Critical Areas Ordinance review continues

Boogles the mind

At tonight’s Planning Commission meeting, we’ll continue working through the articles of the Critical Areas Ordinance update. The meeting is Thursday, March 24 at 6:30 p.m. in the Northwest Annex Conference Room, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. See the meeting materials HERE. However, the full information is best accessed HERE. This will our third meeting on CAO, focusing on Article 6 – Wetlands and Article 3 – Geohazards. We have at least four additional meetings on CAO before we finish, but the target is for the County Council to complete it’s work by end of June.

Two advisory committees have been working on this update for over a year before we go it, a Technical Committee made up of science professionals and a Citizens Committee from a variety of life experiences/stakeholders. Here’s an overview of the process.

The Critical Areas Ordinance is part of the state Growth Management Act that requires counties to adopt regulations to protect environmentally sensitive lands. The law requires that the regulations be based on “Best Available Science.” Here are the BAS reports, the original¬† 2005 Best Available Science and proposed update 2016 Best Available Science. The state code says that in order to determine whether information received during the public participation process is reliable scientific information, a county or city should determine whether the source of the information displays the characteristics of a valid scientific process. This includes determining if it is peer reviewed, methods clearly stated and able to be replicated, logical conclusions and reasonable inferences, quantitative analysis, information is placed in proper context, and is well referenced.

Up to know, the decisions I have been called on the make as a Planning Commissioner have been basically political — what are my/the county’s policy goals and is the proposal an effective way to reach those goals? The CAO is asking me to evaluate the scientific validity of hundreds of research papers and apply that scientific understanding to local regulations. I realize this is why we had a technical advisory committee, but the list of “Best Available Science” references is not limited to those the “experts” submitted. They are also not connected through the use of footnotes to the actual code language they are intended to validate as following “Best Available Science.” I can not look at a scientific paper on the list and know why it is even mentioned. The other problem is that I can’t know what is missing from the list of recent scientific research, if anything.

It’s been suggested to me that I am overthinking this, and worrying too much. Maybe. The lead Planning staffperson for the CAO update, Cliff Strong, has agreed to annotate the BAS report to show what scientific papers support the proposed changes, but he won’t be done before we have to make a final decision. He also isn’t going back to the 2005 report and doing the same there, and this year’s update relies to a great extent of the current (2005) report and BAS. If no changes are proposed in 2016, then the 2005 BAS is still valid, they are saying. How am I to know?

So if you attend a meeting and notice a dazed look on my face, this is why.

PC rejects Broadcast Tower limits in code

As part of our “Code Scrub” of seemingly routine code changes, everyone, but me, was okay at first look with the amendments to the Point Roberts Special District zoning rules to govern the height of broadcast towers (Exhibit K). This amendment was intended to “memorialize” the ruling of the Hearing Examiner against the application to put a high-powered AM radio tower in Point Roberts. The Hearing Examiner ruled that because the Pt Roberts zone has a structure height limit of 25 feet, and no exception for broadcast towers, broadcast towers can be no taller than 25 feet. This effectively killed the application for the AM tower because 25 feet is totally inadequate.

Taking a second look at this issue before a final vote resulted in a complete reversal of opinion by the Planning Commission. I had proposed an amendment that would allow for low-powered non-commercial FM that would serve the Pt Roberts community. In the course of the discussion, PC members started to understand the complexity and perhaps the contortions of the code amendments, so they rejected my amendment and the original proposal. The Hearing Examiner ruling stands as precedent for future broadcast tower applications, but they won’t be called out specifically in the code, assuming the County Council agrees with us.