Friday, November 16, 2007

Growth Management: Options for Closing the 'Gap' on UGA Boundaries

"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts."
-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan

“Opinion is power.” - Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1816

`Tunnel' history, is the kind that can lead an investigator to know more and more about less and less. - Anonymous
Note: This subject is to be discussed at the City Council's Monday, November 19th meeting as part of the Planning Committee's agenda, estimated to start no sooner than 2:25 PM.
The map and information given later appears in printed form on pages 149-151 of the Council packet issued yesterday.

At City Council request, the City Staff has summarized Options for Closing the 'Gap' on UGA Boundaries.

This 'gap' refers to the difference between assessments of new UGA land supply needs between the City and the County.

The County has requested a 'reconciliation' meeting with the City to come to agreement on its future land supply, because in its opinion the City's requests are excessive.

Of course, this is a decision to be made by the County, supposedly with City 'input'.

The City's 'input' has already been duly approved with its Comprehensive Plan last year [2006], and has also withstood a legal challenge and was declared compliant with the Growth Management Act by the Growth Management Review Board.

By contrast, the County has not completed its GMA work and is under threat for both legal action and penalty for its protracted tardiness.
Therefore, the County is in a self-inflicted big hurry, and wants the City to simply obey its land supply wishes, notwithstanding the fact-based diligence behind the City's efforts to date!

What is wrong with that picture?

But that is where we are now.

The City's land supply estimate was the result of over 3 years of painstaking effort in analyzing actual land use efficiency and problems encountered in insuring the anticipated urban density and associated design features are achieved.

There exist several barriers to achieving optimal densities with the City Limits and Urban Growth Areas, and these have been pretty well identified and taken into account.

Some of these barriers will require significant time and effort to fix because existing zoning cannot be easily adjusted, particularly within the City Limits.

The same barriers also exist in the County-controlled UGAs, partly because past City policy regarding annexation before extending water & sewer services has been excessively lax, allowing the UGAs to develop in a piecemeal fashion without addressing all urban needs consistently and concurrently.

Rather than addressing these underlying barriers to achieving optimal urban density -a daunting task- some people would rather just 'fudge' the so-called 'safety factor' which is an accepted device for addressing the basic uncertainties in estimating land supply needs.

While doing that is certainly tempting and not illegal, it is also lazy, simplistic and does not help resolve the underlying problems in any reasonable way.

Proponents of the 'fudging' approach rationalize reducing the 'safety' by saying it 'rewards inefficiency'.
That may be true, but it also recognizes the inherent -and growing [due to increasing critical areas]- uncertainty in developing land supply estimates.

The 'safety' factor adopted by the City was 25% for most areas and 0% for others, resulting in an overall value of 17%.
The Growth Management Review Board routinely allows up to a 25% 'safety' factor without even needing to review its basis!
That should say something about it reasonableness, don't you think?

The City's last adopted Comp Plan allowed up to a 50% 'safety' factor and that was hotly debated and thought to be too low at the time.
In actuality, 50% was excessive and a lesser figure was applied, which did allow the City & County to continue being lax in doing something to actually achieve optimal density.

But, even with all these things considered, the City is still close to being essentially on track in meeting its earlier land use projections.
That is remarkable only for its proving that setting easy goals means you are more likely to meet them!

So, some tightening up is definitely needed, but is it likely this can be achieved all at one time?
Without any underlying changes?
Are we to believe that some sort of 'immaculate conception' is going to happen just because we wish for it?

I don't think so!
Let's get serious.

The proposed 'reconciliation' exercise may close the gap, or part of it.
But what will remain to be closed will become the truest sense of sprawl, and it will happen in the County, not the City.

Just like Cinderella's slipper did not fit her ugly step sister, an artificially low land supply estimate will not accommodate all the growth the City -in good faith- committed itself to take!

So, whatever population 'shortfall' is left over from this exercise will just be treated as an accounting adjustment - a reconciliation in that parlance- that will solve nothing but the purposes of the lazy idealogues who prefer to substitute whim for facts.

The City will be able to cover its butt for the number of new folks it accepts, but the rest will undoubtedly go elsewhere - likely into unincorporated areas of the County.
That's called SPRAWL folks, and for all the ranting to the contrary we've heard, the County -by its actions- actually loves it!

