Court reverses fire district concurrency rules

Published on Wed, Jul 1, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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The Washington Court of Appeals reversed a 2007 Whatcom County Superior Court ruling last week that voided building permits sought by developers in Birch Bay because of objections from North Whatcom Fire and Rescue (NWFR) officials.

At the time, NWFR chief Tom Fields said the county was approving developments in urban growth areas (UGAs), specifically Birch Bay, despite his department’s opinion that they could not guarantee an appropriate level of service to new construction without financial help. They felt that this should come from the developers who were creating the growth.

At issue was the 200-unit Horizons Village at Semiahmoo. Three other projects totaling 101 living units and 108,000 square feet of commercial development were also named later in subsequent legal proceedings.

According to court documents, the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA) assigns counties the role of monitoring population growth, including concurrency planning with public service providers.

The issue is whether or not developers should help make sure that certain kinds of services, such as schools and fire protection, increase concurrently with growth in population.

The GMA requires that developers provide written verification for fire protection services before receiving permits.
NWFR provided such documentation in general in the Birch Bay Community Plan (BBCP) in 2005 but the following year when specific approvals were sought for the developments in question the NWFR asked for voluntary impact fees from developers before it would agree in writing that they could provide adequate fire protection for their projects.

The fire department sued when the county approved permits without requiring additional fees. The NWFR sued in superior court and won, voiding the permits, but the verdict was reversed by the state court of appeals last week.

“It’s a disappointment,” said Fields. The board will to have the matter before them at their regular meeting on Thursday, July 2, at 7 p.m. at Station 71, 307 19th Street, Lynden.