Birch Bay plan first draft gets overdue last chapter

Published on Thu, May 2, 2002 by Jack Kintner

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Birch Bay plan first draft gets overdue last chapter

By Jack Kintner

“And we are outta here!” said Meg Grable as she gavelled adjournment of the Birch Bay steering committee at 11:15 p.m. on April 24. After 18 months the committee has finished the last of 17 chapters in its community plan and will submit it to the Whatcom County planning commission on May 23 for review. The meeting place has not yet been determined.

The final agenda focused on two divisive issues that had previously been settled, or so it seemed. One was the Stage II extension of Lincoln Road east across California Creek through to Portal Way, suggested as a way to alleviate traffic congestion on Birch Bay Drive as Birch Point develops. The plan was attacked by Loomis Trail residents as being impractical, costly and environmentally unwise, but was retained in the plan at the April 10 meeting.

The neighbors returned on April 24 with Loomis Trail resident John Eley, who is also director of public works for Lynden, reciting a litany of reasons why the extension beyond Blaine Road was a bad idea. A motion to retain the Stage II extension, essentially repeating the action of April 10, lost this time with only two voting in favor. A subsequent motion by Mike Kent to remove the extension and replace it with language that simply noted the need to deal with the congestion at some point in the future “by appropriate experts” then passed 12 to 3.

The second issue, the elephant in the room, turned out to be the committee’s land use recommendation in Chapter 7 on rezoning 1100 acres from heavy industrial to residential between the BP Cherry Point refinery and the shoreline. Called the “West Cherry Point” neighborhood, it lies between Grandview and Aldergrove roads and runs west from the refinery to Koehn Road on the north side and to the beach on the southwest corner.

Because of population projections, the plan concludes this area is needed to provide for an adequate supply of residential property but as currently zoned could not be developed for home sites. Trillium owns the property and favored the zoning changes as providing “a suitable transition from residential to Cherry Point Industrial,” said Trillium representative Bob Libolt.

The BP Cherry Point refinery and Puget Sound Energy, who has a gas-fired electrical plant there, both oppose re-zoning the property for safety concerns and because they fear the loss of more industrial land. “There are two opposing visions for the property,” said Mike Abendhoff of BP Cherry Point, “and we align ourselves with those who would keep it industrial, and would even help court those kinds of businesses.”

Though there were media reports BP was offering to buy Trillium out and settle the issue, both Abendhoff and Libolt said that nothing like that was happening. “That’s inaccurate,” said Abendhoff. “We’ve offered to swap some land with Trillium, but we’re not going to just write a check.”

County planner Sylvia Goodwin said the difference in preferred zoning will have to be addressed eventually “because the county cannot adopt a community plan that’s inconsistent with its overall comprehensive plan.”
Further discussion revealed a significant split in the committee, and though by this time it was past 10 p.m. the committee seemed to rally for one last debate. A motion to leave the plan as it is, with the suggested change in place, tied at 7-7 on a dramatic roll call vote, but instead of breaking the tie herself Grable asked for a re-vote and the issue lost. A five minute recess followed after which Abendhoff offered to pay for an extension of the planning process, due to the apparent confusion.

Many reacted sharply to the prospect of more meetings, groaning audibly, and Pat Alesse finally moved “to make the area all heavy industrial. It’s time to decide this! I’ll vote no, but we have to get off the fence.” The motion died as discussion seemed to be slowly leading toward a consensus.

A motion by Claudia Hollod mirroring the one which had generated the earlier tie-vote - to leave the plan as is with the suggested zoning change in place – passed 13 to 4. Though the plan carries no legal weight, “the county listens closely to local wishes when considering re-zones,” said Goodwin, “so it is significant.”

With the issue settled, Grable whacked the table with her gavel one last time and the committee finished its task. The final version of the plan will be available on May 7 at public libraries and at the Whatcom County planning and development office at the northwest annex on Northwest and Smith roads. The committee meets next with the county planning commission and will then plan their continued involvement as the plan makes its way to the county council for approval, modification and implementation...

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