As promised, to stay on schedule in my five-part Q&A with Whatcom County Council candidates from District 1, I offer Part 4 about the comprehensive plan update.
As one of the reporters who regularly handles obscure, complex, and some-other-adjective-close-to-boring topics, I need to say something about what a “comprehensive plan update” is and why anyone would care.
Are you concerned about how Bellingham, the county at large or any of its smaller cities will grow over the next 20 years? Are you concerned about how much it will cost to lay more sewer pipe, build more roads, and hire more firefighters and police officers to handle that growth? Are you worried about whether the county and cities will be able to protect natural resources and the environment in the face of all this growth? Do you wonder where the jobs will be for all these new residents?
Then you care about the comprehensive plan update.
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The update is due to be completed by mid-2016, which means next year’s County Council will have a hand in what it looks like. So I asked candidates Bruce Ayers, Todd Donovan, Theresa Sygitowicz and Emily Weaver a question about the obscure-but-actually-not-boring comp plan update.
If you are elected, you will help shape how the county will grow over the next 20 years as council will have the final say on the comp plan update. What would you like to see included in the update?
The Comprehensive Plan should not be an individual, agenda-driven document. It is the foundation for future land-use planning and zoning restrictions. It should reflect adopted comprehensive plan elements. These policies and procedures should cover such things as expanding corporate limits, extending public water and sewer systems, dedicating streets and drainage easements, and offering economic development incentive packages.
It should and must be based on careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of existing conditions, environmental concerns, public testimony and the need to make room for inevitable growth projection as provided by state agencies. It should plan for needed future development and include recommendations for implementing environmentally sensitive mitigation and plans.
While on the Bellingham City Council we met for 41 straight weeks updating the City’s Comprehensive Plan. I am very familiar with this process and elements of these planning documents.
Again working in an environment of trust, mutual respect, shared goals and cooperation I believe we can plan for the future of our community without the heavy hand of government regulation and restrictions.
A predictably of policy and procedures for new land owners. We need to have clear and concise guidelines. If a citizen/land owner wants to look at the possibility to adjust their zoning, the rules and regulations should be clearly understood.
The plan needs more detail on how school districts and the county can coordinate long-term planning so as many new schools as possible are located in walkable communities. The update should also include only limited increases in our existing UGAs (urban growth areas, the land just outside a city’s borders set up to be eventually annexed).
Planning is one of the things I really loved working on, and that is why I have also served on the Board of Equalization for many years. Addressing the fairness of taxation and the recognition of “highest and best use” and hearing the passion people have for their land makes you really invested in the review of our Comp plan. I think we need to hold meetings around the county to hear how the citizens feel it is working and what are the conflicts in the implementation stages. I want a better commitment to water resource management, farming, tiny home and nontraditional housing options. I think we should have different council members pick an area that they really want to focus on and work more closely with stakeholders to prioritize the work of the council planning and development committee. Economic impact work should be included and a better assessment of open space uses and of course a plan for the how we finance and make the plan sustainable for the future. We also need to be clear on our need to work with tribal governments on how our goals for planning work in areas we share. Business clarity and service to the public should be a part of our plans. Transportation improvements and our own policies on capital improvements need to be reviewed. This is a lot but it is very important, and of course we need to see that the planning commission has the tools they need for the public process they undertake.
Coming Friday, July 24: the candidates’ own priorities for the council, plus their own accounting of how many council meetings they’ve attended.