Under new leadership in Whatcom, Futurewise to try cooperation

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 20, 2014 

Futurewise, the organization that makes sure communities in Washington are following growth management law, has changed its tactics, its state director said.

The organization known for litigating growth disputes has been partnering with local governments to help them protect resource lands and prevent urban sprawl before legal action is needed, Executive Director Hilary Franz said in an interview Thursday, March 20.

A new hire at Futurewise, Whatcom Chapter Director Ryan Ericson, has the skills needed to work side by side with government planners, Franz said. He was a shoreline planner for the city of Bainbridge Island before starting with Futurewise on Monday, March 17.

"We want to be a resource to local government," Franz said. "We can bring the tools governments should have but don't have" after cutbacks during the recession.

Futurewise has been vilified by conservative property-rights advocates. Some even have accused the group of acting only out of self interest. Futurewise has been challenging the county's rural-growth rules since 2005.

Former County Council member Kathy Kershner, who lost her bid for re-election in 2013, attacked Futurewise during her campaign.

"It does not have anything to do with protecting rural character or preventing sprawl," Kershner said of Futurewise's motives in June 2013. "It has to do with control - controlling you and controlling us."

Franz said under her leadership Futurewise should have broader appeal. She didn't want it to "just be an environmental organization."

"We're trying to get back to the basic goals of the (Growth Management) Act," Franz said. "This has an economic development context, a social context ... and the environment."

Futurewise remains in litigation with the county. Franz said she would like to bring those disputes to an end.

"Early conversations are happening," she said.

As a member of a city planning staff, Ericson did everything from permit reviews to long-range planning, with water resources being his specialty. Futurewise places a high priority on helping to solve the county's contentious water-rights dispute, which involves farmers, tribes, industries and agencies that provide water, including the city of Bellingham and the Public Utility District of Whatcom County.

Ericson was hired in part because of the experience he would bring to that challenge, Franz said.

"We would love to be part of making that happen," she said.

Futurewise's previous Whatcom director, Kate Blystone, left in October 2013 to work for RE Sources for Sustainable Communities.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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