A community group looking at the potential of Birch Bay becoming its own city is expected to vote on its proposed incorporation boundaries, bylaws and steering committee representatives during its Wednesday, November 15 meeting.
The meeting will be held 5:30 p.m. at Christ the King Community Church, 4895 Birch Bay-Lynden Road in Birch Bay. Anyone who lives, works or owns property in Birch Bay is encouraged to attend the meeting, group founder Matt Berry said.
“We want as much involvement as possible,” Berry said. “Anyone can attend, even if they’re against incorporation.”
People who haven’t attended a previous meeting may join the organization and vote at the November 15 meeting, Berry said.
Since it started, the group has gained 77 registered members and 692 people on its email list. Members include people who helped with Birch Bay’s incorporation attempt in 1992, members of the Birch Bay Steering Committee in the early 2000s, local government leaders and representatives of Birch Bay organizations.
The organization is advocating for Whatcom County to conduct a feasibility study on Birch Bay incorporation that would answer questions, such as those on city operating costs and tax revenue, to determine whether the group wants to move forward with incorporation. The study would serve as an update to a 2008 feasibility study on Birch Bay
Berry started the most recent movement for Birch Bay to become its own city earlier this year after frustration mounted from residents who felt Whatcom County wasn’t adequately representing them. In April, Berry released the first survey on Birch Bay governance to the community and began holding monthly meetings in June for residents to discuss incorporation.
Birch Bay had a population of about 10,000 people in the 2020 U.S. Census. If incorporated, it would be the fourth largest city in Whatcom County. There have been several movements for Birch Bay to incorporate, but only the 1992 attempt went for a vote, Berry said.
The group is expected to vote during its November 15 meeting on boundaries that follow the urban growth area, which corresponds to the Birch Bay Water and Sewer District’s service area. The boundaries, the same as those used in the 2008 feasibility study, could change after the updated study. Areas such as Birch Point or south of Point Whitehorn could be included if residents decide they don’t want to be an island between local governments, Berry said.
“We’re not talking about taking a rural area and making it a city,” Berry said. “We’re talking about taking an area that the county has designated for urban growth and taking the next steps with it. We need to increase services for a better quality of life.”
If the drafted bylaws are ratified November 15, the group, previously known as the Birch Bay Incorporation Committee, will become a formal organization called the Birch Bay Incorporation Association.
The bylaws outline how the association will oversee its membership, meetings and the steering committee leading the organization. A handful of members brainstormed the bylaws through multiple drafts, Berry said.
The proposed bylaws state that the association is a nonpartisan campaign to give Birch Bay residents greater control over the community’s future by proposing boundaries and government structure for the city of Birch Bay. The association will not plan for or take positions on policy for the city of Birch Bay, including taxes, land use, and health and safety regulations.
About 20 Birch Bay residents are running for positions on the steering committee. According to the drafted bylaws, the steering committee will have from seven to 15 members, who serve one-year terms and would be elected by association members each November. The steering committee will meet at least monthly and report to the association, which will meet quarterly.
Birch Bay resident Chuck Kinzer said he’s not yet for or against incorporation, and wants to help the association collect information before it makes a decision.
“Some people think this committee’s goal is incorporation but it’s more nuanced,” Kinzer said. “It’s to see if incorporation is feasible, and if it turns out to be, advocating strongly for it.”
Kinzer’s parents purchased a Birch Bay summer home when he was 12, which he visited regularly until he retired full-time to the area in 2016. The group is trying to get more opinions from people with different experiences in Birch Bay, he said.
Birch Bay resident Brian Bell said he became annoyed with issues such as lack of enforcement on fireworks around the Fourth of July and the two stop signs that were installed earlier this year near Birch Bay Village without community input.
“We’re paying a lot of money in taxes and are not getting much in the way of services,” Bell said. “Incorporation would be a way to create representation.”
Whatcom County’s land use code states that the county will “actively support incorporation as appropriate” in Birch Bay. The Whatcom County Executive’s Office has given verbal support to help update the 2008 feasibility study, Berry said. After the bylaws are passed, the association will further communication with Whatcom County on the study.
“Anyone who has an interest in Birch Bay can attend the meetings,” Berry said. “All of the meetings are public.”
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