I'm sorry to feel like the land supply determination has been monumental waste of time, but I do.
I am tempted to resent the effort the City expended toward a fact-based analysis, for the simple reason that effort is not being shown the respect it serves.
As someone trained in the discipline of science-based reasoning, it is offensive to see it so casually dismissed by people who ought to know better and value information that is grounded in actual experience!

It almost seems as if some sort of 'faith-based' planning is being substituted for the real thing, doesn't it?
But, with the County's Planning Staff gutted and the type of leadership being demonstrated from that jurisdiction, maybe its not so surprising after all.

Even at that, we have learned some things from this exercise, like what needs to be fixed, and maybe who doesn't want to bother fixing it.
But, that's about it.
And, the pot does get to call the kettle black,

Anyway, here's the outline of the land supply 'reconciliation' exercise.
Care to bet on where we'll end up?
Your guess is as good as mine.

For you wonks out there, you may wish to revisit my August 16 blog, on Growth Management 102.
There are some commonalities with this article.

The information below lists options for closing the 'gap' between the City's and Whatcom County's proposed UGA boundaries.
The document presents the recommendations of County Council, County staff, and City staff, and is based upon conditions that exist at this moment in time.

An annotated map of the Northern UGAs and 5-Year Review Areas accompanied this writing, and is crudely reproduced here.
Click on it to enlarge the image.

Those interested can also view this map when City staff reviews this information with the City Council at its November 19, 2007 meeting.

City Staff - suggested options for closing the gap between the City of Bellingham & Whatcom County proposed Urban Growth Areas – November 12 th, 2007

The land supply analysis generated for the City of Bellingham’s 2006 Comprehensive Plan identified shortfalls in land necessary to accommodate 5,215 people, and 225 net acres for future employment.

The following list includes UGA expansion areas proposed through a County Council resolution, additional areas suggested by City & County planning staff, and a further list of options suggested by City staff to close the gap in population accommodation and net acres for future employment.

It is important to note that the additional City staff options include the Bear Creek area, and the 80-acre northern portion of King Mountain.
These areas do accommodate some population and employment infill, but are also critically important for construction of future east-west transportation links.
The Slater, Horton, and Van Wyck links are vital to the growth allocated to the King Mountain, Aldrich Rd, and Cordata areas.

These links will also provide much needed relief for already overburdened east-west arterials inside Bellingham to the south, and in the rural County to the north.

UGA expansion areas included by County Council in their resolution:

• Add King & Queen Mtn. 5 Year Review areas accommodating @2,000 people & @40 net acres for commercial/industrial land.

Additional UGA expansion areas suggested by City & County staff:

• Add 20 acres of the Bear Creek 5 Year Review area recently purchased by the City for Parks.

• Add the northerly remaining 80 acres of King Mtn. 5 Year Review Area accommodating 5 net acres of commercial/industrial land & the west portion of the Horton/Van Wyck transportation corridor.

If all the above are accepted, then:

Remaining population left to accommodate = 3,215 people

Remaining land left to accommodate future employment = 185 net acres

Additional options suggested by City staff for closing the gap:

• Add remainder of the Bear Creek 5 Year Review area accommodating @500 people & the Horton & Slater transportation corridors, and

• Add Stuart Smith 5 Year Review area up to 1,320 feet north of Kelly Road accommodating @80 net acres of commercial/industrial land, and

• Complete further review (possibly through a supplemental EIS) of the following areas:

o The 80 acre Meas/Lipscomb ownership potentially accommodating @600 people & the central portion of the Horton/Van Wyck transportation corridor.

o The 80 acres north of City Limits on either side of Hannegan Rd. potentially accommodating @35 net acres of commercial/industrial land, and

• Rezone URMX areas in Aldrich Road, Bakerview/James, & Dewey Valley UGA’s (maps 5, 7, 8, & 9) from minimum 6 to minimum 8 units per acre accommodating an additional 2,700 people.

-- Or --

• Reduce Bellingham’s 20-year 31,600 population forecast.
That's all we know right now folks.
Stay tuned for the next exciting episode, and hopefully the conclusion of this particular exercise


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