County frowns on drive-throughs in Birch Bay

Published on Wed, Jan 26, 2011 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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Zoning changes that would allow drive-through restaurants and espresso stands in Birch Bay seem unlikely given the mood at Tuesday’s county planning and development committee meeting.

The committee, composed of council members Barbara Brenner, Bill Knutzen and Ken Mann, voted unanimously to not forward zoning changes allowing drive-throughs to the council.

Had it been approved, it would have affected resort commercial-zoned land, which makes up 401 parcels on 323 acres of land in Birch Bay. All of Birch Bay Drive is zoned resort commercial.

 Resort commercial allows for specific commercial development in resort towns across the county.

Brenner was adamant against drive-throughs in Birch Bay, due to the traffic problems that might arise on Birch Bay Drive.

She cited discussions she had with residents about the undesirability of drive-throughs in the bayside community. Point Roberts, Sudden Valley and Glacier also contain resort commercial-zoned areas.

Council member Sam Crawford, who proposed the original zoning change, said at the meeting that it does not make sense to impose rules against specific types of businesses.

“I believe that we are enabling business to happen by removing some of these regulations,” he said.

Current zoning in resort commercial areas allows for drive-through banks and dry-cleaning businesses, but not restaurants or coffee shops. The proposed zoning changes would also allow drive-throughs in areas zoned urban residential mixed-use (URMX), which exist solely on the outskirts of Bellingham.

However, the planning and development committee did support upping the size limit on commercial business space in the resort commercial and URMX zones from 2,500 square feet to 5,000, a change that was part of the original proposal submitted to the county planning commission.

On December 9, the planning commission heard public comment on the proposed zoning law changes.

The commission voted 7-2 to approve the change for recommendation to county council, with commissioners Rabel Burdge and John Lesow in opposition.

At that meeting, Birch Bay steering committee chair Kathy Berg said she was opposed to the change, citing the community’s efforts to make the bay more pedestrian friendly.

Berg also said encouraging more vehicle traffic on Birch Bay Drive is contrary to what the community wants for the area.


Though the idea of drive-throughs in Birch Bay is effectively dead for now, the planning and development committee did approve the URMX portion of the proposed zoning changes for future consideration and a public hearing before the county council.