NOTE: Correction to the estimate of potential build-out, thanks to Rebecca Craven, Policy Analyst for the Whatcom County Council:
“One of the projects I’ve been working on with PDS staff is a thorough parcel analysis of potentially developable and partially developed lots in the portion of the watershed under the County’s jurisdiction.
We recently reported our preliminary results to the Council’s Natural Resources Committee.
PDS staff has coordinated its efforts with COB staff, and while their numbers are still slightly different from each other (for reasons I’m happy to explain if you want that much detail), neither staff estimate is close to the 3208 you reference in your blog entry.
The estimates are ~2200 potential units, which at a population density of 2.1 persons per household as used in the COB land supply analysis, works out to a potential population increase of about 4620.”
For at least the last 10 years there have been steady calls for Bellingham and Whatcom County to enact some kind of a 'moratorium' to stop more building around Lake Whatcom.
Of course, any action either the City or the County takes can only technically apply to lands under its respective jurisdiction, unless other jurisdictions adopt similar steps voluntarily.
About 2% of this watershed actually falls within City Limits, with Whatcom County having jurisdiction over 96% and Skagit County accounting for the remaining 2%.
Since its Watershed Acquistion Ordinance first took effect in 2001, the City has been able to purchase several critical parcels outside its limits which have increased its overall control to about 5% of the watershed.
Back in 1999, when DOE first placed Lake Whatcom on its 303 (d) list, instead of enacting a moratorium, the City Council fortunately had the sufficient 5 votes to enact an Emergency Interim Ordinance, which had the effect of a temporary moratorium on clearing, grading and development in its portion of the watershed.
Unfortunately, Whatcom County's experience was much more problematic and painful. Its actions, regardless of how well-intended, actually served to exacerbate the development situation before new regulations could go into effect.
Even now, after several extensions, the County's 'temporary' moratorium remains just that -temporary!
In 1999, the City's 'Silver Beach Ordinance' did impose more stringent regulations which addressed 4 critical issues; density, allowed uses, impervious surface limits, and seasonal limits on construction activities that impact naturally vegetated land.
Together, these 4 elements represented then -as they do now- the factors considered most critical in regulating growth that can already -legally- happen.
Were these steps sufficient? That answer has to be 'no'.
But these were the ones that could be taken at the time, and they do represent a good part of the issues which Whatcom County faces as well.
What else could the City have done?
Glad you asked! Here's my take of the answer:
The City's Citizen's Task Force looked hard at how the Silver Beach Ordinance could be strengthened and made more fair and flexible.
In its determinations, some 53 ideas in 28 different categories were identified.
Of these, 23 ideas received unanimous or nearly unanimous support, and were forwarded to staff for incorporation into the final ordinance. In turn, both the Planning Commission and City Council gave the revised ordinance their unanimous approval.
These actions now reside in the Bellingham Municipal Code as Title 16 - Environment; Chapter 16.80 - Lake Whatcom Reservoir Regulatory Chapter.
You can find it on the City's website and read it for yourself.
What was left out of that Ordinance which can now be reconsidered?
Answer: a number of things, most which are also more controversial!
The best examples will likely include those categories and ideas which the 1999 Task Force identified and considered.
For those who don't want to wade through my lengthy blog of 12/4/07, below is a brief synopsis of the 28 different categories and 53 distinct (ideas), 23 of which were incorporated into BMC 16.80.
Additionally, there were others that attracted separate action, like the new Street Standard, Shoreline Management Program and Comprehensive and Neighborhood Plans.
