Whatcom council ready to fight state over latest rural regulations

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 14, 2013 

The Whatcom County Council has heard the message again and again from the state: Your rural growth regulations don't comply with the law.

The council seems to have its own response ready: It is ready for a fight.

One council member said as much during debate of the rural growth rules earlier this month.

In a draft ordinance, the council has rejected the latest round of recommended changes from the state Growth Management Hearings Board. The council will hold a public hearing on the measure Tuesday, June 18, and faces a July 3 deadline to submit its response.

Council members who decided against the board sympathized with property owners who thought they would be allowed commercial development only to learn that the Hearings Board had ordered their lots removed from commercial zoning.

Property owner Sam Boulos has a lot on the corner of Birch Bay-Lynden Road and Valley View Road where he intends to build a gas station. Doug Pullar owns a lot on Guide Meridian about three miles north of Walmart. Both have appealed the Hearings Board's decision. A majority of the council is siding with them.

One council member questioned the motivation of those who challenged the county's rural growth rules: Futurewise and citizens Eric Hirst, Laura Leigh Brakke, Wendy Harris and David Stalheim.

"It does not have anything to do with protecting rural character or preventing sprawl. It has to do with control - controlling you and controlling us," council member Kathy Kershner said, repeating a statement she has been making on the campaign trail. She is running for re-election this November.

In response, Kate Blystone, chapter director of Futurewise Whatcom, sidestepped the attack in a prepared statement:

"Futurewise would love to work with Whatcom County to solve the problems facing our county: deteriorating water quality, the continuing pollution of the drinking water our families and businesses rely on, and new rural developments being permitted at the expense of our farmers' irrigation water and the water our salmon need to survive."

A Futurewise attorney based in the anti-sprawl group's Seattle office questioned how much progress the county would make rejecting the Hearings Board's order on the Boulos and Pullar properties.

"The board has looked at these arguments in the past, and it says it doesn't agree with them - and I think they're right," said Tim Trohimovich, Futurewise director of planning and law. The County Council, he said, is "probably going to get the same result" - another order of noncompliance, and another deadline for coming into line with state law.

Council member Barbara Brenner was looking forward to the next round of disagreement, which she said would take place in Superior Court.

"When we win at the Superior Court level, then we will be in compliance from then on," Brenner said.


ATTEND THE MEETING

What: Whatcom County Council will hold a public hearing on changes to rural development rules and zoning.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 18.

Where: County Council chambers, 311 Grand Ave. in Bellingham.

More information: Go to WhatcomCounty.us and type "rural element" in the search box.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at blogs.bellinghamherald.com/politics or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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