BirchBay community plan nears approval by county council

Published on Thu, May 27, 2004 by ack Kintner

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Birch Bay community plan
nears approval by county council

By Jack Kintner

The Birch Bay community plan took a step closer to final approval last week as a committee of the Whatcom County Council backed down on a key change it had earlier requested before sending the plan on to the full council for approval.

The plan will be discussed again by the council committee the afternoon of June 1. It then goes before the entire county council for action either on June 15 or 29.

“I think it’s unlikely, but it’s possible that the council committee could pass the community plan on to the whole council on June 1 for final action on June 15. Instead, it probably will hold another public hearing to fine tune these changes and delay getting it to the whole council until their June 29 meeting,” said Sylvia Goodwin, Whatcom County planner.

The change concerned a controversial proposal to remove two parcels on Birch Point totaling over 800 acres from Birch Bay’s urban growth area (UGA) in an attempt to reduce development pressure, in effect down-zoning the property. Theoretically, if the 800 acres were included in the UGA then developers could build 3,200 houses on it once it had sewer service, although the presence of wetlands and space needed for other requirements such as roads reduces the number of possible dwellings by at least half.

If left out of the UGA, sewer service could not be provided to the area and the zoning would remain at only one house for every five acres, allowing for only 160 homes to be built.

The parcels are owned by the Trillium Corporation and are slated for eventual residential development. County council chair and professional geologist Dan McShane had suggested removing the parcels because he felt developing the property would lead to increased surface run-off and other problems that could damage existing houses on Birch Point.

Birch Point residents Lincoln Rutter and Barbara Skudlarick, among others, strongly agreed with McShane. They showed up at a Birch Bay Steering Committee (BBSC) meeting in April to support the county council’s suggestion to remove the 800 acres, but the BBSC voted 8-3 to ask the county council’s committee to reverse itself and leave the property in the plan. Trillium’s Jon Syre, who sits on the BBSC, abstained from voting.

Both county council member Seth Fleetwood and Goodwin said last week that it was unlikely that the entire county council would have approved removing the acreage. Goodwin’s recommendation to the county council committee, which she also discussed at last week’s BBSC meeting, was to leave the 800 acres in the community plan but make it a long-term planning area, much like was done with land around Lake Whatcom.

That would leave the same zoning restrictions in effect, limiting development to one house for every five acres, until either the landowners or the county itself completes studies on geologic hazard areas, aquifer recharge, financing proposals for a sewer system and traffic flow.

Two other changes that the council committee suggested were to remove all references to a so-called “east-west connector” to alleviate traffic flow between Birch Point and Semiahmoo and the freeway, and to suggestions that Birch Bay consider incorporating.

Earlier versions of the plan recommended making a traffic connector by extending Lincoln Road east to cross California Creek on a new bridge, but that was removed after people living along the creek objected. The plan submitted to the county council had still made reference to the bridge as an option.

In view of the growth projected for Birch Bay, the council committee had also asked Goodwin to come up with additional language to put into the community plan that would explain how services and facilities would be funded until the Birch Bay area incorporates.