Bellingham: Group wants to put brakes on growth

Emily Weiner, The Bellingham Herald


Whatcom County, WA - A group of Whatcom County residents who believe the county's quality of life and amenities should be protected from the dangers of sprawl and rapid growth have formed a new organization, Pro-Whatcom.

Members of the group plan to speak tonight at a joint meeting of the Bellingham and Whatcom County planning commissions, where they will call for policies that put a brake on growth.

The planning commissioners began in August reviewing recommendations for policies to guide development in Bellingham's Urban Growth Area and surrounding rural areas. By early next year, the Bellingham City Council and Whatcom County Council will put the recommendations on their agendas in order to decide how large a population increase Bellingham will plan to accommodate and what area around the city will be allowed to develop at urban densities.

Pro-Whatcom, a new organization, can be contacted at; or P.O. Box 2303, Bellingham WA 98227; or 671-0813; or online at

At 7 tonight, the Bellingham and Whatcom County planning commissions will meet jointly for one hour of public testimony followed by a work session. The subject is updating the plan for Bellingham's Urban Growth Area and surrounding rural areas. Location: Whatcom County Council chambers, 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.

The policy recommendations being discussed and other background information, including population projections, is available online at planning/source/ html/urbanfringe.htm , or from the Bellingham planning department, 210 Lottie St.; or the Whatcom County planning department, 5280 North-west Drive, suite A. Details: 676-6982 or 676-6907.

Washington cities are required under the state Growth Management Act to have an adequate land supply to accommodate housing for the number of people expected, based on whatever population projection is accepted.

Planners working for the county and all its cities want development rules to be based on the highest of three population projections offered by a consultant last year. These projections show Bellingham (including its current Urban Growth Area, the land slated for eventual annexation) growing by about 42,000 people in 20 years. That would bring the 2002 population of about 81,000 to more than 123,000 in 2022.

The highest projections also show Whatcom County growing by about 88,000 people in 20 years. That would bring the 2002 population of 173,000 to about 261,000 in 2022.

Planners think accepting the highest projections will best protect Bellingham's quality of life by fostering well-designed expansion of infrastructure and spurring government officials to increase density, therefore limiting sprawl.

Enough housing

But Pro-Whatcom members want planning to be based on accommodating the lowest population projections. That would project an increase of 23,000 people in Bellingham in 20 years, bringing the population to 104,000 in 2022. The lowest projection shows an increase of 42,000 in Whatcom County in 20 years, bringing the population to 215,000.

An e-mail distributed by Pro-Whatcom says the organization wants the lowest projections to become official because that would mean there is already enough housing inventory within the current boundaries of the Urban Growth Area, at current densities. Therefore the state mandate to accommodate growth wouldn't require enlarging the UGA or increasing the allowed densities in any city neighborhoods.

Pro-Whatcom is collecting signatures for a petition that states:

"1.It's time to stop talking only about how and where to grow, and focus also on stopping sprawl and rapid growth.

"2.While we may support government policies promoting affordable housing and downtown development, we oppose taxpayer subsidies of other development. Those who profit from development should pay impact fees that cover its full cost.

"3.We should follow the provisions of the current County Comprehensive Plan that call for preserving:

The rural character and agricultural health of our county.

The vitality and identity of Bellingham's urban neighborhoods.

The individual character of our small towns and communities.

Local control of land-use issues."

Pro-Whatcom lists the following Whatcom County residents in its Leadership Group: Fred Berman, Robin Dexter, Chris Dillard, Rick Dubrow, Dean Fearing, Cindy Franklin, Deb Gaber, John Hymas, John McLaughlin, Dave Pros, Alan Rhodes, Susan Rhodes, Harvey Schwartz, Stephan Trinkhaus, Dan Warner, Marilyn Williams and Joe Yaver.


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