Scaled down Special Events code considered

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on amendments to Whatcom County Zoning Code regarding Weddings, Receptions and Special Events, at it’s next meeting, Thursday, August 14, 6:30 pm at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads. At its last meeting the PC help a work session, learning about the staff proposal and giving some input on it. Most PC members were concerned that the preliminary proposal was much too restrictive and unworkable. That proposal was re-worked and will be considered August 14th.  The agenda materials are HERE.

Are zoning laws really just suggestions? County approves new code enforcer

In my last post, I asked the above question, after the PC dealt with a zoning violation that was being “solved” by changing the zoning to make the violation legal. The good news is that the Planning Director, County Executive Louws, and the County Council seem to get it, and the Council approved additional money to hire a additional code enforcer through the end of the year. Here’s the background from a Herald article.  The County Council on August 5th approved the request.

Watershed Improvement District formation moves ahead

Farmers and landowners in the Drayton, Laurel, South Lynden, and Sumas watersheds have submitted petitions to the County Council to form Watershed Improvement Districts, with independent taxing authority, to help farmers stabilize their water availability under existing restraints and competing rights. A public hearing will be held on each district petition before the County Council, probably on Sept. 16th. Check the agenda closer to the date. Here’s more info from the Herald article.

Map of county’s public land

I love maps, so this is really fun for me. The Washington State Recreation and Conservation office has put a comprehensive public lands map on-line for us to explore HERE.

Next County Council meeting September 16

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

New Zoning Rules for Events Proposed

The Planning Commission will consider amendments to Whatcom County Zoning Code regarding Weddings, Receptions and Special Events, at it’s next meeting, Thursday, July 24, 6:30 pm at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads. This meeting will be a work session, learning about the staff proposal and giving some input on it. The Planning Commission will consider the final proposal on August 14th. The agenda materials are HERE. Up until now, special events, weddings, farm festivals, music jams and the like have been permitted as Conditional Uses, with no standard set of conditions.

Rezone at Slater and Elder Roads vote deadlocked; are zoning laws really just suggestions?

At the last PC meeting we considered a request for rezone of 5 acres at the corner of Slater and Elder Roads,  from Neighborhood Commercial to Rural General Commercial which allows for a greater option of commercial enterprises. The six members of the Planning Commission present could not agree on any action on this proposal. Both motions to deny and to recommend failed on a 3-3 vote. It moves to the County Council without a recommendation from the PC.

On it’s face the proposed change seemed reasonable. But the history of zoning compliance of one of the property owners became the main issue for those who ended up opposing the request, including me. The property is already involved in an enforcement action due to non-compliance with current zoning.  After PDS staff notified the owner to remove their used car sales from the property, and they complied, the owner brought the cars back to the site.

This zoning change was recommended by PDS staff to make a currently illegal activity legal. The explanation staff gave for making this recommendation was that enforcement just doesn’t hardly happen.  There is a long list of complaints pending enforcement, the county can’t levy fines, if they take a property owner to court it’s a very low priority for the County Prosecutor, etc, etc, etc. So the solution is make what is illegal, legal, and it goes away.

Having recently discussed with a friend his 19-year battle to get zoning rules enforced on a neighbor’s property, I have no reason to doubt PDS staff’s assessment of the intractable nature of zoning enforcement in Whatcom County. For those who don’t like zoning and believe that property rights are sacrosanct, this status quo is great. Zoning law becomes just a suggestion, to be ignored if you want.

More Water News

County Executive Louws gave the Council an update on the Water Action Plan, and Councilman Weimer is mainly please with the progress. Read his analysis HERE.

If you missed the forth and final Rome Grange water forum, here’s the video.  The program includes Tim Ballew II, Chairman, Lummi Indian Business Council, County Executive Jack Louws;  Mayor Kelli Linville of Bellingham; Dave Olson of Rural Water Systems; Randy Kinley for the Lummi Nation; Tom Loranger, Program Manager of Water Resources for the state Department of Ecology.

