Whatcom’s newest planning commissioners come with plenty of experience

Two former government planners were appointed Tuesday, Jan. 27, to the Whatcom County Planning Commission.

From nine applicants, the County Council chose Nicole Oliver, a city of Bellingham employee who was a project manager in the planning department; and Michael Knapp, county planning director from 1996 to 1999.

Knapp, 74, says he’s semi-retired now and wants to spend time doing public service. His priority is to preserve rural character in a way that also promotes economic development outside cities.

“The city of Bellingham has to do a much better job of encouraging growth in the city,” Knapp said. He would like to see a program where rural property owners can transfer the right to build on their land into the city, in a way that enables them to still profit from their rural land.

“There’s creating more value-added vineyards, orchards — there’s so much potential value-added production that would give agriculture more profitability,” he said.

As two of nine planning commissioners, Knapp and Oliver will vote on recommendations to the council on changes to the land-use rules in the unincorporated county.

Oliver, 47, who moved from planning to the city’s IT department, said she was concerned that the Planning Commission and the council were repeatedly found out of compliance with the Growth Management Act on rural growth rules.

“I think my main priorities are clear, concise, transparent rule-making, and I think our county Planning Commission has had trouble succeeding sometimes in following the law, and the goals and policies and visions within the county planning documents,” Oliver said.

The county has since gotten back into compliance with the rules, except on a few issues, including the county’s oversight of rural well use.

The next major task for the Planning Commission will be the seven-year update of the county’s guiding long-term planning document, called the comprehensive plan.

The volunteer Planning Commission will next meet, with its two newest members, on Feb. 12.