County to define Custer boundaries

Published on Thu, Mar 5, 2009 by Tara Nelson

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Blaine and Custer residents can anticipate changes to existing urban growth areas (UGAs) and more clearly defined boundaries for growth within the Custer community if a comprehensive plan amendment put forth by the Whatcom County Planning and Development department is approved.

Whatcom County planning director David Stalheim thinks that planning for inward growth is the best way for Blaine and several other communities including Custer and Point Roberts to move to the future, even if it means UGAs for such communities shrink or disappear.

“By somewhat discouraging growth in rural areas, we’re encouraging the growth to concentrate in urban areas like Blaine and Birch Bay,” Stalheim said. “We’re trying to draw that outer boundary so it can grow inward, not outward.”

Those areas, called LAMIRDs, or limited areas of more intensive rural development, include centers of non-rural densities such as Custer that exist outside UGAs and were developed prior to when the state’s growth management act took effect in 1990. The new amendment will draw more clearly defined boundaries around those areas in order to concentrate growth and prevent sprawl, Stalheim said.

The new amendment will draw more clearly defined boundaries around those areas in order to concentrate growth and prevent sprawl, Stalheim said.

“Those areas have a lot of similar characteristics to a UGA but they serve a smaller, rural population,” Stalheim said. “Historically these are areas that developed before 1990, they already have a sense of place and neighborhoods and having a little bit of infill there would be not be against what people want for their neighborhood.”

The move comes after a 2007 decision by the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board that found nearly 20,000 acres of Whatcom County to be out of compliance with the state’s growth management act (GMA) in terms of rural and urban density as well as commercial and industrial land uses outside UGAs.

The GMA requires that counties protect the character of their rural areas and prevent sprawling, suburban-type development.

Stalheim said the board determined Whatcom County had land use designations that allowed too much development in the rural areas, and that some of its commercial and industrial land uses outside urban growth areas were not consistent with the GMA.

Blaine’s UGA ‘significantly-oversized’

The second part of the amendment would review UGA boundaries and determine if they are at pace with projected growth.

Stalheim said although the details have not been finalized, preliminary numbers show one of the most “significantly-oversized” UGAs in the county is the one surrounding the city of Blaine.

Stalheim said Blaine’s population is projected to grow by 2,000 to 3,700 people over the next 20 years but that the existing city limits are currently able to accommodate an increase of more than 11,000.

Add to that, the surrounding UGA that stretches from south of Blaine, along Drayton Harbor Road and to part of Semiahmoo can accommodate as many as 20,000.

”It’s not in balance at all,” he said. “The city limits show they can handle more than their projected growth, so there’s no need for an urban growth area.

“That might be concerning for residents within the city of Blaine because there are some areas that the city would logically like to grow into.”

Public comment sought

Stalheim said county planners have been meeting with the city of Blaine to come to an agreement and that the city will hold a series of public hearings to hear citizen’s concerns later this year.

The county planning staff is expected to prepare a recommendation on LAMIRDs to the planning commission by mid-April. Individuals can comment by writing to Whatcom County Planning and Development services, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham, Washington 98226 or by emailing pds@co.whatcom.wa.us.

For more information, visit www.co.whatcom.wa.us.