Next County Council meeting August 5

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

GMA Non-compliance, a year and a half on

The Planning Commission will consider a request for rezone of 5 acres at the corner of Slater and Elder Roads, at it’s next meeting, Thursday, July 10, 6:30 pm at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads. The zoning change is from Neighborhood Commercial to Rural General Commercial which allows for a greater option of commercial enterprises. Agenda materials

Growth Management Act Compliance Update

Two bits of news this past week got me to thinking where the County is on getting in compliance with the Growth Management Act. Gary Davis, Senior Planner with PDS, whipped up this little chart for me, summarizing the status of issues from the January 2013 Compliance Order and the June 2013 finding on water resources. Left to resolve are LAMIRD rules and boundaries along the Guide and Birch Bay Lynden Road, and the water resources issue. Here’s a summary of all the original January 2013 Compliance Order issues.

Issue number 9 (on both charts): On June 30, the State Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the County on how we monitor, and plan, for growth in rural areas. While there are over 33,000 parcels in unincorporated Whatcom County that may be built on, the plan is to allow only 2,651 new residents in these areas for the next 25 years. Seems a bit unrealistic. The Court agreed that the County’s process to monitor the growth every year “permitted the County to control rural development.” Bellingham Herald story

The bigger news this week was the County Council deciding to quit negotiations with plaintiffs on the water resources issue (number 10 on the current chart). The Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) ruled in June 2013 that “the County does not have measures required in [state law] to protect rural character by protecting surface water and groundwater resources.” The Council decided negotiations were “futile” and to just leave it up to the State Court of Appeals to decide. Here’s the Bellingham Herald story on it.

This issue has divided people who worked side-by-side to elect a progressive majority to the County Council last year. If there was an easy fix, we would have come up with it already. I’ve sat in front of my computer for quite a while trying to decide what needs to be said about it. While it’s appropriate to try to negotiate a solution with the plaintiffs on this issue, “environmentalists” as they are sometimes labeled, are not the only stakeholders. The Council could negotiate a settlement, the GMHB could agree to it, and other stakeholders would turn around and sue. The plaintiffs have complained that the Council’s decision to appeal the GMHB ruling will have the same effect — more litigation — rather than a final decision.

While it is ostensibly about protecting rural character, it’s really about water rights. And one thing I’ve learned from all the water forums in the last few years is that water rights disputes are solved, maybe, through negotiation with all stakeholders, and then take it to a court to enforce it. Courts don’t come up with solutions. They just tell you if the solution you came up with is legal.

Slaughterhouses ordinance adopted unanimously

Yes you read it right! Unanimous. ‘Nuff said.

More Water News

Yesterday, County Executive Louws gave the Council’s Natural Resources Committee an update on the Water Action Plan. Listen to the presentationHERE and the memo HERE.

The Rome Grange’s fourth water forum will be Thursday July 10, 7.00 pm to 9.00 pm, Silver Reef Hotel/Casino Event Center.  The program includes opening remarks by Tim Ballew II, Chairman, Lummi Indian Business Council, County Executive Jack Louws as Moderator, remarks by Mayor Kelli Linville of Bellingham, Dave Olson of Rural Water Systems, Randy Kinley for the Lummi Nation, and representatives of the Agriculture Water District Coalition and Non-government Water systems. Tom Loranger, Program Manager of Water Resources for the state Department of Ecology, will be the closing speaker.

Keep up with Councilman Weimer’s thoughts on water issues at his blog HERE.

Next County Council meeting July 22

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

Planning Commission considers Open Space tax reduction applications

The Planning Commission will consider and make recommendations to the County Council on five applications by land owners who would like their land valued, and therefore taxed, based on its current use, at it’s next meeting, Thursday, June 26, 6:30 pm at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads.

The Open Space Taxation Act, 1970, allows property owners to have their open space, farm and agricultural, and timber lands valued at their current use rather than at their highest and best use. the purpose of this law is to promote on-going open space and natural areas that might otherwise feel the pressure to be developed to a higher-valued use.

Here’s the staff reporton the five applications and all the details.

Wireless Communication Tower Zoning moves to Council

After two full sessions on this major reorganization and update of the zoning rules for wireless communication towers, the Planning Commission made a near-unanimous recommendation.

We spent quite a bit of time on the issue of performance bonds, or an alternative, to ensure that money would be available if and when the tower needed to be taken down. Once we understood that a proposed alternative, a lien on the property, would actually be a lien on the land, most likely a landowner who was just leasing the space for the tower, and not a lien on the equipment owned by the wireless company, we dispatched that idea quickly.

