Birch Bay plan off to county planning commission
The Birch Bay Community Plan, A 2020 look to the Future, goes before the Whatcom County planning commission tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Whatcom County Council chambers in Bellingham. It represents three years� work by over 2,000 people, and built on previous planning efforts in economic development and shoreline improvement initiated by the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce.
When adopted, first by the county planning commission and then by Whatcom County Council, it will be the Birch Bay subarea plan section of the county�s comprehensive plan as required by the state Growth Management Act (GMA). It is expected to be in the hands of the county council by January.
Sylvia Goodwin of the county planning department, who helped lead the committee through the process, said that this is one of 10 sub-area plans in the county. �It grew out of a Port of Bellingham project but community interest grew and people wanted to do a more thorough job,� she said.
The county has picked up about $5,000 or more in postage and copying expenses, she said, but the bulk of the expense has been born by stakeholders such as Trillium and the BP Cherry Point Refinery.
Consultant Mart Kask, hired to help develop a plan that would be congruent with both Whatcom County and Washington state requirements, said that the basic question the plan attempts to answer is �What do we want Birch Bay to be in 20 years?�
To answer that, 5,000 residents in the Birch Bay urban growth area (UGA), established in 1997, were invited to a public meeting two years ago last January � 300 of whom showed up. Ten neighborhoods were identified, and each was asked to designate two representatives and an alternate for a steering committee. The report is the result of that committee�s work with Kask and committee staffer Pat Milliken, accomplished in lengthy and sometimes passionate meetings as well as in subcommittees that covered specific areas of concern.
Both population (4,961) and the number of housing units (5,105) in Birch Bay increased almost 90 percent between census years 1990 and 2000. By the year 2022 the plan assumes that 9,619 people will live in 9,898 housing units. Raising or lowering population estimates can dramatically affect the rest of the plan�s conclusions.
Perhaps the major hot-button issue, aside from West Cherry Point (see below), the plan made no recommendations but did explore the alternatives of doing nothing, incorporating as a separate town or merging with Blaine.
The largest section, and by far the most contentious, is land use. Though many other issues were addressed, the elephant in the room was the committee�s recommendation for the 1,100-acre tract that lies between the BP Cherry Point Refinery and the beach, south of Grandview Road and north of Aldergrove Road. The Trillium Corporation owns it and wants to develop it for private homes, but it�s also one of the last undeveloped parcels in the county designated for heavy industrial use.
The committee divided roughly in half on the issue between those who oppose any more heavy industry in the area and those who want to keep that option open. Though it was not specifically charged with settling zoning questions, the committee�s voice was seen by both sides as an influential expression of local sentiment. Mike Abendhoff, who represented BP Cherry Point on the steering committee, said during deliberations that the refinery�s owners are very much against any kind of re-zone that would allow housing in the area.
�The refinery was constructed with the understanding that we would have heavy industrial zoning in that parcel next to us,� he said. Others felt that a re-zone would preserve the area as open space and prevent more heavy industrial activity. Ultimately, the area was removed from consideration by the steering committee so it could finish its work in the other areas.
The committee also chose three relatively undeveloped sites to concentrate future commercial development as well as to retain all existing commercial development along Birch Bay Drive. The three sites are the intersections of Blaine Road with Alderson Road, Blaine Road with Birch Bay-Lynden Road and Lincoln Road with Shintaffer Road.
Improvements include two new routes, one a cut-off road from Birch Point Road in front of Birch Bay village northeast to Shintaffer Road, and another west from Blaine Road toward, but not connecting, with Birch Bay Drive. Most roads would be widened and up-graded, and Birch Bay-Lynden Road would be widened to four lanes west from Kickerville Road. At one point Kask suggested Lincoln Road be connected through to Loomis Trail Road as a northern east-west arterial, which would require a new California Creek bridge. This suggestion was removed from the plan�s final version, partially because it lies outside the UGA and no one from that neighborhood has been involved in the discussion.
and sewer utilities
Birch Bay�s water supply and wastewater collection system will serve forecast needs well beyond the plan period, but the sewage treatment capacity needs to be expanded in six to eight years. Among other things, the plan also prevents down-zoning property, keeps all identified wetlands out of development, protects shorelines and other critical areas and discourages excessive auto traffic along Birch Bay Drive.
Last Saturday the steering committee gathered for a final time to present the plan to the public at an open house before sending it on to the county planning commission tonight. About 100 people attended, and reaction was mostly positive, though BP Cherry Point employee Stuart Pennington said that he had some reservations about the plan and would �show up at the county meetings to voice my opinions� about down-zones, commercial sprawl and the implication he saw in the plan that Birch Bay should incorporate.
�When we began this process many of us didn�t know each other, but now we�re a community,� said Kathy Berg, vice-chair of the committee. �There are other groups [in Birch Bay] that are voicing concerns, but this one has done the work to be a part of the system.�
The committee even spawned its own watch-dog group, Smart Growth Birch Bay. One of that group�s founders, Alan Friedlob, expressed appreciation for the committee�s work, adding �We see ourselves working with this committee in helping to get information out and promote community involvement.� A copy of the plan can be accessed on their website at www.smartgrowthbirchbay.org.