Birch Bay plan driven by growth, concensus

Published on Thu, May 31, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Birch Bay plan driven by growth, concensus

By Meg Olson

In 2020 Birch Bay could be one of the largest cities in Whatcom County. The question is, what will it look like?

Struggling with the finer points of Robert’s Rules of Order, 20 neighborhood representatives, the steering committee for the Birch Bay Community Plan, are trying to find an answer worthy of a diverse, vibrant and growing area.

Mart Kask, the planning consultant hired to provide the background information and draft the plan, is forecasting almost 12,000 people will call Birch Bay home in 20 years if growth trends continue.

According to U.S. Census 2000 data, Birch Bay grew by an average 6.4 percent per year in the last decade. “That’s a very high rate,” said Kask at the steering committee’s May 23 meeting. “You usually don’t see a population increase of that magnitude.” Whatcom County’s population grew by 2.7 percent a year in the same ten-year period.

Kask used population forecasts prepared by the state office of financial management and census information to project the county’s population out 20 years and track Birch Bay growth as a percentage of that. If current trends continue, almost five percent of county residents will live in Birch Bay.

“I think these numbers are conservative,” said Mike Kent, a local realtor and representative from the Birch Bay Village Reach neighborhood. “I think we will max out buildable land. The big thing that’s changing is the ability for people to find our community on the Internet. That will continue to make this a destination for retirement.”

Other committee members were concerned the seasonal population of Birch Bay would compromise the projections. “It has been an issue,” Kask said. “If counts of seasonal residents in 1990 were low, our population estimates are overestimates.”

Linda Tucker, representing the Terrell Creek neighborhood, asked whether recent closures of Intalco and Georgia Pacific, and the impact the loss of jobs could have on the community, had been taken into account. “Some will move out but there are also other employment opportunities that may move into an area,” Kask said. He will tackle employment and housing forecasts for the area next and present them at the June steering committee meeting.

“Employment forecasts will be very important when we figure out how much commercial land to set aside,” Kask said. “Employment and housing really drive land use planning.”

While data and forecasts will provide the foundation for the Birch Bay Community Plan, intended to become part of the county comprehensive plan and a guide for growth in the next two decades, community vision will frame the plan.

The steering committee includes two representatives from nine of the ten neighborhoods identified in Birch Bay - the tenth, West Cherry Point, is home only to BP-Amoco. After spring neighborhood meetings and surveys, delegates brought neighborhood self-portraits back to the steering committee: quiet, residential, coastal, proud. Issues to tackle as the community grows were also pinpointed: traffic, services, shoreline protection, appearance, jobs.

Steering committee members are pursuing some of these issues through subcommittees targeting traffic and safety and beautification. “Those subjects don’t really fit into a 20-year planning process,” said consultant Pat Milliken, who is coordinating public input of the plan. “These two committees were set up to deal with things a comprehensive plan can’t but are obviously sources of concern.”

Through the next rounds of neighborhood meetings, in early and mid-June, community input will be woven into land use scenarios Kask will prepare as the core of the community plan. Participants will review population forecasts, preliminary economic forecasts and some proposed land use scenarios. Kask said they will start with four options, with the first being to keep current zoning.

The second option would concentrate commercial activity along Birch Bay Drive. “I know this will upset a lot of people but it still needs to be addressed,” Kask said.

A nodal distribution is the third proposal, involving small neighborhood commercial centers at major intersections. Finally, commercial development in large centers is proposed. “This would see a concentration of commercial development on 20 or 30 acres in several locations, not dotting the countryside,” Kask said. Milliken said neighborhood input would allow Kask to bring back refined scenarios with completed employment and housing forecasts to the steering committee. “It may be through the neighborhood meetings something else pops up or one of them drops out,” he said.

“These scenarios are really the guts of this whole program,” said Birch Point representative Bob Libolt. “What we choose will shape how Birch Bay looks in the future.”

Between neighborhood and steering committee meetings, there will be two dozen meetings in June focused on choosing a template for growth.

“These things will keep bouncing back and forth as we go through the process. The goal is that the community will reach consensus or compromise about growth,” Milliken said.

The target date to complete the plan is November 2001..

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