County asked to cut Blaine’s growth area
County planning commissioner and local shellfish booster Geoff Menzies is asking the county to trim the Blaine Urban Growth Area (UGA).
“All I’m asking is for a review of the Blaine UGA,” Menzies said. “It’s always been an excessively large UGA.” County planner Sylvia Goodwin confirmed that Menzies had submitted an application for an amendment to the county comprehensive plan asking for a reduction in size for the Blaine UGA. “He wants to get rid of most of it,” she said. Starting January 26 county council will begin to review Menzies’ application as part of the annual docket of comprehensive plan amendments.
The state Growth Management Act, adopted in 1990, requires counties to designate urban growth areas “within which urban growth shall be encouraged and outside of which growth can occur only if it is not urban in nature.” In establishing a UGA for each city the act directs that the county should select an area able to accommodate 20 years worth of growth and “an urban growth area may include territory that is located outside of a city only if such territory already is characterized by urban growth whether or not the urban growth area includes a city, or is adjacent to territory already characterized by urban growth.”
Almost a decade ago the state Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) agreed with Menzies’ position that Blaine’s UGA was too big, describing it as “incredibly oversized.” In a 1996 decision finding the UGA invalid, the board pointed specifically to the land outside city limits on the south side of Drayton Harbor and the east Blaine aquifer recharge areas as areas unlikely to be urbanized and inappropriate in the UGA. Whatcom County and the city of Blaine eventually got the UGA through by taking the GMHB decision to Superior Court, where a judge issued an order lifting the board’s determinations of invalidity in 1998.
Menzies said he isn’t trying to dredge up the issue of the legal validity of Blaine’s UGA, but thinks the county should look at the logic. “A preliminary survey of buildable lands shows Blaine can handle projected growth requirements for the next 20 years within the city limits,” he said. If urban development seeps out to sensitive areas, such as the area along south Drayton Harbor, Menzies feels it will have a permanent impact on water quality and the ability to harvest healthy shellfish from the harbor. “The two aren’t really compatible. Shellfish growing and cities don’t usually go together,” he said. “If you urbanize that area it will be difficult to ever fully restore Drayton Harbor.”
His proposal is to “remove significant critical areas, including wetlands, aquifer recharge areas, steep bluff and geologically hazardous areas” from the Blaine UGA, reverting their zoning to rural five and ten acre parcels.
Menzies is proposing the land west of Semiahmoo, the land south of Drayton Harbor including the Loomis Trail golf course area, and the aquifer recharge area west of Blaine be removed from the UGA. “Basically everything outside the city limits,” Goodwin said, with the exception of a strip of land along Odell Road. The Blaine UGA is 3,318 acres and in his application Menzies said his proposal would affect 500 of those acres. However, Goodwin said her calculations and reading of the application led to a much higher number. “My estimate is it would affect approximately 3,000 acres,” she said.
Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said he had not seen the Menzies application and city staff would be meeting with county planners this week to get a better idea of what was being proposed. “I think it would have been appropriate as a courtesy if Geoff Menzies would have let us know,” he said. “I’m unaware of all he’s proposing but I think we share some of the same concerns for the South Drayton Harbor area.”
On January 26, 20 comprehensive plan amendments will be introduced to county council, including that submitted by Menzies, and forwarded to either the natural resources or planning subcommittees. On February 8 council will hear committee recommendations on which items should go forward for full review and set the docket for the year. The full comprehensive plan amendment process would include staff analysis, public hearings and is expected to take most of the year.