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

Town Hall Meeting Oct. 9 Kicks off Comp Plan Update

The Whatcom County Planning Commission will host a town hall meeting regarding the periodic update of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan and the urban growth area (UGA) review, which are both required by the Growth Management Act.  The update must be completed by June 2016.  The purpose of the town hall meeting is to discuss issues, and obtain public input, related to the Comprehensive Plan update and UGA review. Project information is available on the County website.

The town hall meeting will be held Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the Whatcom County Council Chambers, 311 Grand Avenue, Bellingham.  The public is invited to submit written comments and/or attend this meeting to provide oral comments.

Commissioner Haugen Resigns; Deadline for Application October 21st

District 3 Commissioner Walter Haugen resigned after our last meeting, after declining to attend the last two meetings over a dispute regarding the Commission’s attendance rules. The Bellingham Herald story covers most of this controversy.

I’m not going to defend or refute Mr. Haugen’s concerns or issues; he’s more than capable of speaking for himself. I would say, however, that Commission meetings are run well and respectfully of all present. I would not sit there and allow others, whatever their politics, to be bullied or harassed. Sometimes Commissioners say really odd or outrageous things that I do not agree with, but they are never personal attacks. Accepting differences of opinion and looking beyond those differences is what it means to work on a public board.

My concern now is 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.

People Get Excited About Changes to Parks and Trails Level-of-Service

The Planning Commission held a public hearing on the draft Six-Year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for Whatcom County Facilities 2015-2020 at our last meeting. The Six-Year CIP includes plans for County parks, trails, activity centers, maintenance and operations, general government buildings and sites, Sheriff’s Office facilities, emergency management, correction facilities, stormwater facilities and transportation.

The agitation was about the proposed new way of defining level of service (LOS) standards for parks and trails in the Capital Facilities chapter of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan. More than one person suggested this was a bait and switch after promising a developed park and trails with the acceptance of the Reconveyance of land on the North Shore of Lake Whatcom last year. Even a left-leaning commissioner had a problem with the way the new LOS was defined for parks.Toward the end of the over three hour meeting, I believe I used the word “overwrought” to describe the concerns I was repeatedly hearing.

Here’s what I understand after much questioning of Parks Director McFarland and about three hours of testimony and discussion:

  • The LOS standards in the Comprehensive Plan are benchmarks that must be met for the approval of any new development (and actionable if not met, before the Growth Management Hearings Board). In the case of parks and trails, a much finer description of level of service is defined in the Comprehensive Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan, also adopted by the County Council.
  • The conservative PC asked for changes to the Parks LOS two years ago
  • The current Parks LOS is based of surveys of the public about what they think we need, and then adjusted to what is realistic financially. It has not been based on any empirical analysis of how many acres of parkland are needed for a certain number of people since the 1970s.
  • The proposed Parks LOS is based on the same surveys of the public, but is described in number of developed parks, rather than total park acres.
  • The Trails LOS has been at an unachievable level for some years. The proposed new LOS is more realistic.
  • The proposed change in LOS for trails describes multi-purpose trails only. A finer LOS, including single-use trails like mountain bike and equestrian, is described in the Comprehensive Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan.

I was a minority of one in supporting the proposal as is. The majority recommended maintaining the current Parks LOS definition, and to add back in the single-use trails in the Trails LOS. This will be discussed in the Public Works Committee of the Council on Oct 14, and scheduled for consideration by the Council on Oct 28. Read the Project information and draft proposal HERE.

Amendments to Surface Mining rules

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 11 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.

Probably the most revealing thing to come out of the work session was that Whatcom County defined it’s mineral resource lands by identifying the current, active mining permits.This means that Whatcom County has no mineral resource land in reserve for future mining.

Skagit and Snohomish Counties both took a decade or more assessing all the land in their county before they finished designating mineral resource lands. I received an email during the meeting from one of you, suggesting I ask what Skagit and Snohomish’s criteria was for their designation.

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.

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

–Natalie
360-319-8287

Hearing on Six-Year Capital Improvement Program September 25

The Whatcom County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the draft Six-Year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for Whatcom County Facilities 2015-2020 (Appendix F of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan) that would replace the existing Six-Year CIP for 2013-2018. The Six-Year CIP includes plans for County parks, trails, activity centers, maintenance and operations, general government buildings and sites, Sheriff’s Office facilities, emergency management, correction facilities, stormwater facilities and transportation.

The proposed amendments also include modifying the level of service (LOS) standards for parks and trails and eliminating the LOS standard for activity centers in the Capital Facilities chapter of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan.  File #PLN2014-00007. These amendments have already garnered a couple of written comments, objecting to the changes.

