Ferndale approves stricter rules for jail design


40-acre proposed site of the Whatcom County Jail on the northwest corner of LaBounty Drive and Sunset Avenue off Slater Road near Ferndale.


FERNDALE - With Whatcom County officials intent on building a new jail in Ferndale, the City Council set stricter standards on jail construction to minimize the impact the facility would make on the surrounding community.

The new rules, which limit the types of fencing and lighting that can be used, and how close a jail building can be to a property line, passed 4 to 1 at the Tuesday, Sept. 3, council meeting. Lloyd Zimmerman, who has spoken against siting a jail in Ferndale, cast the lone "no" vote. Council members Paul Ingram and Jon Mutchler were absent.

Council member Mel Hansen successfully added a larger "setback" in the ordinance, requiring jail buildings to be at least 250 feet from the nearest property line adjacent to a residential property. The new rules also require a sight distance of no less than 600 feet if jail windows face residences.

Much of the debate over the new rules during the past several months centered on setbacks. They were originally 350 feet in the 2006 version of the ordinance. The Planning Commission, in preparing a recommendation for the council, reduced them to 150 feet before Hansen's amendment.

Hansen and a majority of the council were responsive to the concerns of neighbors who spoke at a public hearing on the rules, held just before the vote.

"I believe that (250 feet) creates that kind of a comfortable setback for the people that live across the street," Hansen said.

Other restrictions put in place include no visible concertina or barbed-wire fences, and minimal "spill over" of lighting onto neighbors' properties. The jail must be built to the city's "EAGLE" standard, which includes energy efficiency and a low environmental impact.

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

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