But what came up in the discussion is an understanding that the performance bonds were required for every single piece of equipment on the tower, as well as the tower. Planning staff have to keep track of all that equipment, who owns it, and make sure they have a current performance bond for it. My question was why? The tower owner will be motivated to get abandoned equipment off its tower so they can rent the space to someone else, and if the tower is removed, all the attached equipment will have to come down, too. So the Commission included a request for staff to look into how to limit the performance bond requirements to just the tower.

Another substantive change we recommended is to give tower owners more time to find new tenants or sell a tower, rather than force them to remove it within six months of ceasing operation. As long as they are paying the lease, maintaining the performance bond and insurance, it seems a waste of resources to tear it down right away.

Slaughterhouses, deja vu, all over again

A final-final-final version of the Packinghouse Zoning ordinance was introduced at the County Council’s June 17th meeting. A public hearing is scheduled for July 8 for the ordinance amending Whatcom County Code Title 20 to allow packinghouses and slaughterhouses in the Agriculture (AG), Heavy Impact Industrial (HII), and Rural and Industrial Manufacturing (RIM) Zoning Districts (AB2014-060D).  Check for the agenda a few days in advance FULL County Council AGENDA. The main adjustments are that Light Industrial has been removed, and allowing Administrative Approval permitting for small-scale operations. See page 2 for a summary of changes.

 Water Planning

Here’s the video of the latest Grange Water forum, moderated by Councilman Rud Browne, with panelists Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen; Gary Stoyka, Whatcom Co. Public Works; Glen Smith, representing private well owners; Ryan Ericson, Futurewise; Roger Almskaar, Citizens Alliance for Property Rights. The focus of the program is “What are the major issues with water supplies and uses in Whatcom County? What would a comprehensive and reasonable solution look like?”

Next County Council meeting July 8

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

–Natalie

Another chance at zoning Wireless Communications Towers

The Planning Commission will continue its public hearing on amendments to the permit process for routine wireless communications facility equipment upgrades,  at it’s next meeting, Thursday, June 12, 6:30 pm at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads.

The proposal involves a major reorganization of the entire section, to align it with the format of the other Zoning sections, and in the process, some things were changed that seemed to have broader impacts than might have been expected. Specifically, routine maintenance was moved from an exempt action to a permitted use, which may mean simple maintenance would require a building permit. The wireless providers are concerned about this.

Another issue yet to be resolved is the requirement of a performance bond intended to cover the cost of removing a tower when no longer in use. Of course, it is a matter of safety to not have abandoned towers rusting until they fall on someone. Industry representatives suggested a lien on the property was a better way to ensure public safety while simplifying the permitting process for staff and the applicant. Here’s a summary of the issue and the full agenda of documents and comments.

Slaughterhouses, deja vu, all over again

The latest word on the Slaughterhouse ordinance is that yet another round of amendments will be considered at the June 17th meeting of the County Council’s Planning Committee, and then introduced at the evening council meeting. A public hearing on that version will happen at some subsequent council meeting. The council meets every other week, and the Planning Commission meets on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays, so we have gotten out of sync and the council agenda is not available to share yet. Check for the agenda in a few days FULL County Council AGENDA

 Water Planning

The Grange is holding another forum on water issues, Saturday, June 14th, 9:30 am – noon, at the Whatcom County Council chambers. The forum will be moderated by Councilman Rud Browne, with confirmed speakers Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen; Gary Stoyka, Whatcom Co. Public Works; Glen Smith, representing private well owners; Ryan Ericson, Futurewise; Roger Almskaar, Citizens Alliance for Property Rights. The focus of the program is “What are the major issues with water supplies and uses in Whatcom County? What would a comprehensive and reasonable solution look like?”

Next County Council meeting June 17

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

–Natalie

Public Hearing on Cell Tower Permit Process Changes

Public Hearing on amendments to the permit process for routine wireless communications facility equipment upgrades,  Thursday, May 20, 6:30 pm at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads. Read the documents HERE and the Bellingham Herald summary HERE.

Slaughterhouses, deja vu, all over again

The County Council, at its May 6 meeting, held a final public hearing on a revised Slaughter/Packinghouse ordinance. Unfortunately, the Planning department did not deliver to the council an environmental review of the newest changes to the ordinance. So the council did not vote on final adoption of the ordinance. It has since been pulled from the May 20th agenda, and is scheduled for a new public hearing on June 3rd or later. You can read the Planning staff summary of the environmental review issues on page 3-4 HERE.