Read the Project information and draft proposal HERE. Hearing starts at 6:30 pm, at Northwest Annex, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. Written comments may be submitted to:  PDS_Planning_commission@co.whatcom.wa.us

Special Events Zoning goes back to the drawing board

Even more folks showed up to our third meeting on proposed Special Events zoning rules, and nothing was decided except that we didn’t like what was proposed. The Commission had unanimously tabled previous drafts “until it addresses the 10 percent worst offenders, not the 90 percent best.”

Following that decision, I spent a few hours talking with staff about my ideas for how to achieve this in the code, but hardly anything I recommended found its way into the new drafts considered at our September 11 meeting. After the new drafts came out, I asked what happened to my ideas, and didn’t really get a satisfactory answer. So I asked again at the August 11 meeting, and was told something like we just weren’t going to do it that way. I responded that “cause I say so” or “cause we don’t do things that way” aren’t satisfactory answers.

Every square inch of county land is governed by a zoning code, and if the code doesn’t say you can do something, then you can’t. The code already doesn’t allow many of these events that are taking place in rural residential and agricultural areas, unless the property owner gets a permit under the Home Occupations or Cottage Industry rules. The purpose of this exercise is to make these existing rules clear and easier to work with. These draft proposals represent a reorganization of existing code in many respects, and that’s what many Commissioners and the public are objecting to. There was never any intention in bringing up this issue to substantially change the rules in place. But now people better understand the rules in place, and they don’t like them.

The Commission asked staff to work with the public, and commissioners, to come up some alternative proposals. We have run out of time on our schedule and are moving on to Comprehensive Plan work, but at some point we expect to consider new proposals for special event zoning.

Town Hall Meeting on Comp Plan Update

The Whatcom County Planning Commission will host a town hall meeting regarding the periodic update of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan and the urban growth area (UGA) review, which are both required by the Growth Management Act under RCW 36.70A.130.  The update must be completed by June 2016.  The purpose of the town hall meeting is to discuss issues, and obtain public input, related to the Comprehensive Plan update and UGA review. Project information is available on the County website.

The town hall meeting will be held Thursday, October 9, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the Whatcom County Council Chambers, 311 Grand Avenue, Bellingham.  The public is invited to submit written comments and/or attend this meeting to provide oral comments. Written comments may be submitted to:
Whatcom County Planning Commission
ATTN: Becky Boxx
5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham, WA  98226
Email: PDS_Planning_commission@co.whatcom.wa.us
For more information, please contact Matt Aamot at maamot@co.whatcom.wa.us or (360) 676-6907.

Next County Council meeting September 30
Watershed Improvement Districts are on the agenda, postponed from the last meeting.

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

Full Agenda on Special Events and Surface Mining

In our third attempt, 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, September 11, 6:30 pm at the County Annex, NW & Smith Roads. At its last two meetings the PC have hashed over various versions, and now we will consider two competing versions one “streamlined” and one “more prescriptive.”. The agenda materials are HERE.
At our last meeting, August 14, we had a full house of county residents commenting on the proposals. Some just wanted some kind of clear rules so they could know what they had to do. Another complained about a “festival” held that past weekend just feet from his house with pounding music all day and evening. One group had a planned event canceled because of one neighbor complaint lodged in advance. Clearly there is a need for some rules not only limiting event use on rural property but also rules defining appropriate use.

But the “what ifs” seem to be endless. It was pointed out by a past Planning Director that the county had tried to do this before and it was such a mess they gave up. I’m not sure where I’ll stand on these proposals come meeting time, but what I do know is that these zoning rules regulate temporary events so if they don’t work we can change then without any great damage or loss of value to property owners.

Amendments to Surface Mining rules

The September 11 meeting will also include a work session on amendments to the Whatcom County Code Title 20 and the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan regarding surface mining permitting processes and mineral resource land designation criteria and processes. The agenda materials are HERE

Comprehensive Plan Update: Hearing on Six-Year Capital Improvement Program September 25

The Whatcom County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the draft Six-Year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for Whatcom County Facilities 2015-2020 (Appendix F of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan) that would replace the existing Six-Year CIP for 2013-2018. The Six-Year CIP includes plans for County parks, trails, activity centers, maintenance and operations, general government buildings and sites, Sheriff’s Office facilities, emergency management, correction facilities, stormwater facilities and transportation.  The proposed amendments also include modifying the level of service (LOS) standards for parks and trails and eliminating the LOS standard for activity centers in the Capital Facilities chapter of the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan.  File #PLN2014-00007.
This hearing will be held Thursday, September 25, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. at the Planning & Development Services Northwest Annex, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. Read the Project information and draft proposal HERE.
The public is invited to submit written comments and/or attend this meeting to provide oral comments. Written comments may be submitted to:
Whatcom County Planning Commission, ATTN: Becky Boxx, 5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, WA  98226. Email: PDS_Planning_commission@co.whatcom.wa.us

Next County Council meeting September 16

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule

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