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


Slaughterhouse amendments move to council without recommendation

The Whatcom County Planning Commission will hold one public hearing this week, March 13th starting at 6:30 pm at the County Annex, Smith and NW. The topic is Setback Provisions for Lots on More Than One Road. Not your most provocative topic,  just the meat and potatoes of planning. Here’s the staff report.

Packinghouses, AKA Slaughterhouses

The Planning Commission held a public hearing last month on the proposed changes to the Ag Zone packing house rules. A motion was made and seconded to make “No Recommendation.” One might think that meant the Commission had no opinion on the proposal, but we proceeded to discuss the rules for over an hour. Much of the discussion surrounded the economic feasibility of slaughter houses, or I should say, speculation about the feasibility, rather than the difference between an accessory use versus a conditional use in zoning. You can listen to the blow by blow starting at minute 41.The final vote on No Recommendation was 6-3 in favor (Hunter, Haugen, McClendon opposed)

I realize now that the passion about this issue is mostly about needing the slaughter/packinghouse services in the county, but neither the Planning Commission nor the County Council is charged with facilitating that business. Zoning one way or another is probably not going to make a difference in getting the slaughter services local producers need. A quick call to a local economic development professional led me to the Washington State University Small Farms Team and their Mobile Slaughtering Unit Manual. Mobile slaughtering has been mentioned in public testimony before the council. We even have one that says they service Whatcom County: Island Grown Farmers Coop.  Jean Melious discussed the economics of slaughterhouses  on her blog last year, that puts it in perspective. (Hint: search the page for “mobile” and read from there.)

So there’s one more stop on this journey, to the County Council for final approval. I hope that once that’s done, the people on both sides of this issue can get together and find a solution to the real problem.

 Rural Zone Lot Clustering

The other public hearing on Feb. 27th was dispatched with quickly. the Commission recommended deleting the offending sentence fragment, and also recommended that the entire topic of rural lot cluster zoning be put on the agenda for review next year.

Population Projections for 20-year Growth Planning

As I discussed last time, the cities in Whatcom County want to pack more people inside their boundaries than history would suggest likely to happen. Councilman Ken Mann has proposed as a safeguard against the cities just giving up on that and asking to expand their boundaries, they would need to buy development rights from land in the rural area before they can expand. Transfer of Development Rights, TDR, have been used a little in Whatcom County and has been used to create a “wall against sprawl” in east King County.  The Bellingham Herald did an overview of the issues for this public hearing.

Public Hearing – County Council: Tuesday, March 11, 7 pm, Council Chambers

 Water Action Plan

The Water Action Plan is on the Council agenda for the March 11th meeting, for adoption. Since it is a resolution, and not an ordinance, no public hearing is required. If you want to speak on it, plan to do so in the public comment period immediately following the public hearings at the beginning of the meeting. See the amended version here.

The League of Women Voters will hold it’s second of a two-part series , titled “Strategies to Address Whatcom Water Issues” this coming Saturday, March 15th, 9:30 – 12 at the downtown Bellingham Library, ground floor meeting room. Catch up with part one on-line:  League of Women Voters’ forum on Whatcom Water Issues.

The Planning Commission 2014 Agenda

The County Council adopted a list of issues to work on in 2014. This docket includes Boundary Line Adjustments, Capital Facility Planning-Special Purpose Districts, Broadcast Towers in Point Roberts, Six-Year CIP and LOS Amendments, Slater/Elder Rd. Rezone, WCC/Title 20 Amendments, Wireless Communication Facilities, Road Setback Amendments, Weddings & Special Events, Marijuana Regulations, and Packinghouses. Other issues may come up during the year, but unless they are urgent, they will go in the bucket for 2015. See the entire list and a description here.

FULL County Council AGENDA
Planning Commission AGENDA
Planning Commission Meeting Schedule