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