And then there were none?
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE?: On the eve of their momentous vote to reverse the decision of a more progressive council to limit the size of Whatcom’s cities, the new County Council majority suffered a reversal of their own when two of the remaining three cities left complaining of that earlier decision decided they really didn’t want the council’s help on this issue right now after all. Sumas and Nooksack administrations reviewed comments they’d received—including those delivered in a lengthy County Council session two weeks ago—and decided they wanted no part of the tattered and flimsy ordinance the council was trying to ram through. The cities asked to withdraw from consideration at this time, leaving only Ferndale remaining. Council pulled their crayon-strewn ordinance from this week’s agenda.
Last December, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld a 2005 Growth Management Hearings Board decision that found Whatcom’s urban growth areas were overlarge. Expecting this decision, and too long out of compliance with growth board findings, a less obdurate council agreed to trim those UGAs by more than 6,000 acres.
Running on an agenda to undo what was done, a new council majority held a semi-private (and likely semi-legal) meeting in April with development interests (that had paid big dollars into the campaigns of this new council majority) to overturn the county’s zoning map. The reversal would have given these developers legal standing to vest their greenfield developments at much higher densities (and profits). Whatcom’s smaller cities, hungry for construction revenues, supported the reversal.
As long as they were “stickin’ it to the hippies,” County Council decided to pitchfork hundreds of acres back into Bellingham’s UGAs over the outraged protests of the mayor and Bellingham City Council, a massive gift to CAITAC north of the city and planned Yew Street Road developments to the east. Only the threats of legal action by the city and a veto by the county administration caused council to reconsider. Bellingham’s unwanted UGAs were pulled from the ordinance. Three cities were left (adding back a small sliver near Birch Bay had already drawn unanimous support from council).
Note that all of these UGAs are already scheduled for review in 2011, as Bellingham and Whatcom County both revisit their comprehensive plans for growth.
The fundamental requirement of the state’s Growth Management Act is that you show your work, and through this work almost any outrage might be justified. Tragically for the new council, though, the work supported the county’s earlier public process and decision.
“None of the [remaining] cities have wastewater plans that address the entire urban growth area, nor do they show how existing areas will be served before expansion takes place,” former County Planning Director David Stalheim pointed out in a July 12 letter to council. “It does not appear that water service plans cover the entire UGA or allocated population, horizon years do not match the UGA amendment, and not all have been updated and approved by the state as required. Not one of the cities have fire protection plans adopted that show how services and facilities will be provided to the urban area, nor is it clear whether parks and recreation plans are adopted.”
For pointing out these inconvenient facts, Sam Crawford and his council majority pressured the administration to shitcan their talented planning director. Stalheim quit.
“The expansion of both Nooksack and Sumas are into designated floodplain areas,” Stalheim continued. “Even more problematic is that some of the lands may be flooded by waters that are contaminated with naturally occurring asbestos generated from the Swift Creek landslide,” he noted. “Swift Creek could flood additional areas and contaminate the soils if the sediment in the creek is not addressed. Until there are answers to these significant community health issues, designation as an urban growth area should not be even remotely considered.”
Council’s response was to strike out any mention of Swift Creek in their ordinance.
Stalheim continued, “The expansion of the urban growth areas in Nooksack and Sumas are onto agricultural lands that are characterized by prime soils, have large parcel sizes, are actively farmed, and do not have any urban governmental services extended to them. While these lands could have been designated as agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance, they were set aside for the eventual urban growth of these cities that are surrounded by agricultural lands. It is this piecemeal loss of agricultural lands that needs to be stopped or one of the county’s primary industries will not survive for future generations.”
Council’s response was to strike out any mention of the importance of agriculture around Nooksack and Sumas in their ordinance.
Evidently wiser than the county, these city administrations undoubtedly perceive the holes and flaws and strikeouts and various crimes of omission in the council’s proposed ordinance won’t stand up under review by the courts and growth board. They expressed their willingness to wait until 2011 for review.
They’re probably right; but the aim of the architects of all this was never to craft durable law, but to employ a tenuous, credulous council majority to smash open a window through which development interests might vest thousands of proposals, sparking another half-century of political hijnks and extra-legal maneuvering at taxpayer expense.
That leaves only Ferndale; and while the 476 acres that city wants restored from provisional to full UGA status are surrounded on all sides by existing Ferndale UGAs, that city has yet to adequately demonstrate how it will serve water and sewer to its planned growth areas. County Council addresses this—can you guess?—by striking mention of Ferndale’s water and sewer deficiencies from its proposed ordinance.
Might Ferndale also be so wise as to withdraw until 2011?
Arguably, County Council has wasted more time and staff resources (and thousands of taxpayer dollars) on this issue than any other this year, stomping their muddy boots around on ground already settled last year and scheduled for replanting next year, jabbing their thumbs into the eyes of advocates for sensible planning, a pissy property rights tantrum that went nowhere and achieved nothing.
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