Planning commission gives OK to changes to Blaine’s lot coverage rules

Published on Wed, Aug 15, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

Read More News

Blaine’s lot coverage regulations are different from most other cities in Whatcom County, and Blaine planning commissioners are on board with changing that.

Blaine planning staff have proposed changes to Blaine’s lot coverage rules that would bring the city more in line with other municipalities across the county. At the August 16 planning commission meeting, city planner Alex Wenger said the way Blaine’s code defines lot coverage is different from other cities in Whatcom County.

The city’s lot coverage requirements describe how much of a given lot can be covered with buildings or other impervious surfaces. Wenger made the case that Blaine’s lot coverage regulations should not include driveways or other impervious surfaces and define lot coverage only by the amount of building footprint on the lot, as other cities’ lot coverage rules do.

Impervious surfaces are those that rain water cannot flow through to reach the ground underneath. The more impervious surfaces there are, the more stormwater flows off buildings and into stormwater treatment structures.

Wenger said single family homeowners in Blaine typically take issue with not being able to build a small addition or add a garage due to the city’s current lot coverage rules. Often, an individual’s lot will have already met or exceeded the lot coverage limit without the homeowner knowing it.

This can happen when a homeowner adds a driveway or patio, both of which do not require a city permit but do count toward the overall area of the lot covered by impervious surfaces. Each zoning area throughout the city has different limits on the percentage of a lot covered by impervious surfaces, but most residential zones limit lot coverage to 40 percent of the lot’s total square footage.

“We really are the lone wolf when it comes to driveways and patios,” planning commissioner David Gallion said. “We do need to do something to prevent homeowners from running into the wall that prevents them from adding an addition to their home.”

If Blaine planning staff were asked, Wenger said they would most likely suggest something similar to Bellingham’s regulations, which allows 70 percent of lot coverage with impervious surfaces with at least 30 percent required “open space” in most residential zones. Wenger added that Bellingham’s code also requires the open space to be vegetated with trees or other maintained plants.

Planning commissioner Richard May said he would like to know how much thought was put into the original decision. He said he wouldn’t like to overturn a regulation simply because the planning commissioners didn’t do enough research into the original decision process.

In connection with this, May brought up the idea of soil in Blaine being naturally more impervious than soils types in other parts of the county. Many of the commissioners spoke anecdotally about impervious clay underlying much of their property, sometimes as shallow as 3 or 4 feet. Commissioners thought this might be the reason Blaine’s lot coverage rules differ from those across the county, but Wenger could not confirm this.

Despite minor concerns on the logistics of new lot coverage rules, planning commissioners supported staff moving ahead with crafting regulations closer to those of other cities. Wenger confirmed to May that if the lot-coverage limit was 50 percent as opposed to 40 percent, most of the individual homeowner issues Wenger mentioned would not be an issue.

“We do not need to rewrite the whole code here,” Wenger said. “I think a few small changes would get us where we want to be.”