Birch Bay committee opts to pursue incorporation
The Birch Bay Steering Committee (BBSC) voted eight to three last week to follow the recommendation of its implementation subcommittee on governance and seriously consider incorporation.
Unlike 13 years ago when the question was soundly rejected by three-fourths of eligible Birch Bay voters, this time the proposal, while not unopposed, was greeted with more enthusiasm, drawing an overflow crowd of nearly 100 to the fire district’s Birch Bay-Lynden Road station. Only a little more than half actually got inside for the meeting, which was delayed for more than 10 minutes as extra chairs were rounded up and parked cars that were blocking firefighters were moved across Birch Bay Drive. People stood in the hallway and outside the back door on the lawn in the warm summer evening.
The specific wording of the recommendation, as phrased by subcommittee chairman Mike Kent, said, “after careful evaluation based on public input and with the guidance of expert advice, the governance recommendation subcommittee recommends a thorough feasibility study be completed with a view to create the city of Birch Bay through incorporation.”
Kent said his committee began with the three basic choices for Birch Bay that came out of the 2004 BBSC community plan approved last year by the Whatcom County Council: do nothing, pursue annexation to Blaine, or incorporate. He outlined some broad-brush pros and cons for each choice, saying half in jest at one point that where once Whatcom County objected to incorporation “they now seem ready to kick us out of the nest.”
Whatcom County executive Pete Kremen, one of several county officials and county council members present, interrupted at that point to say the county remains officially neutral in this whole process.
“Birch Bay should determine its own destiny,” Kremen said, “and [the county] will help in any way we can, but it’s not up to us, and we take no position pro or con.”
The option of doing nothing and remaining unincorporated as happened in 1992, the last time the question was considered by voters, was considered briefly, the primary reasons against it being that this was against both the Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA) and to the BBSC’s own community plan, according to Kent.
The option of annexation with Blaine would create the second largest city in the county and Birch Bay would have the majority of voters in a new city where the administrative structure is already in place, but “the Blaine city council has expressed no interest in annexing Birch Bay to Blaine,” said Kent, judging from the response he’s gotten from a presentation he made at a January Blaine city council meeting.
On the other hand, Alan Friedlob suggested that Blaine and Birch Bay together could become a “new kind of city” that regulates its own growth. “We could create a whole new area that takes the strength of both and reformulates it as a new city,” Friedlob said, “as long as we call it Birch Bay,” he joked.
Kent said the subcommittee choosing incorporation was that it would enhance local control, retain a high percentage of the tax revenue and would “strengthen community identity and participation.”
The subcommittee, now called the incorporation feasibility subcommittee, will meet on Monday, June 13, at the Birch Bay-Lynden Road fire station at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.
Kent said the committee has already met seven times, hearing from such groups as Futurewise (formerly 1000 Friends of Washington), the Puget Sound Action Team, and Duncan Wilson, mayor and also city attorney for the south King County town of Covington (population 14,850 in 2003), a place Kent described as having faced similar circumstances that Birch Bay now does.
Additional resource people Kent mentioned included Sylvia Goodwin, until recently a manager in the county office of planning and development services who has been with the BBSC since its beginning, and Ike Nwankwo from the Washington state department of community trade and economic development.
Following Kent’s presentation, two-thirds of the overflow crowd left, although the BBSC also heard from the other five implementation subcommittees as well as updates from developers Adam and Jared
and Fred Bovenkamp. Highlights:
Storm Water Management/Shellfish
Alan Friedlob said that the county has committed $150,000 to a storm water study, and that interested people could call him or his wife, subcommittee chair Ellie Friedlob, at 371-3441. Gerry Larson spoke about water quality in both Terrell Creek and the bay, saying there are concerns over each. “The Washington State Department of Health will do a shoreline survey in 2006,” Larson said, “the first one they’ve done since 1994.” The committee meets Wednesday, June 15 at Claudia Hollod’s house in Cottonwood Beach. More information is available from the Friedlobs.
Shoreline Enhancement –
Kathy Berg said this subcommittee is still in the early stages, having had just two meetings, but is committed to the idea of a Birch Bay berm, a shoreline enhancement that’s already in place for a quarter of a mile south of Jacob’s Landing. “By installing a berm with appropriate materials we can protect the road against flood hazards, make it safer for pedestrians and create more suitable habitat,” Berg said. She added that the Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce has taken on responsibility for rest rooms and figuring out parking issues. They met last night, but the next meeting date is available from Berg at 371-0171.
and Public Safety –
Co-chair Claudia Hollod outlined the many promises of road improvements made by Whatcom County over the years, such as promising a connection between Lincoln and Blaine roads by 1996, “and today it still hasn’t been started,” she said.
Due to the volume of commuter traffic, which Hollod put at 3,600 round trips per day, “we also need a road that funnels this traffic out of Birch Bay while keeping it off Birch Bay Drive.” Their next meeting is tonight, June 2 at 7 p.m. at the Birch Bay-Lynden Road fire station, features a visit from Tom Fields, the new North Whatcom Fire and Rescue Services chief, who began work yesterday.
and Open Space –
Ted Morris, Birch Bay state park ranger and committee chair, said that work is proceeding on purchasing land next to the large heron colony off Jackson Road with help from both BP-Cherry Point and Rand Jack of the Whatcom County Land Conservancy. He’s also working on getting a boat launch constructed “to a community standard,” and said that a major step has been completed with the Army Corps of Engineers’ recent acceptance of his biological evaluation study. Smolt trapping continues in Terrell Creek, “where we’re finding a few native fish to go with the stock we planted last winter,” Morris said. The next meeting for this group is Thursday June 16 at 7 p.m. at the Community Bible Church on Jackson Road.
Use, Development, Public
Services and Infrastructure –
Ellen Shea reported that they were submitting a series of recommendations to the BBSC about changing the height restrictions and square footage allowed various kinds of business in the Birch Bay community plan. Several people cautioned against making a number of changes in the plan, approved less than a year ago by the county council. The subcommittee is also looking for a way to have a post office or branch in Birch Bay as well as getting the Blaine school district to locate their next school in Birch Bay. They meet next on Wednesday, June 8 at 7 p.m. at the Whiskey Jack sales office near the liquor store. For more information call Bill Grant at 371-3633.
Audience members also heard from developers Adam and Jared Ware about their plans for remodeling and expanding the Peace Arch Factory Outlet mall, to be re-named Birch Bay Square, located at exit 270 on I-5. One person who lives in Custer objected to the new name, saying that “Birch Bay is four miles away. You’re in Custer!” The Wares spoke of several restaurants and a major grocer who is within a few days of making his plans public.
Fred Bovemkamp also spoke of his plans for developing the area southwest of the intersection of Shintaffer and Lincoln roads, saying that he planned a roundabout to facilitate traffic and a small commercial area in his development that would “include an up-scale grocery store,” which is the fourth grocery to be proposed for the area within the last few weeks.