The Gristle

Due East II

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

DUE EAST II: City planners took their roadshow across the street last week, briefing Whatcom County Council on a series of annexations the City of Bellingham is contemplating in coming years.

Planners outlined an ambitious strategy of annexations planned for the city’s northwest corner—the 720-acre Alderwood area—that could add more than 1,000 dwelling units and 2,200 new residents to the city’s service area. They also sketched, as a lesser priority, potential annexations in the eastern portion of the city around Lake Whatcom. The presentation served as an initial step in the update of interlocal agreements between the city and county intended to ease bringing these areas into the city.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the information exchange was the unfamiliarity of County Council members with even the most rudimentary aspects of the procedural evolution of urban growth areas under GMA, a central pillar of the state’s 30-year-old growth management laws. Several appeared astonished to learn of the much wider range of levels of services and utilities a city can offer (along with the variety of financial instruments to pay for them), and the much greater capacity for urban densities, in comparison to county unincorporated areas. The county’s most aggressive residential zoning can accommodate a density of just 24 dwelling units per acre—with limited water and sewer, and more and more tenuous police, fire and emergency medical services.

“These areas are characterized by urban growth, they have higher densities than can be accommodated in county unincorporated lands, and we have provided urban levels of service to these areas,” COB Planning and Community Services Director Rick Sepler explained. “The social contract is that we should never have extended services and allowed for urban densities in areas that we don’t want to take in. That’s contrary to good planning, and it is contrary to the Growth Management Act.

“So since we have, we have an obligation to carry forward,” he said.

Planners sketched the voluntary and cooperative means by which the city and county have historically approached annexations—with the residents and property owners within the study area actively petitioning to be brought into the city limits.

But in the annexations contemplated around Lake Whatcom, perhaps that loose and voluntary approach to annexations should be replaced by a more formalized plan that addresses water quality concerns in the city’s drinking water reservoir.

Like their counterparts on Bellingham City Council when presented with similar information a few weeks ago, Whatcom County Council failed to ask a single question about how the Lake Whatcom management plan may be impacted or assisted by these proposed eastern annexations. It’s really the central question, whether the extension of the full array of city services and more direct control by the City of Bellingham of these urbanized areas around the lake could play a beneficial role in the 50-year plan to restore Lake Whatcom. If so, why should the city and county adopt a passive and piecemeal approach to these neighborhoods becoming part of that solution?

The fact this central question apparently hasn’t occurred to what is effectively the core of the Lake Whatcom Joint Policy Group—elected officials from the city and the county—is discouraging.

Seemingly unaware of how these issues might intersect, in their evening session County Council resumed their glacial approach to the establishment of a funding mechanism for stormwater improvements around Lake Whatcom. Ten years in the conception, two years in the drafting, their proposed ordinance finally takes a stab at a fee schedule for properties around the lake with impervious surfaces and attendant stormwater runoff. The utility is intended as a replenishing fund for stormwater improvements in the watershed.

Council included language in the county’s 2016 Comprehensive Plan to look at a fair and equitable funding mechanism to protect and restore Lake Whatcom from excess stormwater pollution from the increasingly urbanized watershed. The dedicated fund is designed to replace cash calls to the county’s overburdened flood control taxing districts.

When fully implemented, the fee schedule proposes an average charge of about $10 per month to county residents in the watershed. The charge mirrors Bellingham’s utility surcharge for residents living in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

How the county intends to spend the generated revenue remains a contested policy issue, but the public’s attitude appears clear and consistent. Indeed, a recent COB survey found 81 percent of city residents consider it very important for local governments to prevent further development in the Lake Whatcom watershed

“Now as a solution you propose to mimic the god-given systems that Mother Nature affords with concrete catch basins, electric pumps and filtration systems. Techno-theism and a bit of salal cannot replace what you have allowed to be paved over,” North Shore resident Art Hyatt observed.

“The city has bought up hundreds of acres in the watershed to protect water quality,” he summarized, “while you both foster its deterioration. And now you want to trade tax revenues for technological fixes. This is a lose-lose situation.”

