The 2022 Whatcom County Buildable Lands Report shows Birch Bay’s population and housing development are growing slower than the county expected.
Whatcom County senior planner Matt Aamot presented the report during a Whatcom County planning commission meeting October 13. He said that from 2016 to 2021 the unincorporated area fell behind its projected residential density, population growth and single family housing capacity. Blaine, however, met its planned density.
The buildable lands report provides information for the planning commission to update the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan, which is due June 30, 2025, according to the project website. It assesses how recent development in the county’s cities and urban growth areas compares with planning assumptions, targets and objectives and whether there are inconsistencies for the county and cities to address. Aamot said the current planning period is through 2036, but will be extended to 2045 in the next update to the county’s comprehensive plan.
Along with its cities, Birch Bay, Cherry Point and Columbia Valley make up the county’s three other urban growth areas.
In 1997, the Washington state legislature amended the Growth Management Act to include a review and evaluation program, which applied to six counties at the time. Whatcom County was added in 2017.
From 2016 to 2021, Whatcom County accommodated an estimated 24 percent of the projected 20-year population growth and 17 percent of its projected employment growth for the 2016-2036 planning period. It will need to accommodate another 46,069 people and 26,640 jobs to meet its 2036 mark.
Birch Bay achieved a residential density of 4.5 units per acre from 2016 to 2021, while the comprehensive plan has 5-10 units per acre planned for the area. Aamot said Birch Bay’s land capacity was not sufficient to accommodate planned growth. Development in the area needs to be able to accommodate another 1,254 people. With land capacity adjustments, he said Birch Bay would be able accommodate 154 more employees than needed in the next 15 years.
Aamot listed residential densities, population growth and single family housing as the main issues for planning to focus on in Birch Bay. He said those measures will need to be adjusted for Birch Bay to meet the comprehensive plan targets.
Reasonable measures to address such issues do not include expanding urban growth areas, according to the buildable lands provisions. Aamot said amendments will have to be made to increase the densities within Birch Bay’s existing boundary.
Blaine achieved its projected growth in all categories except its commercial and industrial densities, which will need to be addressed in its next comprehensive plan update, Aamot said.
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