Residents urged to weigh in on growth concerns
Population growth inside the Blaine city limits began accelerating rapidly three years ago and at this time there’s no end in sight, according to figures cited by city officials at two community meetings this week. Predictions made just a few years ago about local growth may turn out to be grossly inadequate, and if Blaine is to avoid becoming overwhelmed by runaway growth, city officials suggested, the public needs to help develop a strong community vision and become involved to ensure that it’s followed.
“I’m the canary in the coal mine,” said Blaine’s community development director Terry Galvin, “and I’m getting nervous. Tonight I hope to show you why.” Both Galvin and Blaine city manger Gary Tomsic cited figures to support projections that in the next 20 years Blaine is expected to nearly double in population.
“That’s within the city limits,” Tomsic said, “and does not include Birch Bay, which is expected to more than double in size.” Both were speaking at Tuesday’s community meeting, held in the Blaine senior center. An identical meeting was convened Wednesday night.
The most telling of the slides in Galvin’s PowerPoint presentation was a graph that shows the number of dwelling units issued construction permits each year, most of which are single family houses but also includes apartments and condominiums.
From 1992 until 2002 the number of permits issued annually was fairly steady, varying between a low of 36 and a high of 44. The greatest annual increase from one year to the next was 13 percent, from 1998 to 1999, reflecting construction at Semiahmoo, and two years later it decreased by almost that amount.
But things changed in 2002, and in the three years since then the number of permits issued for single dwelling units grew to 68 in 2003 (54 percent), 119 (75 percent) in 2004 and a projected 170 (60 percent) this year based on what’s happened in the first six months.
2002 was also the year that local population predictions were made for the next 20 years on what city officials now fear was data that failed to take into account the rapid growth that began almost as soon as the figures were generated.
For example, the population was projected to grow in the east Blaine planning area from 327 to 599 for an increase of 272. But the East Maple Ridge subdivision, being developed by Doug Connelly and already permitted, plans to have 353 units, and Ken Hertz’s Blossom development even farther east, between H Street Road and the border, may have as many as 1,000 units when fully built out.
Galvin’s recommendation to the residents was to get involved and stay involved in the parts of the planning process that are designed to generate a strong public vision about Blaine’s future. Approximately 15 members of the public attended the meeting with several city council members, the mayor and members of several boards and commissions.
“The key to a successful and productive process is to have a clear vision, which will provide clear direction to the planning commission and to the city council as it develops policy,” Galvin said, “so we need to get an accurate vision from community members if it’s going to stick.”
Galvin, who has been on city staff since 2000, said that the dramatic difference between what was projected for east Blaine and what has already happened only a few years later “is just the tip of the iceberg. We’re at a critical juncture and need [the public’s] help to make sure we grow by the vision we have.”
By “vision,” Galvin said he means, “what do we want to be when we grow up?”
Tomsic then led the group in an agenda-setting exercise. “Thinking about growth,” he said, “what are the key questions we need to answer?” He asked that participants form their answers jeopardy-style, in the form of a question, and eventually the group condensed the answers down to five key questions: What infrastructure is needed in the future, how can we preserve our quality of life, how can we get growth to pay its own way, how do we attract living wage jobs and how will educational, social and health services be provided.
Tomsic also asked the group to fill out three more posters, about how “small town quality” is preserved as the community grows, about what opportunities growth may present and what baggage do we as a community carry from the past that we might want to get rid of.
Results of these exercises are available from the community development office. “Send me an e-mail,” Galvin concluded, “and I’ll send you some regular notices and communications. We need everyone to be involved.”