County council discusses changes to comprehensive plan

By Oliver Lazenby

The Whatcom County Council will hold a public hearing on potential revisions to the county’s comprehensive plan at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 26, at the Whatcom County Council Chambers at 311 Grand Avenue,  Bellingham.

The hearing will give the public an opportunity to comment on proposed changes to the plan, which includes a 201-acre expansion the Birch Bay Urban Growth Area.

The county’s 20-year compressive plan update must be adopted by June 30, 2016, to comply with the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA), which requires cities and counties to manage growth by designating so-called Urban Growth Areas (UGA) for development and setting aside for protection areas with natural resources.

County council will hold another public hearing in April or May, said Matt Aamot, Whatcom County senior planner.

The county’s comprehensive plan is an overarching framework for growth, Aamot said, and it has a range of sections covering land use, housing, capital facilities, utilities, environment and other areas.

The county planning commission is working from a projection that Whatcom County’s population will grow to 280,493 by 2036, a 26.6 percent increase from the 2013 population of 205,800, according to numbers from the state Office of Financial Management (OFM).

About 4,414 of those new residents will land in Blaine, according to the county’s projections. The Blaine Urban Growth Area can handle 6,445, so planners proposed no changes to its boundaries in the compressive plan update.

The plan update also recognizes the need for Blaine to balance population growth with water quality in Drayton Harbor.

The levels of fecal coliform, bacteria that originates in warm-blooded animals intestines, has caused the state Department of Health to close shellfish harvesting beds in the past.

For Birch Bay, the current draft of the comprehensive plan update includes a proposal to add 201 acres to the Birch Bay Urban Growth Area.

Without the expansion, Birch Bay’s UGA could accommodate 5,250 more residents by 2036. That won’t be enough to accommodate the projected 5,500 new residents Birch Bay will get in that time.

After the proposed expansion, the UGA would have the capacity for 5,627 more residents, according to the draft comprehensive plan.

The draft plan also includes an amendment to the district zoned Resort Commercial that would increase the density of single family dwellings, reduce setback limits, and require previous surfaces for driveways or other methods of stormwater infiltration.

With those changes, planners aim to continue the Birch Bay tradition of building cottages on small lots, Aamot said.

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