The problems were not just about the missing report. The Bellingham Herald headline announced “Environmentalists Slam Slaughterhouse Rules.” Concern was raised that the most recent iteration of this ordinance provides for slaughter and packing houses in the Light Industrial Zone, as a conditional use, with no size limitations built in to the law. It also adds the High Impact Industrial zone as a permitted use, also without size limitations.

While I understand and support the need for size limitations for facilities on prime agricultural soils in the Ag Zone, the thought that without size limitations all slaughterhouse facilities will grow to a massive scale is ridiculous. If it costs local farmers a burdensome amount to haul their livestock to Skagit County for slaughter, then other growers are not going to be making Whatcom County a center for a regional, multi-state livestock processing industry. There just is not the demand close enough to make that happen.

When you go back and read all the blog posts and articles on this issue over the last few years, the issue was protecting agricultural land and keeping in production rather than putting processing facilities on it, and, protecting the environment where processing facilities were sited. I believe this ordinance does that. That is also allows for processing in other zones, with the same strict environmental protections, should not matter.

Water Planning

The County Council tabled a resolution at its May 6th meeting that would have endorsed the Ag District Coalition’s effort to set up Watershed Improvement Districts (WID) to focus water planning work in the ag lands of Whatcom County.  The WIDs would tax and give a weighted vote to landowners within the boundaries of the district — two votes for every five acres of assessable land within the district. Seems the residential “well-users”, who may have only a few acres of land, are feeling left out. These are the same well-users who have been up in arms in January for fear the new Council majority would not continue the lawsuit to fight compliance with the Growth Management Act. Learn about WIDS and the proposed local districts HERE. No date was set to re-visit the resolution.

As a follow up to their two forums on water, the League of Women Voters is showing the film Water Blues Green Solutions, Monday, May 19, 6:30-8:30 pm, at the Pickford Film Center, 1318 Bay Street. Explore ways to work with Nature to create a Sustainable Water Future! Seating is limited for this event Click Here for Reserved Seat Tickets Suggested Donation is $5

Items on the May 20 County Council Agenda

County Council Natural Resources Committee, May 20, 9:30 am, Council Chambers:
Presentation and discussion of recommendations on the Portage Bay Shellfish Recovery Plan (Background and recommended plan). Pollution in the Nooksack and the Bay is directly related to land use practices in the watershed.

Public Hearing, 7 pm, Council Chambers:
Packinghouses and slaughterhouses in the Agriculture Zoning District as administrative approval uses (AB2014-060B) Here’s the Bellingham Herald review of the changes to the ordinance Postponed until June 3 or later.

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

–Natalie

Interim Marijuana Zoning ordinance adopted

Now that the Council has adopted an Interim Marijuana Zoning ordinance, the planners will see how it works as marijuana license holders apply for building permits. The ordinance lasts for six months, so before it expires, the planners will make whatever recommendations they have to tweak it, and bring those to the Planning Commission for consideration in a permanent ordinance. The Planning Commission will get a briefing on the interim ordinance at our next meeting, Thursday, May 8, 6:30 pm at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads.

The PC recommended the repeal of three Subarea Plans that are out of date and inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan. These plans cover Lake Whatcom, South Fork Valley, and Eliza Island. No citizens came to our public hearing on this issue.

Water Planning

The recently formed Ag District Coalition is asking for support from the County Council for their effort to set up Watershed Improvement Districts to focus water planning work in the ag lands of Whatcom County. This resolution will be discussed at the Natural Resources Committee meeting Tuesday morning. See Council agenda below.

The next Grange water forum will be next Tuesday, May 13th, 7-9 pm at the Ten Mile Grange, 6958 Hannegan Rd. You can see their first forum here.

As a follow up to their two forums on water, the League of Women Voters is showing the film Water Blues Green Solutions, Monday, May 19, 6:30-8:30 pm, at the Pickford Film Center, 1318 Bay Street. Explore ways to work with Nature to create a Sustainable Water Future! Seating is limited for this event Click Here for Reserved Seat Tickets Suggested Donation is $5

Items on the May 6 County Council Agenda

County Council Natural Resources Committee, May 6, 9:30 am, Council Chambers:
Resolution declaring the Whatcom County Council’s support of the Ag District Coalition and the formation of watershed improvement districts to encompass agricultural lands in Whatcom County to provide a voice for the agriculture committee regarding water issues (AB2014-153). Also on the Council’s evening agenda for consideration.

