issue don’t understand that the Comp Plan, whatever it says about coal exports, will not effect the pending permit application for the Gateway Pacific Terminal. As soon as the permit application was submitted, the law froze in place, and only the law at that time will apply to that project, if it actually gets approved.

It will be interesting to see if the Council chooses to even talk about the Lummi amendments. The proposals must be taken up by a council member to be considered at all. Otherwise they are just public comments like everyone else’s. Before the last PC meeting I asked legal counsel if voting on such an issue would have any implications for the pending GPT application, and was told that it might give the appearance of pre-judgement by the Council about coal export facilities at Cherry Point. The Lummi amendments are not general. They are specific to the Cherry Point UGA. Continue reading

Planning Commish almost done with Comp Plan Update

One last meeting on the Comp Plan before sending it off to the County Council, Thursday, January 14

We held the official public hearing on the entire Comprehensive Plan last month, but decided to give ourselves, and others, a little more time to consider it before putting it to bed. At our meeting tomorrow we will consider any other amendments anywhere in the document, and hopefully recommend the update to the County Council. The Council will have until June to review, amend, adopt the plan. We are actually on schedule!
Work session and Final Recommendation on the Comprehensive Plan update
Thursday January 14, 6:30 pm
County Council Chambers, 311 Grand Ave, Bellingham

Here are the final amended versions of each chapter.  Also, the Final EIS for the Comp Plan update is now available, HERE.

Continue reading

Final public hearing on Comp Plan update December 10

I took a break from sending out my missives on the Planning Commission in order to manage Bobby Briscoe’s campaign for Port Commission, but that didn’t mean the PC hasn’t been meeting. We’ve slogged through the rest of the chapters, completing the Environment chapter last week. All along we’ve taken public comment on each chapter twice. Now we will hold the official public hearing on the entire thing, consider any other amendments anywhere in the document, and hopefully recommend the update to the County Council. The Council will have until June of next year to review, amend, adopt the plan We are actually on schedule!
Hearing and Final PC Recommendation on the Comprehensive Plan update
Thursday December 10, 2015
County Council Chambers, 311 Grand Ave, Bellingham

We don’t have the final amended versions of each chapter posted yet, but they’ll be here shortly.  In the meantime, you can look at all the proposed edits and comments, and read the meeting minutes, if you like. Also, the Final EIS for the Comp Plan update is now available, HERE.

District 2 vacancy on Commission needs applicants!

Ben Elenbaas resigned from the Planning Commission over a month ago, and we really need to find a replacement. This is District 2, east of the Guide, north of Alabama and the Nooksack River, approximately. See a map here.

Issues on the docket in 2016 include the Critical Areas Ordinance update, code enforcement amendments, Special Events regulations, and an Ag Strategic Plan, plus much more! Join the fun!

Deadline for applicants will be 10 a.m. on Tuesday, November 30. Appointment will be on the Council agenda for December 8. If we don’t get someone the council likes, they will postpone, however. APPLY HERE

Comp Plan update UGA proposals for Ferndale, Everson, and Nooksack

Chapter 8 – Resource Lands

Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting will involve a work session on Urban Growth Area proposals by Ferndale, Everson and Nooksack, as part of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan. We will also take a second look at Chapter 8 on Resource Lands.  This meeting will be held Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. in the County Council chambers, 311 Grand Ave, Bellingham. All meeting materials are HERE.

I took a little break from my regular meeting reports, mainly due to being way too busy with election stuff. Last meeting we had work sessions on the UGA proposals for Sumas, Blaine, Cherry Point, Birch Bay, and Columbia Valley. Nothing too exciting happened at the meeting, but since then we have received comments from the Lummi Indian Business Council regarding the Cherry Point UGA. To get the full picture of what the Comp Plan says about Cherry Point, you’ll need to look at Chapter 2, page 2-54 for the narrative and goals and policies, and that same document, page 2-11, for the Cultural Heritage goals and policies, referred to in the LIBC comments. The Planning Commission will take our second look at these UGA proposals in 3 weeks time, on August 13. At that meeting is when we would proposed specific amendments to the current draft. Although the PC may consider amendments later, to keep on schedule we hope to work out issues Commissioners have at this August 13 meeting.

Bellingham’s UGA proposal is scheduled to be introduced (a work session) on September 24. If you are interested in this one, please confirm the date as it keeps getting moved into the future.

Water back on the front burner

Sorting out water rights in Whatcom County will have to start with the determination of the Lummi and Nooksack Treaty Rights for in-stream flows for salmon, since they are the most senior rights. The tribes asked the federal government to do just that back in 2011. Their strategy that they feel has the best chance of a reasonable outcome, is to negotiate a settlement with all the stakeholders in the county and take it to the federal court for approval, and enforcement. A federal judge is not in a position to figure it all out him or herself anyway. The Lummis are now moving on the negotiation piece of this, as reported in the Herald Politics blog Lummis propose water-rights deal to farmers, cities and the follow up Whatcom council hears outline of Lummi water-rights deal. What they are offering at this time is a framework for the negotiations.

Comp Plan schedule

Find the latest schedule for Comp Plan meetings HERE, at the bottom of the page. Comments and specific suggested edits would be most appreciated 10 days in advance, so they can be published and in the Commissioners’ packets. Doing amendments on the fly is harder.

