Birch Bay steering group agrees to disagree
After three hours of discussion and debate, some of which was given over to public comment, the Birch Bay Steering Committee (BBSC) voted 8-3 in a special meeting last week to ask the planning and development committee of the Whatcom County Council to withdraw proposed changes to their community plan.
The motion included language pledging the committee to address the issues that lay behind the council committee’s action, mostly having to do with the effects of further development on land in proximity to the unstable highbank waterfront along the west side of Birch Point.
The council’s recommended changes would remove over 800 acres in two parcels from the Birch Bay urban growth area, leaving them as unincorporated county land which, among other things, means that they would not get sewer service. This would effectively down-zone them from the current four homes per acre (with sewer service) to one home per five acres. The proposed changes will be publicly discussed by the council committee no earlier than May 18, though most likely not until June.
Over 50 people gathered at the Semiahmoo fire hall for the meeting, including Birch Point resident and activist Lincoln Rutter, Drayton Harbor community Oyster Farm coordinator and county planning commission member Geoff Menzies and Alan Friedlob of Smart Growth Birch Bay. For many members of the public it was their first experience with the BBSC even though it has been deliberating on its urban growth plan since January of 2001.
BBSC member Claudia Hollod referred to this in saying that the plan the committee had developed “is designed to protect our beloved Birch Bay from willy-nilly developers. I’m opposed to the changes the county council suggested because we can provide more protection for those sensitive areas by including them in the plan.” She also pointed out that people living in the affected part of the Birch Point neighborhood could have participated in the plan’s development but, except for representatives of the Trillium Corporation, chose not to and were absent for much of the process. “Believe me, I know it’s been a time-consuming commitment. But we were willing to make it. They have not been here,” she said.
BBSC’s Birch Point neighborhood alternate representative Barbara Skudlarick said later that, “It was really good that people outside the steering committee were there to see what’s been going on.” Skudlarick, an international flight attendant with TWA for 11 years, said that her experiences seeing so much of the world left her with a strong impression of Birch Point’s irreplaceable uniqueness.
first became involved when the original Birch Point representative,
Arne Aaxen, stopped attending meetings due to illness.
The county council’s planning and development committee is made up of Seth Fleetwood, Laurie Caskey-Schreiber and Barbara Brenner (who was absent when the decision to change BBSC’s plan was made). After reviewing the BBSC’s community plan they agreed with council chair and professional geologist Dan McShane in removing the two parcels, one of which lies in an area bounded by Lincoln, Harborview, Anderson and Shintaffer roads and the other that lies west of Birch Bay Village.
McShane also suggested removing land at Point Whitehorn south of Grandview but the committee did not agree.
In recommending the changes McShane had also expressed concern about the county’s ability to manage a storm-water management system for Birch Point that the plan suggests to support the more than 3,000 houses that could theoretically be built in the areas if zoned four houses to an acre.
Committee member Mike Ross, using a plat from Birch Bay’s south Bay Crest development as an example, pointed out that predicting how a parcel may eventually be built out with any certainty is very difficult.
Jon Syre of Trillium, which has been a stakeholder in the process since the beginning, agreed that Birch Point has critical areas. “All the wetlands on Trillium property are cataloged and protected,” he said, “but taking this much land out of the plan all at once isn’t good planning. We need to adequately plan for anticipated growth.” As an example, Syre pointed out that roughly half of the 57 acres Trillium owns on Lincoln Road as well as half of its Birch Point property are wetlands. “There’s developable land in there,” he said, “but the rest needs protection.”
Syre said he favored option number 4 of alternatives proposed by planning manager Sylvia Goodwin of Whatcom County Planning and Development Services “because it balances the needs of the community and of the property owner, and addresses critical areas while preserving property rights.”
Goodwin had earlier stated that “You can’t stop people from moving here, but you can limit the supply of land,” and proposed several options for the committee to consider in responding to the council’s proposed changes, including increasing the density of housing in another part of Birch Bay or expanding the urban growth area in another direction.
Friedlob had said earlier during the public comment period that he hoped Syre “had enough sense to recuse himself from the vote, given Trillium’s involvement.” Late in the meeting BBSC member Don Graham moved to ask the county council to rescind its contemplated changes to the BBSC’s community plan. The motion passed after being amended by BBSC member Bill Grant to include language from Goodwin about addressing the county council committee’s concerns. A roll call vote was taken, and the motion passed 8-3 with Jon Syre abstaining.