We think this is so serious that failing to raise strong outcry of “NO!” may leave us in chains for years. “Chains” sound dramatic for a planning issue? Folks, it’s not strong enough.
If you don’t live in a rural area you may think this isn’t your problem. But believe us – it is. This is so big, so ugly, it will affect everybody.
The Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan "Rural Element" establishes a growth plan for the distribution of population across the whole county – apportioned between cities and rural areas. The plan is to direct (through various mechanisms) 85% of all growth to urban areas – cities and urban growth areas. How that number was reached is too elaborate to describe here, but twenty-four points of “invalidity” findings were made by the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) with patent disrespect for citizens' freedom to live where they prefer. And this round of Comprehensive Plan changes will penalize everyone who doesn’t “get with the program.”
Why did the GMHB make these Comprehensive Plan findings? Rabid opponents of rural growth – no, let’s speak frankly here, rabid opponents of rural USE – filed suits against the County, taking their complaints to a board of governor-appointees. Futurewise, Jean Melious, David Stalheim, and Wendy Harris simply couldn’t bear the idea that the rural population might use the land as it’s zoned.
The GMHB now demands that the county must expand protections to rural character (rolling conditions as much as possible back to 1990) by “containing or otherwise controlling” rural development in line with population projections. Now the Planning Department is proposing an oppressive scheme that will take hold if it goes unchallenged.
What’s really new, really nasty, is something referred to in planning circles as "permit metering." If this becomes a “policy option” Planning & Development may deny property owners permits to build on rural land -- not because building will do any tangible harm. Permits could be denied if rural population growth doesn’t suit the county’s plan for any given year.
Of course WE already know that nobody has any right to build anywhere in Whatcom County – that requires permission. No such “right” has existed here for years. An application to build must pass through an elaborate obstacle course of regulations and “criteria” to assure that building (or activity) does no harm. And zoning determines what kind of use is permitted in different places. Zoning ordinances set density, how many houses per acre and so on. But keeping density within limits isn’t enough for these control freaks.
The idea is to meter-out the use of private property over the course of time. Why? Some folks think this will keep more of the hoot in “Hooterville.” They say this will keep the countryside more scenic, though we can’t imagine how. More rustic? Heaven help the poor folks who want to use their land to meet their own needs when they desire.
This new level of control over time is a leap beyond building regulations and zoning. Do you still think WE exaggerate? Read on.
The March 6 Planning and Development staff memorandum (here, Pages 5-6) describes this as "tracking" and "monitoring." Dancing on the head of a pin, it says
"...rural monitoring would entail tracking development activity to make sure the number of residential units permitted in rural areas does not allow for population growth exceeding one year's worth of the 21-year projection for the rural areas."
"Population growth" – did you catch that? Now that's an interesting term to use to meter out “one year’s worth” of permits. Population is only counted every ten years by the federal census. This tracking and monitoring - it would be based on what? Estimates? How? By whom? This talks about limiting new permits – but how does that apply to the number of people? How do they propose to count us? Under what authority?
The proposed Comprehensive Plan change to Policy 2DD says:
“Annually monitor residential development activity in rural areas and compare that data with the adopted population growth projection for the rural areas. If it is apparent that rural growth is occurring at a significantly higher rate than adopted projections, the County shall take action to address the discrepancy. Actions may include: changing the allocation of the projected population growth, changing rural zoning or densities, limiting rural permit issuance, working with cities to foster appropriate growth in Urban Growth Areas through annexation or extension of utilities, or working with cities to reduce the difference in impact fees between the cities and the rural areas.”
We didn’t imagine this.
City folks – although this is the “Rural Element,” better ask what's meant by "cities to reduce the difference in impact fees." Give up improvements? Forego services? Isn't that the purpose of impact fees? Another point: Should one level of government impose on another like that, to suit its own goals? If WE editors were mayors or city council people, we’d find this mighty troubling.
There’s more nasty business – more “boot to the neck” for the greater good, for our health and welfare.
This edit expands "open space" requirements and other regulations to further reduce impervious surface in rural to 20%. Ever heard of that (pervious-impervious)? Impervious surfaces are what "water doesn't soak into," like buildings and sidewalks, paved driveways, decks, garages, chicken coops, doghouses - you name it. Even LAWNS are considered “impervious” according to the stormwater gendarmes nowadays. "Undeveloped" buffers have been a passive taking of private property for years, if you've followed that subject, but this goes way beyond buffers.
And the edits require more clamping-down to “protect” the Lake Whatcom watershed – even though the condition of the lake is far from certain, and WRIA 1 has jumped the tracks.
Just yesterday Futurewise launched an e-mail blast encouraging its supporters to flood the Planning Commission with letters demanding even tighter controls (check it out) – like a further reduction of impervious surfaces to 10%, and not letting folks clear more than 35% vegetation from their rural lots. Imagine being told that you have to let the weeds grow wild on 65% of YOUR land. This is the kind of command and control these people want in our day-to-day lives, to have over others' private property.
There's too much to cover here in one spot. If you want to know more, check the county webpage. It's loaded with all the latest details. And you’re having trouble finding details there, hit CONTACT above and send a question to the Vator. The editors will try to direct readers toward information before the Thursday hearing – but we’re all scrambling. There are only a couple of days to look through these drafts and prepare for Thursday.
BUT even if you don’t feel completely prepared, PLEASE DO GO to the Planning Commission session on Thursday. Don’t be shy, step up to the microphone and make a point if you think something must be said. Can you imagine – this plan could be on us for the next twenty years, and we have one evening to speak out. There’s something very wrong about that, too.
It’s one thing to live with the "Growth Management Act," but this is not about growth management or sprawl any more. Like that Futurewise e-mail says, their real goals are governance, control, and limits.
If this “legislation” is adopted the way it’s written now, we will all be in a world of hurt.