Birch Bay plan will get last tweaks at final meeting

Published on Thu, Sep 5, 2002 by Jack Kintner

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Birch Bay plan will get last tweaks at final meeting

By Jack Kintner

After thinking their work was done last April, the Birch Bay Steering Committee (BBSC) found it still had work to do after hearing initial reactions to its report following a June 27th public hearing with the Whatcom County Planning Commission.

Concerns over land use in Trillium Corporation’s approximately 1,100 acre property between the BP-Cherry Point refinery and the shoreline was at the head of the list.

“West Cherry Point area is zoned wrong [as heavy impact industrial],” said Dave Determan of Point Whitehorn in a two-page handout distributed at last week’s meeting, “and it’s time to do the right thing, to correct a wrong done over 30 years ago.”

This issue has stymied the committee repeatedly as it has attempted to find consensus between those who want to preserve the heavy impact industrial zoning in the area and those who, like Determan, do not. But recommending uses incompatible with current zoning in a given area creates conflicts with the county’s comprehensive plan and bylaws must be resolved.

After four more meetings in July and August and some homework by committee staff and members, a second final draft will be considered on September 18th for submission to the planning commission for approval, modification or rejection on September 26.

Most of the committee’s work came in response to a written reaction to the community plan prepared by Whatcom County State Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) administrator John Guenther. Guenther told the committee he needed more information in four areas in order to determine whether or not an environmental impact statement (EIS) was needed.

These include cultural resource issues, provisions for police, fire and emergency medical resources should the area incorporate, the proximity of industrial hazard areas to residential housing and possible conflicts between land uses outlined by the community plan and the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan. These conflicts arise out of the assignment of residential land uses to Trillium’s West Cherry Point property, currently zoned heavy impact industrial. That zoning precludes the residential uses the BBSC wants to allow, creating an illegal conflict between the county and community plans.

The first three issues were handled routinely by committees assigned to add their reports more or less directly as additional pages to the full community plan. The fourth, once again, lead to a long and frequently confusing parliamentary maneuvering and debate over the uses to which Trillium’s land should be put and why.

Bob Libolt is Trillium’s representative on the steering committee, and has clearly stated on many occasions that the best way to keep more heavy industry out of West Cherry Point is to get the county to change the zoning. “If there’s to be a change in zoning for the area, support for it must come out of the committee in this report as an expression of local sentiment,” Libolt said.

Mike Abendhoff of BP Cherry Point has countered by pointing out the hazards associated with living so close to a major heavy industry, and says that the refinery strongly objects to any changes in zoning allowing people to live within a half mile of heavy industry.

Libolt, along with BBSC members Claudia Hollod and Doralee Booth, were asked by the chair at an earlier meeting to review the community plan for conflicts with the county’s comprehensive plan and produced a report that said there were essentially none. “The only change is that the county’s policies toward Cherry Point would apply to a slightly smaller area,” Libolt said.

Hollod and Booth submitted an additional report asking that specific wording be inserted into the community plan saying that, “the Steering Committee finds heavy/high impact industrial zoning in the West Cherry Point neighborhood unacceptable,” claiming that a motion on July 17 had asked for that wording to appear in the plan. “We just want to make sure this gets in there,” Hollod said.

But instead, after an hour and a half discussion, the committee supported a proposal by Ted Morris to simply leave the land-use map the way it is, with the colors in the West Cherry Point area expressing for activities there, but cross-hatched to show that the boundaries are approximate at this point and will be decided in the future.

The committee then decided to meet one more time, on September 18, to review the final edited version of the community plan before submitting it to the planning commission. On September 26 the BBSC will relinquish its role in creating and modifying the plan as the planning commission considers it for eventual submission to the Whatcom County Council..

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