"}
The Gristle

Deconstruction

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

DECONSTRUCTION:The Big Lie is the one that explains and gives cover to all the little lies that descend from it, and the Big Lie in Whatcom County for the past 30 years has been “economic development” in the form of the strip-and-flip land grab pyramid scheme: Buy up undervalued resource land in an economic downturn; level, drain and strip the resource for quick cash, then use those proceeds to lobby local government for an upzone; flip that property in a quick sale to some other buyer and waddle off with pants pockets bursting with jack. Note here the central role the public sector plays in creating private wealth for private individuals, and note—too—nothing more was actually created. Successive owners can generally con additional goodies to lard the land for the next flip, which are again granted by gullibly willing public officials again under the canard of “economic development” and, basically, because of their earlier foolish decision, those officials are now in for a penny, in for a pound. Promise a Taj Mahal and put in a trailer park. Eventually, though, some rube gets caught on the wrong side of the Ponzi scheme and has to actually build something in order to recover the investment.

On a beautiful spring day you can drive out into areas northeast of King Mountain and admire their handiwork: Comically sad architectural horrors of a squalid sort of luxury—40-foot columns grace the entrance of a 2,000-square-foot home with a five-car attached garage squatting ramshackle four per acre, a single sad window the size of a pigeon hole cut through a huge blank exterior wall, incomprehensibly off-center—resource land destroyed for a sorry circus of ugly, freakish clowns.

We’ve written recently of the general impoverishment that arises from such “economic development,” with the delivery of municipal services like fire and ambulance to low-density residential development costing up to five times the delivery of similar services to rural farms with their permanent $3,000-per-acre average annual income streams. You get one dose of economic heroin in the construction phase, and you can jones on the occasional hit from real estate excise tax when the residence sells. For counties like Whatcom, which captures most of its operating revenue from property tax valuations, you can glimpse the allure, but in terms of economic development it is a losers’ game.

Still—in for a penny, in for a pound; and over the past 30 years Whatcom County Council has introduced a battery of instruments to keep the Big Lie Ponzi bubble gaseously bloated. They’re called development rights, and there are an enormous number of them created in the county’s rural lands—day care centers and child care facilities; bed and breakfast establishments; rehabilitation and mental health care facilities; retirement and convalescent homes; golf courses and activity centers, etc.—each created to paper over, in the name of “economic development,” the loss of actual economic value from destruction of resource land for its conversion to rural residences. Slaughterhouses were merely one more development right slathered over a ludicrous jumble of other incompatible uses. The recent election appears to have clubbed into a merciful coma perhaps the most egregious of these emergent development rights, the lot line adjustment that would have allowed farmers to reconfigure their properties to allow home construction at their boundaries, thereby ensuring the grinding slow death of their farms via encroachment of uses incompatible with farming.

To unwind the 30-year Ponzi scheme, many of these development rights must be extinguished, and in a manner that does not bankrupt taxpayers.

Council member Ken Mann earlier this month reawoke the challenge of extinguishing development rights by transferring them to other areas (cities) with municipal services appropriate for the development. Mann introduced a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program as council updates population and employment growth allocations as part of the comprehensive planning required by state law. A new local emphasis encourages county and city policymakers to plan for 85 percent of future growth in or near cities. Mann’s proposal requests cities consider the development of receiving areas for TDRs as part of their own comprehensive planning.

Mann likened the problem of coaxing cities into receiving densities as analogous to infill—a great idea in principle, discouraged in its specifics.

“TDRs have been in front of us for six years, and all we’ve had is lip service,” Mann said. “No one has had the courage to say it is time to make this happen. This is a market-based mechanism that we can overlay on our existing processes. This would only require willing participants to enter into an agreement.”

In a more proactive attempt at TDRs, council this week received a presentation on a proposed “reverse auction” that might retire some of these rights.

“The envisioned reverse auction will identify eligible property and authorize the landowner of each eligible property to submit a bid to the county,” council learned in this week’s briefing. “The landowner’s bid would establish the price for which the landowner would sell a conservation easement to the county, which would remove the development rights from the eligible property.”