County Council Planning and Development Cmte, May 6, 3 pm, Council Chambers
Presentation by Planning and Development Services staff on issues effecting County Code compliance and enforcement (AB2014-177). This is a fascinating list of issues that may find their way to the Planning Commission for fixes.

County Council Committee of the Whole, May 6, 6:30 pm, Council Chambers
Discussion with Senior Deputy Prosecutor Karen Frakes regarding appeal of Growth Management Hearings Board Case No. 12-2-0013 (AB2014-018) Discussion of this item may take place in executive session (closed to the public). Because this is about litigation, the council agenda doesn’t give any details. Jean Melious, the plaintiff’s attorney, fills us in a little over at Get Whatcom Planning. Hint: the County is reminded it is non-compliant with the Growth Management Act.

Public Hearing, 7 pm, Council Chambers:
Packinghouses and slaughterhouses in the Agriculture Zoning District as administrative approval uses (AB2014-060B) Here’s the Bellingham Herald review of the changes to the ordinance

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

–Natalie

Public Hearing on Interim Marijuana Zoning April 22

The action this week is at the Council and not the Planning Commission. The Council’s interim ordinance on Marijuana Zoning will be up for public hearing. Check out the council agenda highlights, below.

The PC is holding three public hearings to repeal old Subarea Plans that are out of date and inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan. These plans cover Lake Whatcom, South Fork Valley, and Eliza Island. They were adopted before the Growth Management Act became law, and served a purpose then. In the event of an inconsistency between a Subarea Plan and the Comp Plan, the Comp Plan prevails, so it seems to make sense to just remove them from the planning documents. If you’ve got another view of this, come to the hearing Thursday, April 24, starting at 6:30 pm at the County Annex, NW and Smith Roads. Here’s the staff reports on the three plans for repeal.

The non-controversial amendments to corner and through lot setbacks, and the Comp Plan Public Participation Plan will be considered by the Council at its April 22 meeting.

 Water Planning

The Rome Grange held a forum last Saturday on water issues, following in the footsteps of the League of Women Voters. There is so much to learn and so many people who need to get educated on water issues, that as long as these events are well represented by the various stakeholders, they can only be good for future decision-making.   Here are two summaries of the forum, which was generally well received: Bellingham Herald  and Terry Wechsler.

Here’s a tentative list of future forums:

  • May 17: Diverse Perspectives on Water and Land Use, with reps of dairy ag, land developers, Business Alliance, Rural Water Systems, fishing, PDS, and Futurewise
  • June 7: Water Resource Planning: Past, Present, and Future, with Small Cities Caucus, Water Districts Coalition, County Public Works, Private Well Owners, Citizen’s Alliance for Prop. Rights, and Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Ass’n & RE Sources
  • June 21 or 28: Wrap Up, with Mayor Linville, Water Districts, Non-gov’t water systems, tribes, business, environmental community, and ECOL, with Exec. Louws closing the series.

There’s Carl Weimer’s new Facebook page to share information on the Action Plan process and progress. And in case you didn’t get around to completing his survey, here’s the link to share your ideas regarding what the priorities should be on water quality and quantity issues, and ideas you might have to help address the priorities.

Items on the April 22 County Council Agenda

County Council Natural Resources Committee, April 22, 9:30 am, Council Chambers:
Presentation by Dan McShane regarding potential geological hazards within Whatcom County.

Council Council Finance Cmte, April 22, 11 am, Council Chambers:
WRIA 1 funding  (AB2014-149). This item is about continued funding of a facilitator for the Watershed Management Project for the Nooksack River that takes in most of the inhabited Whatcom County. Carl Weimer says some are now questioning the expense and need for that facilitation since the group seems to accomplish little, and other groups such as the Planning Commission have always operated without such expensive facilitation.

County Council Planning and Development Cmte, April 22, 3 pm, Council Chambers

  1. Presentation of the 2014 County-wide Population Growth Monitoring Report (AB2014-097A). This is the one the Planning Commission looked at earlier in the month.
  2. Discussion of a proposed ordinance amending the Whatcom County Code to allow packinghouses and slaughterhouses in the Agriculture Zoning District as administrative approval uses (AB2014-060B) (ordinance scheduled for introduction this evening, with public hearing tentatively scheduled for May 6)

Public Hearing, 7 pm (following Ex. Louws’ State of the County Address), Council chambers:
Interim ordinance on Marijuana zoning (AB2014-074C). This interim ordinance will only last six months or less. A third version, the final, permanent ordinance, will go before the Planning Commission after the interim version is adopted by the Council.

