County council discusses Birch Bay UGA cuts

Published on Wed, Jun 17, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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Rivalry between Blaine and Birch Bay surfaced Tuesday night at a joint meeting of the Whatcom County Council and the Whatcom County Planning Commission. Seven county cities and three unincorporated areas including Birch Bay presented their proposals to the joint meeting for updating their Urban Growth Areas (UGA) as required by the state’s growth management act (GMA).

Blaine proposal cuts the UGA by 70 percent, converting a large section that runs from Dakota Creek around the south end of Drayton Harbor to an interurban conservancy area and designating two other parcels near the southern city limits as urban reserve areas to be studied for future development needs. The urban conservancy areas are designed to provide rural buffers between Blaine and an incorporated Birch Bay, something Blaine’s plan recommends.

It also recommended that the county council cut Birch Bay’s UGA as well to prevent what Blaines community development director Terry Galvin predicted would otherwise become sprawl that could stretch from the border south to Cherry Point.

“Good planning would promote two urban cores separated by rural areas in between, which is what Blaine’s proposal provides,” Galvin said in presenting the plan to the joint meeting. “The Birch Bay UGA isn’t good planning. It should promote incorporation so that Birch Bay expands from a core rather than simply spreads out.”
Blaine mayor Bonnie Onyon agreed, saying “Our feeling is that Birch Bay should grow as an urban area and not as an unincorporated part of the county. Blaine has the senior center, the schools and the library, but we’re getting users from outside the area.”

Blaine’s UGA proposal, approved by Blaine city council on June 8, asks that the county reduce the growth anticipated in Birch Bay and raise the figures for Blaine because the current allocation of high numbers of population to the unincorporated Birch Bay UGA is not consistent with the GMA and will have significant negative impacts to the growth and development of Blaine.

Birch Bay’s UGA plan was presented by David Stalheim, director of the county’s planning and development services, and recommended that the present 4,375 acre UGA remain intact. The current population, 5290 (2008 figures) is projected to nearly double to 9619 in 20 years.

Comparable figures for Blaine were listed as a 2008 population of 4,667 projected to grow to roughly twice that in 20 years, but Galvin pointed out that Blaine’s 2008 UGA is 3,500 acres while Birch Bay’s is 8,500 acres and is developing with no local control.

A public hearing to receive public and agency input on the proposals will be held by the county council on Tuesday, June 23, at 6 p.m. at the Whatcom County Courthouse, 311 Grand Avenue.