Committeeponders Birch Bay plan

Published on Thu, May 20, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Committee ponders Birch Bay plan

By Jack Kintner

Whatcom County Council’s planning and development committee continues to work its way through Birch Bay’s proposed community plan as it prepares to issue recommendations for action by the full council at the end of next month. One council member even thinks incorporation as a city is a potential option.

Speaking before the beginning of the May 18 meeting, council member Seth Fleetwood said, “We’re not really interested in or equipped as a county to provide urban services to an area that would be better able to look after itself if it were incorporated,” he said. Recognizing there is resistance in some quarters to this idea, Fleetwood persevered, saying “… If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and so on, maybe it is one. Maybe it’s time for Birch Bay to incorporate itself.”

The committee is weighing several different issues that need to be resolved before action by the full council, something that is not anticipated before its June 29 meeting, according to Fleetwood. As it proceeds, the committee is being closely observed by the public, in particular, members of the Birch Bay Steering Committee (BBSC), the group who originally developed the plan.

The place for debate is now at the county council level, according to BBSC vice chair Kathy Berg. “We’ve submitted the plan and it’s out of our hands now, unless they hand it back for some reason,” Berg said, explaining that though the BBSC continues to meet it is no longer able to make modifications unless asked by the council.
Last month, however, that’s exactly what happened when a planning and development committee’s proposal to remove 800 acres near Birch Point from the Birch Bay Urban Growth Area drew a strong reaction from the BBSC as well as equally strong neighborhood support. The furor prompted a request to have the BBSC make a formal response to the proposal.

The group met April 15 to discuss their response and a split in opinions was immediately apparent. Birch Point residents were generally in favor of the proposal, citing concern about possible erosion of cliffs from stormwater runoff from future developments. The BBSC, on the other hand, opposed it on the grounds that up to 3,000 future households would need to be displaced into other areas of Birch Bay.

However, Trillium Corporation’s Jon Syre pointed out that existing wetlands would mean considerably less than 3,000 homes could be built under existing rules.

The group ended up by voting 8–3 (Syre abstaining) to ask the planning committee to reverse its recommendation, that is, to leave the plan intact and not remove acreage on Birch Point, pledging itself to find ways of dealing with the committee’s environmental concerns in other ways.

Fleetwood alluded to the recommendation at Tuesday’s meeting, saying the committee’s recommendation to remove Birch Point was based on environmental concerns that could be addressed in other ways should the Birch Point acreage remain in the plan. “It’s not at all certain that the entire council would support removing the Birch Point acreage,” he said, “so we’d address these concerns in other ways.”

In the past, the county has imposed special environmental rules on various areas such as Lake Whatcom, Lake Samish and around Drayton Harbor.