The county currently holds about $5 million in conservation futures that could be applied to purchasing these easements. Only about 200 development rights might be retired through this means, council learned, and they were encouraged to focus their attention strategically to the agricultural core, where retiring those rights could reduce encroachment of incompatible uses.

It’s going to take a lot of little instruments like this to deconstruct 30 years of destruction.

ICU
Past Columns
Half Time

February 22, 2017

Washington v. Trump, 2

February 15, 2017

Washington v. Trump

February 8, 2017

Between East and West

February 1, 2017

Beachhead

January 25, 2017

Stormin’ ORMA

January 18, 2017

Stormwater Rising

January 11, 2017

Knockout Blows

January 4, 2017

Continental Divide

December 28, 2016

Auld Lang’s Decline

December 21, 2016

A tale of two commissions

December 14, 2016

Jack’s Attack

December 7, 2016

Lawless

November 30, 2016

Forever Protecting

November 23, 2016

YOYO vs. WITT

November 16, 2016

REDMAP

November 2, 2016

Civil War

October 26, 2016

Twice Zero

October 19, 2016

Convergent Streams

October 12, 2016

Blockadia

October 5, 2016

Events
Today
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Wild Things

9:30am|Interurban Trail

Spanish Storytime

10:30am|Lynden Library

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Magnolia Street and Cornwall Avenue

Weird Washington

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Whatcom Humane Society Wine Social

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

PhotoLUSH 2017

6:00pm|Lairmont Manor

Friday Night Art Party

6:00pm|Tillie Lace Gallery

Always…Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

And I Remember

7:00pm|Village Books

King John

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

International Guitar Night

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

James Hunter Six

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Borealis Wind Quintet

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Cupid's Arrow Final Weekend

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

MBT Rovers Village Books
Tomorrow
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

17th annual Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival

10:00am|Whatcom County

New documentary focuses human rights film festival

7:52pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Ubu Roi

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Weird Washington

5:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

PhotoLUSH 2017

6:00pm|Lairmont Manor

Always…Patsy Cline

7:00pm|Conway Muse

King John

7:30pm|Philip Tarro Theatre

Cupid's Arrow Final Weekend

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Snow Play Day and Survival Skills

8:00am|Mt. Baker Ski Area

Children's Literature Conference

9:00am|Performing Arts Center

What's New in Organic Gardening

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Plant Society Ramble

9:30am|Maple Creek Loop

UFO Primer

10:00am|Syre Hall

FiberFest 2017

10:00am|La Conner Middle/High School

Intro to Ancestry

10:00am|Ferndale Library

Winter Trail Run Series

10:00am|BBMX Park

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Smelt Run

10:00am|La Conner Middle School

Kids Can Cook

11:00am|Community Food Co-op

Washington Beer Open House

12:00pm|Whatcom and Skagit counties

An all-season outdoor expo

1:00pm

Tax Help

1:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Weird Washington

1:00pm|Lynden Library

Raising Pigs

1:30pm|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Peace Corps Revisited

3:00pm|Lynden Library

Geology Underfoot

3:00pm|Deming Library

Starry Night Chamber Orchestra

3:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Whatcom Writes

4:00pm|Village Books

Wishes for Our Stars Gala

5:00pm|Hotel Bellwether

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Varsity Vocals

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Comedy Fundraiser

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Boating Center Fundraiser

7:00pm|Elks Club

Light in the Night Gala

7:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Wetzel's World

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Bayshore Symphony Winter Concert

7:30pm|Central Lutheran Church

Bellingham Technical College Trove
Sunday
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award

5:00pm

Arsenic and Old Lace

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Into the Woods

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Up the Down Staircase

7:30pm|Squalicum High School

Bayshore Symphony Winter Concert

7:30pm|Central Lutheran Church

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Refugee Talk

2:00pm|Christ the Servant Lutheran Church

Northwest Cancer Summit

2:00pm|Bellingham Golf and Country Club

Sting and Piano Chamber Concert

3:00pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

The Tao of Raven

4:00pm|Village Books

Making time with Oscar

4:30pm

The Irish Rovers

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

see our complete calendar »

IGN Cascadia Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Village Books Bellingham Technical College Bellingham Farmer’s Market Trove Northwood Steak and Crab