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

–Natalie

Odds and Ends: I-5, Population, Water Plan, Oso

No hearing or actionable agenda items on the Planning Commission agenda this week. But if you drive the interstate between Bakerview and Grandview Roads you might be interested in the  WSDOT I-5 Corridor Study for that area. We will be getting a briefing on it on Thursday, April 10th, starting at 6:30 pm, County Annex, NW and Smith Roads.

The build out of the Bakerview area, including the possibility of Costco moving there, will have huge impacts on the Bakerview and Slater Road access points. Now that I live just west of the Slater I-5 exit, I am well aware of problems that already exist. Of course, planning is only useful if we intend on implementing those plans, and the Washington Legislature can’t seem to pass a Transportation Package that is sorely needed.

The Public Participation Plan for the Comprehensive Plan Update was approved by the Planning Commission at our last meeting without amendments.  Here’s the draft plan. Next stop is the Council.

Population Projections for 20-year Growth Planning

PDS staff briefed us on County-wide Population Growth Monitoring Report for urban and non-urban areas of the county.  What jumped out at me was the very last table that compared the proposed population projects to the Land Capacity Analysis for each city/UGA. what is being proposed and what we have the land to accommodate is pretty much the same for all the cities, except Bellingham. There we have 35,918 proposed population growth (2013-2036) and a preliminary Land Capacity Analysis of only 28,600.

It is expected that we will not only use available undeveloped lands inside the city limits, but also annex all UGAs outside the city limits, build out urban services, and up-zone to urban densities, within that 20-year planning period. But even if we do that, we still don’t have enough land capacity to accommodate all the expected new people. Either densities will have to be increased significantly, or UGA boundaries expanded, or both.

Clayton Petree presented an analysis he has done on the growth projections, and his basic message is that the 2007 projections were only fairly accurate to what happened because we had an unforseen recession. He suggests the estimates of recent growth are too low, and projections are too low for a future recovering economy.

 Water Action Plan

County Councilman Carl Weimer is collecting ideas from the public regarding what the priorities should be on water quality and quantity issues, and ideas you might have to help address the priorities. You can complete his survey or send him ideas directly.

Oso Landslide

The causes of  the devastating landslide that wiped out the small community of Oso, Washington, and killed over 33 people will likely be debated  for years to come. What we know for sure is that we have the tools to keep people from building homes in geologically unstable areas, if we choose to use them. As we proceed with the Comprehensive Plan update here in Whatcom County, we will review the Critical Areas Ordinance for needed changes, including the rules governing zoning and development of geologically hazardous areas.  If you want to get really deep into the geology of the slide, check out former County Councilman Dan McShane’s blog, Reading the Washington Landscape.

Items on the April 8 County Council Agenda

County Council Finance Committee, April 8, 11 am, Council Chambers:
Request approval for the County Executive to enter into a contract amendment between Whatcom County and Van Ness Feldman, LLP, to provide legal assistance in Growth Management Hearings Board cases, in the amount of $30,000, for a total amended contract in the amount of $130,000 (AB2014-136)

Council Committee of the Whole, April 8, 1:30 pm, Council Chambers:
Discussion of proposed interim marijuana zoning rules. Check out the summary of changes being considered after the public hearing last month (page 2). Assuming the committee likes what they see, it will be introduced at the evening meeting of the Council, with a public hearing proposed for April 22. This interim ordinance will only last six months or less. A third version, the final, permanent ordinance, will go before the Planning Commission after the interim version is adopted by the Council.

County Council Planning And Development Cmte, immediately following the Cmte of Whole, Council Chambers:
1. Introductory briefing on the 2016 Critical Areas Ordinance update process and schedule (AB2014-150)
2. MORE Discussion of an interim ordinance related to packinghouse applications in Agriculture Zones (AB2014-060A)

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

–Natalie

Hearing on Public Participation on Comp Plan Development March 27

The Whatcom County Planning Commission will hold one public hearing this week, March 27th starting at 6:30 pm at the County Annex, Smith and NW. The topic is Draft Public Participation Plan for Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan and Development Regulation Amendments.

