Public hearing on UGA amendments Tuesday

Published on Thu, May 21, 2009
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By Tara Nelson

The city of Blaine has scheduled a public hearing to discuss proposed reductions in Blaine’s urban growth area for 7 p.m. May 26 at city hall.

The meeting comes after a 2007 decision by the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) that found nearly 20,000 acres of Whatcom County out of compliance with the state’s growth management act (GMA) in terms of rural and urban density as well as commercial and industrial land uses.

As a result, the hearings board is requiring cities, counties and other communities such as Blaine, Birch Bay and Point Roberts to reduce the size of their UGAs by December 1.

Whatcom County planning director David Stalheim said the directive is intended to preserve the character of rural areas by preventing sprawl and suburban-type development while concentrating growth in urban areas.

Stalheim said although the details have not been finalized, preliminary numbers show that Blaine has one of the most “significantly-oversized” UGAs in the county.

Based on Whatcom County projections, Blaine’s population will grow by 2,000 to 3,700 people over the next 20 years but that existing city limits are currently able to accommodate an increase of more than 11,000. Add to that, the roughly 3,000 acres of developable land in the UGA that stretches from south of Blaine, along Drayton Harbor Road and to part of Semiahmoo can accommodate as many as 20,000.

”It’s not in balance at all,” he said. “The city limits show they can handle more than their projected growth, so there’s no need for an urban growth area.

 “That might be concerning for residents within the city of Blaine because there are some areas that the city would logically like to grow into.”

Blaine community development director Terry Galvin said he will submit a proposal to the county that will recommend removing the south portion of Blaine’s UGA that exists along Drayton Harbor Road and preserving parts of the UGA to the west of Semiahmoo, where there has been considerable real estate investment and south of east Blaine, near the city’s manufacturing and light industrial zones.

“In west Blaine there has already been 350 homes built within the UGA,” he said. “And in east Blaine we already lack adequate capacity for commercial and light industrial,” he said. “We’ve had in the past potential manufacturing companies come in over the years and then move on because there weren’t adequate pieces of land.”

When asked how much he thought the county would cut from Blaine’s UGA, Stalheim said he couldn’t say.
“It’s a little too early to say,” he said. “The initial review of Blaine is that it’s significantly oversized, but until we get through their proposals it’s a little premature.”

Birch Bay UGA amendments

About 20 Birch Bay residents met at the Birch Bay Bible Community Church last Monday in a public hearing hosted by Whatcom County. Although it was the last in a series of public comment periods hosted by the county, Birch Bay residents will still have an opportunity to make their voices heard when the proposal goes in front of Whatcom County Council next month.

The Birch Bay UGA covers nearly 4,200 acres stretching from Point Whitehorn to Birch Point and north to Lincoln Road. County planners say Birch Bay’s population can be expected to grow by 3,000 to 6,000 over the next 20 years.
The current community plan for Birch Bay, meanwhile, has additional growth allocation for a little more than 4,000 people.

Stalheim said if the county decides to adopt that number, it would mean the Birch Bay UGA is oversized by about 300 net acres, after adjusting for wetlands.

“So it’s possible in order to get the 300 net acres, we have to take out 500 acres because part of that might be undevelopable wetlands,” he said.

He added that county officials will be considering the capacity of the UGA for accommodating employment needs and housing types as well as population. An example would be Blaine’s lack of land for light industrial and commercial manufacturing.

“It appears Blaine needs additional lands for employment opportunities, although Birch Bay is a little different than that. They don’t show they need additional land for employment opportunities. So those factors will also influence the land capacity results,” he said.

Public comment sought

The county planning staff is expected to prepare a recommendation to present to the Whatcom County Council on June 16 and the council will schedule a public hearing for June 23.

After that, the proposed UGA revisions will go back to the county planning commission for review and then submitted back to the council with more public hearings scheduled for September.

A final recommendation to the state hearings board is scheduled for December 1.

Environmental impact statement

County planners have also issued a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the urban growth area review.
The DEIS evaluates potential social, economic and environmental impacts as a result of the plan and is available for review at www.co.whatcom.wa.us/pds/2031.

For more information, call Kate Koch at 360/676-6907, email pds@co.whatcom.wa.us.