“Vast numbers of people have expressed the desire for quicker, bolder action on Lake Whatcom,” Krista Rome noted. As an organizer for RE Sources’ Clean Water Program, Rome conducted scores of interviews for the public policy group last year. “They want to see both the city and the county spend more money on prevention so that we do not have to keep paying higher and higher costs for higher tech water treatment solutions. This is a very common sentiment out there in the community—it’s more expensive in the long run to do the treatment than the prevention.”

There’s not much potential for development in the eastern areas Bellingham proposed for annexation, but there are a variety of control instruments COB might employ as it considers bringing these watershed neighborhoods into the city limits.

Past Columns
Ground Zero

August 21, 2019

Fire and Frost

August 14, 2019

The Fury and the Folly

August 7, 2019

The Real Social Network

July 17, 2019

Due East

July 3, 2019

Thin Green Line

June 26, 2019

A Journeyman’s Journey

June 12, 2019

Her Story

June 5, 2019

Do Overs

May 29, 2019

E Pluribus Unum

May 15, 2019

The Millworks

May 8, 2019

State of the County

May 1, 2019

A Change in Climate

April 24, 2019

The Raucous Caucus

April 17, 2019

Dragged

April 10, 2019

Edge City

April 3, 2019

Fixing the Fix

March 27, 2019

Events
Today
The Spitfire Grill

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Skagit Guided Adventures

12:00pm|Skyline Marina

An Iliad

7:30pm|Maritime Heritage Park

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Seaside BBQ

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Ferndale Street Festival

6:00pm|Downtown Ferndale

The Phantom Tollbooth

7:00pm|BAAY Theater

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Dynamic Duos

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #154

Fidalgo Bay Day

9:00am|Fidalgo Bay Resort

Lake Whatcom Park Trail Build

9:00am|Lake Whatcom Park

Twin Sisters Farmers Markets

9:00am|North Fork Library

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Concrete Saturday Market

9:00am|Concrete Community Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market2333

9:00am|Riverwalk Park

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

The art of arrangement

10:00am

The Flower Festival

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Lynden Farmers Market

10:00am|Centennial Park

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am

Airfest

10:30am|Bellingham International Airport

Cemetery Tours

11:00am|Lynden Cemetery

Weavings Pop-Up Sale

11:00am|Vida Nueva Rugs

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Modern Quilts Final Weekend

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Sumi Fun for All Ages

1:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Summer Jazz Combo

2:00pm|Jansen Art Center

The Poetic Apothecary with Judith Adams

3:00pm|Upper Skagit Library

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Summer Fun in the Park

4:00pm|Blaine's Marine Park

Janie Cribbs and the T.Rust Band

5:30pm|Heart of Anacortes

Seaside BBQ

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Lummi Island Crabfest Dinner

6:00pm|Lummi Island Grange Hall

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Tomorrow
The Spitfire Grill

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Mainstage

Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Skagit Guided Adventures

12:00pm|Skyline Marina

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

The Phantom Tollbooth

7:00pm|BAAY Theater

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Weavings Pop-Up Sale

11:00am|Vida Nueva Rugs

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Modern Quilts Final Weekend

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Seaside BBQ

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Birchwood Farmers Market

10:00am|Park Manor Shopping Center

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Community Free Market

11:00am|Flora Street

Dog Days of Summer

11:00am|Whatcom Humane Society

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Big Band Bonanza

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Skagit History Cruise

1:00pm|La Conner Channel Lodge

Summerfest

1:00pm| Josh Vander Yacht Memorial Park

La Conner Live!

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Skagit History Cruise

1:00pm|La Conner Channel Lodge

Audubon at the Museum

1:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

International Concerts on the Border

2:00pm|Radost Folk Ensemble

Monday
Boating Center Open

10:00am|Community Boating Center

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Skagit Tours

10:53pm|Highway 20.

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Bark Week

12:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Camp Korey Classic Golf Tournament

12:00pm|Eaglemont Golf Course

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Open Mic Night

7:00pm|Village Books

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »