County unveils low-impact development plan

Published on Thu, Nov 18, 2010 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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A draft low impact development plan for Birch Bay met with mixed reviews at a public meeting put on by the county’s planning and development services.

Residents of Birch Bay attended the meeting on Monday evening at the Birch Bay Bible Community Church to hear county planners present the draft development plan, which the county says will guide landowners and homebuilders on more environmentally friendly development practices.

The plan will eventually be contained in a manual available to landowners seeking development in the Birch Bay watershed, said Peter Gill, senior planner for planning and development services and lead presenter at the meeting. A draft version of the manual should be available for review by December, he said.

The core of the manual is a collection of incentives available to developers who utilize low-impact development practices, such as preserving trees and forestland and protecting wetlands and streams. The incentives would include an accelerated permitting process and the option to pay a fee instead of improving wetlands onsite.

“[The manual encourages] developments that foster a Birch Bay sense of place,” Gill said.

The incentive-based approach toward development outlined in the manual is entirely optional, he said. The manual is geared toward both large-scale developers and landowners seeking to build a single home.

Since the plan is still in development, Gill said the county will be receptive to public comment on how it can be improved.
Some community members said the plan lacked a way for developers to reduce the necessary wetland buffers around their property. Others thought the plan would only muddle the already confusing maze of permits and fees necessary for development in the Birch Bay watershed.

The incentive providing the option to pay a fee instead of preserving wetlands onsite sparked the most discussion. The fee would go into a proposed fund set aside for use on wetlands improvement projects in the Birch Bay watershed. A county-chosen third party organization would work on the pre-determined improvements projects using money paid into the fund, Gill said.

County councilmember Barbara Brenner, who represents the Birch Bay area, said she agrees with the approach but would also like to see an option allowing landowners to work together with their neighbors to improve nearby wetlands or buffers. Brenner said a third party does not necessarily need to be involved.

Paying into the wetlands improvement fund would eliminate the need for developers to put up bond money for wetlands/buffer restoration onsite and having to wait for several years to get the bond money back. Gill said the fund would release developers from responsibility for the restored site and would allow restoration where it is most beneficial.

Gill said the planning department will schedule public meetings on the draft by January 2011 and introduce it to county council by April. For more information on the plan, visit www.whatcomcounty.us/pds, click on “Natural Resources,” “Special Projects,” and then “Birch Bay Watershed Action Plan.”