County council rescinds Birch Bay UGA revisions

Published on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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Birch Bay will have 17 acres more in which to grow thanks to a Whatcom County Council vote last week.

The council voted 4-2 at their regular August 10 meeting to restore 17 acres to Birch Bay’s urban growth area (UGA) and 476 acres to Ferndale’s UGA. The land in Birch Bay is on the east side of the community.

County council originally removed the two parcels last fall when they voted to reduce the county’s UGA by 6,000 acres. Council members Barbara Brenner, Sam Crawford, Bill Knutzen and Ward Nelson voted to restore the urban growth zones in Birch Bay and Ferndale.

A UGA is land designated for dense urban growth. Either commercial or residential development is allowed in a UGA.

Brenner said she voted to restore the UGA in Birch Bay because the county council had previously worked with the community to develop its urban growth plans. The newly restored land had been included in the plan, she said.

The UGA will allow Birch Bay to develop in a less spread out way, Brenner explained.

She said she thinks the community will not benefit from developing smaller pieces of land separated by parcels not designated for urban growth. The addition of the UGA will help cluster development in Birch Bay, she said.

Most of the speakers during the meeting were opposed to restoring the UGAs. Many said they were against taxes going up to provide services for future development in the UGAs.

Others were concerned about urban sprawl.

Patrick Alesse, president of the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District Board of Commissioners, was the only Birch Bay resident to make his voice heard during the public comments period.

In a later interview, Alesse explained people who live outside UGAs need a better understanding of the costs of providing service to those areas. Providing water and sewer to clustered developments is cheaper than it is individual five or 10 acre lots, he said.

“Everyone likes the idea of living in the country,” Alesse said, “[but] putting people on 5-acre lots is the worst possible thing.”
Local governments need to be more upfront by providing information on how much services will cost both those living inside and outside of UGAs, Alesse said.

“It’s the job of government to provide services and let [people] know how much they cost and how that cost is influenced by the decisions people make,” he said.

Alesse said he believes future development in the Birch Bay growth area will have few negative effects and may provide a boost to the local economy.

He cautioned, however, that a government should not be dependent upon growth for revenue. He said he thinks Whatcom County is in this situation right now.

“It’s more important to grow properly than to grow,” Alesse said.