Activist disputes Semiahmoo West project

Published on Wed, Feb 3, 2010 by Tara Nelson

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Blaine residents could see a number of new homes constructed in Semiahmoo during the next several years but just how many will depend on the legal interpretation between state and county law.

That’s what Bellingham resident and growth activist Wendy Harris told the Whatcom County Planning Services department with regard to Trillium’s proposed Semiahmoo West planned unit development (PUD) in west Blaine.
If approved, the entire project would more than double the number of existing homes in west Blaine with 1,246 additional homes and as much as 60,000 square feet of commercial space on 624 acres west of Semiahmoo Parkway. The existing Semiahmoo development, by comparison, has about 800 homes.

The question remains whether Trillium should be allowed to develop all 1,246 homes even though current zoning won’t allow it. Under Washington state law’s “vesting rights doctrine,” landowners have a right to develop at the zoning density at the time in which the PUD application is approved, regardless of whether there are subsequent changes in land use law or density.

Harris, however, said according to state law, Trillium Corp. only has vested development rights to 28 lots. That’s because when Trillium filed their PUD application on October 30 last year, it only included the first phase of development. And before it could file additional applications, Whatcom County Council voted to remove the west portion of Blaine’s urban growth area (UGA) and converted the previous zoning of four homes per acre to one house per five acres.

 “Basically Trillium came in at the eleventh hour and slapped down a sloppy, incomplete application to vest their rights before the zoning changed to rural,” she said.

The council approved the cuts in December following executive Pete Kremen’s proposal, which reduced Birch Bay’s UGA from 4,300 to 3,300 acres and reduced Blaine’s UGA from about 6,900 to 4,050 acres. For Blaine, that included the entire west portion of Blaine’s UGA, the planned site for the 1,246-unit Semiahmoo West development.

Harris added Whatcom County staff’s approval of Trillium’s application should be invalid because Trillium didn’t include a phase development plan.

“Whatcom County code requires staff to make a determination of completeness,” she said. 
If the entire project is approved, it would take about 20 years to complete and more than double the amount of homes in the area.

In an email to Harris, Whatcom County planning director David Stalheim said that Trillium had submitted a PUD application for 28 lots but the county has not made a determination as to whether those vested rights would apply to the entire project. Stalheim added that since the county removed the area from the city of Blaine’s UGA, the county would not accept a subdivision application based on the new zoning.

That could change, however, if two appeals filed by the city of Blaine and Trillium Corp. are successful.
If that happens, the chances of Trillium getting those vested rights would be greater, Harris said.

“If west Blaine gets put back into the UGA the chances of them getting those vested rights would be greater,” she said.

Meanwhile, Trillium and the city of Blaine both filed petitions with the Growth Management Hearings board this week to revoke the removal of west Blaine UGA.

Blaine mayor Bonnie Onyon said because that project has anticipated for several years, the west portion of the UGA should not have been removed because the land is already serviced by urban governmental services. Further, she called its removal out-of-compliance with the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA) because it divides two co-planned developments between two regulatory jurisdictions and defeats years of municipal infrastructure and community planning for the western areas of Blaine.

“The logical growth for Blaine in the next few years, and as it has been for many years, is the Semiahmoo area,” she said. “It’s contiguous to Semiahmoo, it was in our growth area previously, Trillium has had plans to develop that for years and their project is vested. If the project moves forward, and we hope it will, it should not do so in the county but in an area with urban services. It just makes common sense.”