Comp Plan update Chapter 8 – Resource Lands

Chapter 7 – Economics

Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting will involve a work session on two chapters of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan: Chapter 8 on Resource Lands, and Chapter 7 on Economics.”  This work session will be held Thursday, June 11, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. in the Northwest Annex Conference Room, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. We will not be considering any other chapter for final decisions this week.

Council appoints new District 3 Planning Commissioner

The County Council June 11th appointed Kelvin Barton to the vacancy on the Planning Commission, representing District 3. Mr. Barton lives in Birch Bay and has served on the Birch Bay Advisory Committee, and is retired after a career as a land use planner in Everett. You can read his resume here, on page 348. I’m excited to have Birch Bay represented on the Commission, since it is the largest unincorporated area of the county.

Bellingham Planning Commission also tonight – hearing on UGAs

While I’m sure our County Planning commission meeting will be riveting, the real action tonight will be at the Bellingham Planning Commission meeting.  They will be holding a public hearing on the UGA boundary recommendation to be forwarded to City Council for their consideration. The big bugaboo for this County Comp Plan update is the population growth we plan for. Deciding on that number is a combination of demographic projections and community vision. Bellingham City Council has tentatively agreed to take more population than they would take if strictly historically proportional, requiring higher densities in the city and allowing reduced growth in the rural areas. But the devil is in the details. Where and how will this density be put in the city? Here’s what the Herald had to say.

Here’s a link to the meeting packet. Perhaps you’ll have better luck opening it than I did. The meeting starts at 7 pm, in the City Council Chambers.

Comp Plan update Chapter 6 – Transportation

2nd look at Chapter 5 – Utilities

Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting will involve a work session on Chapter 6 of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan, titled “Transportation.”  This work session will be held Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. in the Northwest Annex Conference Room, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. We will re-visit this chapter on June 25 to consider edits and try to “put it to bed.” See the calendar, below.

We will also take our second look at Chapter 5 Utilities to consider proposed edits. We have the edits from staff, originally presented last month, and a report from staff and edits from Commissioners. Our main questions on the Utilities Chapter was with the rapidly changing environment for telecommunications, and how the planning goals matched the growing reliance on internet access in all areas, not just urban, for everyday commerce and communication. It seems to me the normal goals of limiting “urban” levels of service to urban areas so as not to promote sprawl does not apply to internet access. The foothills area of the county has long struggled with getting decent internet and cell phone coverage, and also has pockets of low income and under-employed residents who would probably benefit from better internet service. Good internet access could provide better employment opportunities without requiring driving into town.

Last meeting’s work session on housing included a very informative presentation by the consultant hired to create the housing market and needs analysis for this chapter. Unfortunately it is not posted to the website, but I will see if I can get it there. We are scheduled to re-visit the Housing chapter on June 11, but may delay that so we can have time to thoroughly review the consultant’s data and conclusions.

Vacancy for District 3 Planning Commission – Deadline next Tuesday

With the resignation of Commissioner Sam Taylor, who represents District 3, we have a vacancy on the Commission. District 3 is basically everything west of the Guide. Deadline is 10:00 a.m. on June 2, 2015. That’s next Tuesday.  Here’s how to apply.

If it looks like I just substituted new chapter titles from last time, you are not imagining it

Campaign season is upon us, and I’m really busy. And I’m heading out to Yakima for the weekend for my son Zach’s wedding, the first of two sons getting married this summer. And no, neither son has been able to find work in Whatcom County, assuming they even wanted to. But they are close, and they both have good living wage jobs with benefits and have purchased homes by the time they are 30 years old. The very essence of growth is millennials creating new households. So I turned Zach’s wedding into a planning topic.

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.

Comp Plan update Chapter 3 – Housing

2nd look at Chapter 4 – Capital Facilities

Today’s Planning Commission meeting will involve a work session on Chapter 3 of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan, titled “Housing.”  This work session will be held Thursday, May 14, 2015 at 6:30 p.m. in the Northwest Annex Conference Room, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. We will re-visit this chapter on June 11 to consider edits and try to “put it to bed.” See the calendar, below. We will have a presentation from the consultant hired to create the housing market and needs analysis for this chapter.

We will also take our second look at Chapter 4 Capital Facilities to consider proposed edits. We have the edits from staff, originally presented last month, and from Commissioners. The main topic of discussion has been a change in the way Level of Service is defined for the jail and other correction facilities. Chief of Corrections, Wendy Jones, is scheduled to attend our meeting to answer questions.

Commission successfully slogs through Chapter 2

At our last meeting, April 23, we considered the Land Use chapter, minus the specific UGA descriptions. This is the biggest chapter with over 100 pages. The staff amendments were not discussed as no one had any concerns about them. We spent multiple hours considering amendments I had proposed. All I will say about it is that I now have a little better understanding of how some of my fellow commissioners think about planning issues. If you’ve got nothing better to do, you can listen to the whole thing HERE, starting at 1:55.

Vacancy, again, for District 3 Planning Commission

With the resignation of Commissioner Sam Taylor, who represents District 3, we have a vacancy on the Commission. District 3 is basically everything west of the Guide. No deadline has been set for applications, but act quickly. Here’s how to apply.

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.

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