Voices of Sanity Ignored by Local County Council

Aug. 9th, 2016 was the last opportunity citizens had to publicly speak, for or against, the proposed changes to Whatcom County’s future plans for growth. The Council passed their garbage and ignored the many common sense arguments against their proposed changes.

Whatcom County is 39th of 39 counties with regards to economic livability due to the high costs to live here, versus the communities average wages. Wages are determined by our ability to produce, attract, and retain the industries capable of paying the wages needed to live here.

Producing a vibrant economy is more than beautiful vistas and a smattering of farm pets grazing in the pastures. Whoops!, forgot that farm pets are under attack too. The next time you wonder, Why is housing so expensive? Why aren’t my wages keeping up with the costs of living? Ask yourself if you can house and eat, that pretty pasture your local county politician is working to protect.  A vibrant economy depends on the ability to conduct business in a predictable business climate…something Bellingham and Whatcom County lacks.

This is an example of the type of commonsense that was publicly heard and officially posted to the public record on the Council’s proposed changes to the WCCP.

August 9, 2016

Dear Council Members:

I am writing today concerning the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan (WCCP) 2016 Update that you will be discussing at this evenings meeting.
I have lived in this county since 1983. I have worked in the agriculture and housing industries here. I have volunteered my time to church and community. I raised my children here with the hope they would be able to stay in this community. However, that is not to be. They have found jobs in other parts of the United States, where college educations are employable and housing is affordable.

For years I have watched Council after Council struggle with the Comprehensive Planning dictated by the Washington Growth Management Act. I have watched this year’s struggle also. You have made so many changes that it is difficult to know which end is up. I am afraid the result will be yet another set of children leaving this community that has limited jobs and limited housing.

This year you have failed to meet the planning goals of RCW 36.70A.020
(1) Urban growth. You are to encourage development in urban areas such as Cherry Point and North Bellingham where adequate public facilities and services exist or are nearby. This plan seeks to curtail and existing uses at Cherry Point and does not provide for North Bellingham. Instead, designated Agricultural land at Lynden is being converted to Urban Growth Area without having to go through the de-designation process.
(2) Reduce Sprawl. You are to reduce the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development. Areas for low-density development are so limited in this county that people have been force to sprawl in order to stay here. More than 50% of the county’s jobs growth is happening outside the county’s Designated Growth Areas.
(3) Transportation. You are to encourage efficient multi-modal transportation systems. Yet, if we continue on the current planning path the only source of transportation for support services will be the I-5 corridor.
(4) Housing. You have failed to encourage the availability of affordable housing to all economic segments of the population of this state, promote a variety of residential densities and housing types, and encourage preservation of existing housing stock. The county has made no attempt to determine let alone address housing needs in our community. Bellingham is being allowed to tear down its most affordable single family housing and replace it with apartments. This will price most many home purchasers out of the market. The curtailment of Yew Street Hill development remains curtailed and unsupported by Bellingham. You have allowed Bellingham not to annex and support or even address Urban Growth issues to the north and northwest.
(5) Economic development. Whatcom County significantly trails the State in terms of employment growth. Yet your major changes to the plan this year further curtail the Cherry Point Industrial area. There is no attempt to provide alternative land such as that near the Bellingham Airport which remains unavailable for most business uses. This alone may well crush economic development in our county. Predictability is necessary for employers to invest in our county. The Comprehensive Planning in 2008/2009 destroyed the economic predictability in our county and this year’s plan has made no efforts to correct those problems. It also appears to take steps to leave in doubt whether any major company should or could make an investment here that would be respected by our planners.
(6) Property rights. You are supposed to protect the property rights of owners in Cherry Point. The changes you have made threaten to devalue their property significantly. This causes huge concerns about the entire tax base of the Ferndale area let alone the well being of a major industrial area in our county. The property rights are to be protected from arbitrary actions. The curtailments set in place in the plan are arbitrary in nature. There is no proof that further such restrictions are needed to protect the area.
(7) Permits …should be processed in a timely and fair manner to ensure predictability. Industrial land designations need to be sufficient to last beyond 20 years. Changing the permitting landscape every 8 years via the growth management act as Whatcom County has been doing does not allow for a predictable length of time necessary to invest in industrial lands.
(8) Natural resource industries. Our timber industry is not being maintained, it is failing. Thousands of acres of lands dedicated to forestry and agriculture are being converted to non-forestry and non-agricultural uses. Appropriate land for agricultural support services has not been provided. All industries in this county, including agriculture and timber are being forced to take a backseat to fisheries. In reading this planning goal one natural resource industry is not supposed to trump another.
(9) Open Space and recreation. We have more of this kind of space in our county then we know what to do with, or can afford to develop. Once again this segment has been weighted higher than others leaving us no balance and little ability to economically maintain or develop what we have.
(10) Environment. We have a high quality of life here with excellent air and water quality. We have available water. Once again other policies adapted in this plan reduce the economic ability for residents to stay here to enjoy the high quality of life. Ignoring the concerns of some to implement the desires or others is not a coordination of goals and will lead to fewer and fewer being able to enjoy the high quality of life here in Whatcom County.
(11) Citizen participation and coordination. There has been a lot of public participation and citizen involvement in this process. This council seems to think that listening to the public is their only duty. There has been little effort to incorporate the publicly stated concerns of certain sectors of our community. Since these sectors spoke to the need to consider the economic impact of the Comprehensive plan and they have been ignored I can only guess this plan will lead us to more economic failures. These conflicts remain unresolved. I do not believe it was the intent of this law to have local communities bow to the demands of those outside our county, yet it is my understanding the County Council is receiving comments and thanks from many who do not live here.
(12) Public facilities and services. The necessity to quickly provide sewer, water and other infrastructure needed to capture growth in urban growth areas has not been addressed in this plan.
(13) Historic preservation. I heard no discussion on this issue.

Please reconsider this plan.

Lorraine Newman

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