Whatcom County rezones 800 acres in Birch Bay

Published on Thu, Dec 9, 2010 by By Jeremy Schwartz

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Whatcom County Council has decided to rezone approximately 800 acres in Birch Bay to allow more houses per acre.

Council voted 4-3, with councilmembers Barbara Brenner, Ken Mann and Carl Weimer opposed, to shift the land near Birch Bay-Lynden and Blaine roads from one house per 10 acres (R10) to one house per five acres (R5). The parcel is broken up into two sections north and south of Birch Bay-Lynden Road.

Brenner, who at the council’s October 26 meeting voted to direct staff to draft the rezoning ordinance, said she could not support the rezone before council members and staff finished work on the rural element update.

Council members and staff have been working on the update, which would revise the county comprehensive plan’s section on rural development, since September.

“I think it’s putting the cart before the horse,” Brenner said. “I don’t think it’s appropriate at this time.”

Brenner moved to postpone the vote on the ordinance to a later date, but that motion failed 5-2, with Brenner and Weimer supporting it.

The land in question was part of the Birch Bay urban growth area (UGA) allowing four houses per acre until a council decision downzoned it to R10 in November 2009.  The following month, council member Sam Crawford submitted a request to rezone the land at R5 density.

Wendy Harris, of the community development group Futurewise Whatcom, said she agreed with a planning department report that recommended against the rezone. The planning report said the rezone would run counter to the county’s comprehensive plan, which discourages upzoning rural land from R10 to R5.

Crawford justified the rezone by pointing out that many of the plots in the 789 acres had previously been effectively zoned R5 because there were no utilities servicing the properties.

He said the comprehensive plan only discourages rezoning R10 land to R5 if that land has historically been zoned R10. The 789 acres in question to not fit this description, he pointed out.

“To say that the comp plan language now applies I think is disingenuous at best,” Crawford said.