BirchBay explores growth management options

Published on Thu, Aug 4, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Birch Bay explores growth management options

By Jack Kintner

The Birch Bay Steering Committee (BBSC) met last Wednesday, July 27, and listened to Whatcom County planning and development services director Hal Hart describe ways the county is responding to unprecedented growth in Birch Bay and elsewhere.

Hart listed his strategies which included charging developers impact fees for the traffic their projects generate and hiring consultants to integrate infrastructure designs.

He also mentioned using the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to require trails, greenways and bikeways and finding ways to speed the county’s ability to respond to growth more quickly.
“The bigger question,” Hart said, “is that we’ve zoned a lot of land out there but instead of coming on the market ten years from now it’s coming on now, which means we have to move transportation packages forward more quickly.”

Progress is being made even though Hart admitted “we aren’t there yet.”
The friendly but sober tone was a dramatic contrast to the previous BBSC meeting in May which had a standing-room only attendance.
Then, a presentation by local realtor and BBSC member Mike Kent of the first serious attempt in 13 years to incorporate Birch Bay drew an overflow crowd (including several county council members and Whatcom County executive Pete Kremen) that spilled out onto the lawn of the Birch Bay-Lynden Road fire station.

The May meeting began with several presentations by area developers, some of whom were literally applauded for their attractive conceptual drawings of various new subdivisions, roads and commercial areas within the Birch Bay urban growth area (UGA).

Were all the plans laid out that night to be completed, it was mentioned, Birch Bay would be home to no less than four major grocery stores, three of which were vaguely described as “up-scale” in character.
Since then, Kent has declared his candidacy for the Whatcom County Council seat being vacated by Sharon Roy, and while he continues his BBSC membership he has stepped down as chair of the implementation task force which was concerned with incorporation.

Last week’s BBSC meeting, saw just a handful of guests, a few of whom were impressed into membership to serve Birch Bay neighborhoods whose representation is currently inactive or incomplete.
Hart, whose under-manned agency lost another staff person last week, patiently explained several new initiatives the county hopes will help deal with growing pains.

He cautioned, however, that “the picture changes from day-to-day, so the best way to stay informed is at our website, www.whatcom.wa.us, then go to Planning and Development Services, then to the project management page.”

Hart said he’s hiring consultants to integrate stormwater treatment into an over-all community design with money the county council appropriated for the purpose last December.

He’s also working cooperatively with other county departments such as parks and recreation on capital facilities improvements such as public restrooms.

Hart said that within the previous week a county council subcommittee approved a six-year road plan that includes repair for Drayton Harbor Road in 2006. The plan also includes plans for improvements to Lincoln Road two years later.

By the end of the year, he said, the county will finish updating its critical areas ordinance plan that speaks in part to responsibilities developers have regarding wetlands and shorelines.

“We’re looking at ways to respond faster since growth is happening so much faster than people thought it would two years ago,” Hart said, referring to state-mandated growth predictions that quickly became obsolete.

Lincoln Rutter of Birch Point, who is also a board member of Futurewise, formerly 1,000 Friends of Washington, a citizen’s planning group aimed at preserving farmland and other protected areas, asked about the Birch Bay UGA having land zoned commercial on its edges, “putting it between two UGA’s (Birch Bay and Blaine) where state law says they’re not permitted.”

Rutter was referring specifically to a parcel at the intersection of Shintaffer and Lincoln roads.

Hart said that the county’s plan has indeed been appealed by the city of Blaine due to zoning issues in the future city of Birch Bay.

“The matter is now in coordinated negotiations with attorneys from both sides,” Hart said, “and I’m sure that eventually the cities will work together. The process is going well.”