Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Whatcom County's Leftover Meatloaf

Back in 1994 a few years into the Growth Management Act (GMA) Era in Washington State, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board rendered a decision regarding rural lands in which they used the metaphor "rural lands are the leftover meatloaf in the GMA refrigerator".

As posted previously digesting-lamirds-wonky-long-and-local Whatcom County had a portion of its rural planning leftover meatloaf invalidated by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board. The County Council met in executive session to discuss the matter and accepted all of the ruling except for two areas west and northwest of and adjacent to the City of Bellingham. At this point it is not exactly clear how the County will appeal this ruling. They simply have said they will and that allows them some time to develop and present some kind of argument for the Board's consideration.

The areas in question do present interesting problems. These are not agricultural or forest areas, and, unless you have no faith in implementation of wetland, stormwater and wildlife protection rules, development in this area should not have significant impacts to the environment. However, build out of these areas as proposed by the County Council does pose some problems:

1) Build out of these areas will impact streets and roads and given their location, the travel routes most likely will be onto Bellingham surface streets. One of the reasons Bellingham appealed this scheme. As a simple example that is apparent to Bellingham is Lakeway Drive. If Bellingham has a rush hour back up, Lakeway Drive is it. Bad traffic on Lakeway certainly can be partially attributed to development in the city along side streets off of Lakeway, but a big source of traffic has been the building that has taken place in Sudden Valley outside the city limits in one of those LAMIRDs (limited area of more intense rural development). Costs to improve Lakeway can be derived from development impact fees in the city, but with no impact fees for development outside the city limits, funds for addressing those impacts are not available except from city tax payers. So my local arterial gets plugged with traffic from new homes outside the city and I along with my city neighbors pay for the impacts.

2) Because the two areas are adjacent to Bellingham, allowing these areas to build out at suburban level density with one and two acre lots will very likely preclude these areas becoming more densely developed if the city continues to grow and will force city growth in some other direction. In many regards these areas may make much more sense as future urban areas.

3) Large swaths of land immediately adjacent to the city undermines city planning. The city works to set up development where the community decides is appropriate and that development is undermined by available lots immediately outside the city limits. Given the very large over supply of lots outside the city limits development in the city is slowed counter to the main thrust of GMA.

The type of development scheme being pushed by the County Council in this area has thwarted efficient development at numerous other locations around the state - the doughnut holes of unincorporated areas in the otherwise urbanized areas near Edmonds, Lynnwood and Alderwood are one example. The same type of development pattern to the east of Kennewick has driven Kennewick city limits miles to the west and southwest while the east city limits have changed minimally over a period of 40 years.


Darrell Sofield said...

Good analysis, Dan.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the Lakeway Drive analysis. Yes, it is slow going from 5:00 to 5:30 everyday weekday evening, but you can get through it in about 5 minutes max. No big deal. I will take that over traffic in Seattle any day.

Dan McShane said...

Anon: I would have to agree that Lakeway traffic is no match for real rush hours elsewhere. But part of why passage out Lakeway is not so bad is the result of significant expenditures by the City of Bellinghanm over the past 15 years. Several traffic lights, widening a section of the road, installation of left turn lanes. All paid for by city tax dollars or grants the city got from the state. Most recently turning left onto Lakeway has been blocked for several streets in the York Neighborhood again at city tax payers expense. My point is that heavy development outside the city limits does impact the city and is why Limited Areas of More Intense Rural Development adjacent to cities is generally viewed as poor planning. A soluntion to this dilema could be the county charging impact fees and fr those areas and allowing the city to use those fees for improvements wehere the impacts are felt.