The Public Participation Plan lays out all the projects and issues to be dealt with this year (already adopted by the Council) and says to what level of notice and involvement they want the public to be involved in the decision-making. Here’s the draft plan. There are three levels of participation, and each issue is put into one of these levels. Check these out beginning at page 17 (4-2). Level one has uncomplicated or non-controversial issues. Level two provides more opportunity to weigh alternatives before making decisions. And Level three adds additional layers of consultation, including a town hall meeting. What we should consider: are the projects and issues in the right level?

The one substantive change in past practice in this year’s plan is when a proposal gets modified by the Planning Commission or the Council, after full 30 day notice and hearing, it only needs 10 day notice on this second go-round in the modified form. Otherwise, it would need a second 30-day notice period before being at hearing again.

County-wide Population Growth Monitoring Report

PDS staff has published a County-wide Population Growth Monitoring Report for urban and non-urban areas of the county. While the Non-Urban Growth Monitoring Report published in January focuses on the portion of the County outside the urban growth areas, this report includes both urban and non-urban areas, and compares recent growth with the population growth allocations that are currently adopted in the Comprehensive Plan.

Planning Commission Briefing on Population Growth Monitoring Report: Thursday, March 27th, 6:30 pm, County Annex, NW & Smith. Staff Report

Comprehensive Plan EIS scoping

Those following the Gateway Pacific Terminal process will know exactly what “scoping” is all about.

Whatcom County is undertaking a Comprehensive Plan Update, Development Regulations Update and UGA Review in accordance with the Growth Management Act. Whatcom County is required to complete this review and update by June 30, 2016. As part of this review and update, the County and cities of Bellingham, Blaine, Everson, Ferndale, Lynden, Nooksack, and Sumas are undertaking a process to allocate population and employment growth to UGAs and the area of the County outside of UGAs. The County may consider amendments to County Comprehensive Plan goals and policies, UGA boundaries, land use map, and other plan elements, as well as development regulations (zoning, critical areas ordinance, etc.).

Whatcom County will prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Comprehensive Plan Update, Development Regulations Update and UGA Review.  Agencies, affected tribes, and members of the public are invited to comment on the scope of the EIS. You may comment on alternatives, mitigation measures, probable significant adverse impacts, and licenses or other approvals that may be required.

A Scoping public hearing was held on March 18th. Comment deadline has been extended to April 7th, 5 pm. Send comments to Matt Aamot at pds@co.whatcom.wa.us . You can review the 2009 Final EIS HERE to get an idea of what’s involved.

Population Projections for 20-year Growth Planning

These were adopted with Ken Mann’s language requesting staff to work with cities to develop an effective and robust Transfer of Development Rights Program as part of the 2016 Comprehensive Plan update, and that it’s the County’s intention that any request to expand an Urban Growth Area include an agreement to purchase development rights from rural or resource lands when annexation occurs. It was mentioned more than once that the population numbers are non-binding. This is because nothing is binding until the final Comprehensive Plan is adopted. But because many other plans must be in place when the Comprehensive Plan is adopted, planners need to know what population numbers the County is working toward. HERE are the Numbers and resolution

 Water Action Plan

The Water Action Plan was approved, 7-0, by the Council March 11th.  See the adopted version here.

View parts one and two of the The League of Women Voters series , titled “Whatcom Water Issues – What to Do and Navigating Towards Solutions” HERE.

Items on the March 25 County Council Agenda

County Council Natural Resources Comte, March 25, 9:30 am, council Chambers:
Update of Purchase and Development Rights Program by the Purchase of Development Rights Oversight Committee and County staff (AB2013-363A)

County Council Public Works Cmte, March 25, 1:30 pm Council Chambers:
Discussion of on-site sewage system replacement within Bellingham City limits (AB2014-134)

County Council Planning And Development Cmte, 3 pm Council Chambers:
Discussion of an interim ordinance related to packinghouse applications in Agriculture Zones (AB2014-060A)

County Council HEARING, March 25, 7 pm Council Chambers:
Ordinance allowing, on an interim basis, marijuana production, processing, and retailing as authorized by Washington State Initiative 502, and medical marijuana facilities as authorized under Chapter 69.51A RCW (AB2014-074B)

County Council Committee of the Whole, March 25, 6 pm, May be in executive session:
Discussion with Senior Deputy Prosecutor Karen Frakes regarding pending litigation before the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) and pending judicial appeals from GMHB decisions (AB2014-018) I’m told this will include a request for more money to continue this litigation.

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

–Natalie