Category 1. SCIENCE (1)
Category 2. PUBLIC EDUCATION (3)
Category 3. MORATORIUM (1)
Category 4. COMPREHENSIVE PLAN (1)
Category 5. NEIGHBORHOOD PLAN (1)
Category 6. DENSITY/MINIMUM LOT SIZE (2)
Category 7. TRANSFER OF DEVELOPMENT RIGHTS (TDRs) (1)
Category 8. BUILDING SETBACKS & PARKING REQUIREMENTS (2)
Category 9. PERMITTED/CONDITIONAL USES (4)
Category 10. SUBDIVISION CODE (1)
Category 11. STREET STANDARDS (4)
Category 12. OPERATING ORDINANCES, SEPA, CLEARING, GRADING, STORMWATER (4)
Category 13. WETLAND & STREAM ORDINANCE (2)
Category 14. SHORELINE MASTER PLAN (2)
Category 15. IMPERVIOUS LIMITS (1)
Category 16. ADDITIONS & REMODELS (2)
Category 17. PERVIOUS SURFACE LIMITS (1)
Category 18. TRANSFER OF IMPERVIOUS CREDITS (1)
Category 19. FLEXIBLE INCENTIVES (1)
Category 20. NATIVE VEGETATION & LANDSCAPING (2)
Category 21. VEGETATION MANAGEMENT (1)
Category 22. SEASONAL CONSTRUCTION LIMITS (3)
Category 23. CONSTRUCTION PRACTICES (3)
Category 24. FEES/ASSESSMENTS (2)
Category 25. PUBLIC WATERSHED LAND ACQUISITION IN THE WATERSHED (4)
Category 26. ENFORCEMENT (1)
Category 27. BENCHMARK/EFFECTIVENESS OF ACTIONS (1)
Category 28. ONGOING ADVISORY/STAKEHOLDER GROUP (1)
It might be instructive to recall how truly divisive the word 'moratorium' was in those days.
So, here's the way the Task Force split among the alternatives considered on that issue:
Category 3. MORATORIUM.
(2) A1. There should be a moratorium on virtually all watershed construction forever
(7) B1. There should be a moratorium until a Total Maximum Daily Load study is completed
(2) C1. There should be a moratorium on single family construction until ordinances are revised
(0) D1. There should be a moratorium on subdivisions only; lots of adequate size could be built
(6) E1. No moratorium is necessary, current protection efforts are underway and evolving
CONCLUSION: Split opinion and no action.
Note 7 votes simply put this option off until the TMDL was issued!
That's now, folks.
Also, it might be instructive to analyze exactly what amount and type of new development remains
to be addressed within the City's portion of the watershed.
Here's what the City's Planning Department advises:
"Our estimated residential capacity in the city's portion of the watershed (not including land area that drains into Whatcom Creek) is 132 potential units of which 105 are single lots with the balance on 10 lots that could accommodate more than one unit if maximum development happened.
The numbers are based upon lot size, so the 10 lots contain at least twice the minimum lot size for a single family."
That's somewhat more than I would have guessed since 10 years ago the estimate was about 140 in total, and since that time the minimum buildable lot size has been changed to 13,300 SF for a 2000 SF impervious footprint.
Also, the City has purchased several lots in the vicinity of Silver Beach School, and some homeowners have availed themselves of the provision that additional footprint can be acquired by transferring credits from other lots in this neighborhood.
But, if 132 is the answer, that still represents a good opportunity for up-front mitigation of future potential harmful effects.
By comparison, the most recent number from the County's watershed area is 3208, which might accommodate up to 15,000 more people.
Please explain why the County can't -or won't- do more about that?
After all, the TMDL ought to provide some incentive -and cover- for them, too?
From COB website:
Lake Whatcom Watershed Moratorium
A recent draft report from the WA Department of Ecology and another from Western Washington University have provided additional evidence that the health of Lake Whatcom, the drinking water source for some 91,000 people, remains threatened by various by-products of development in the watershed.
On May 19, the Bellingham City Council approved an emergency ordinance establishing a four-month moratorium on divisions of land and building permits within the Lake Whatcom Watershed. In accordance with State law, the Council will conduct a public hearing on the moratorium within the next 60 days.
Notice of the public hearing will be posted on the City's website and advertised in the local media.
I invite all those interested to review the former Task Force Minutes posted on 12/4/07, then suggest which ideas can be extended further, and which are now ripe for action.
Quite apart from the characterization I have heard, that this moratorium is mostly symbolic, there are some good things that can now get done to good effect.
Some may prefer to hit home runs than singles and sacrifices, because that's where the quick fame lies.
But the reality of our current situation is that it will take a continuity of selfless team effort to keep 'saving the stick' for the next batter!
If we can't meaningfully use the TMDL issuance to take additional decisive action, when can we do it?
One other thing; it's always easier to eat oatmeal that has already been grown, harvested, processed and cooked by someone else.
Why not learn something and try to avoid re-inventing the same wheel?
It's also easier to point fingers and discount the actions taken by another entity, than to take effective action yourself!
The Silver Beach Ordinance, while imperfect, did blaze a good trail that ought to be followed better than it was.
That is why I've bothered to document the Task Force's work so carefully; because it can provide the solid foundation needed to make continuous progress on preserving the Lake Whatcom Reservoir.
So build on it!
And don't lose sight of what we are trying to accomplish for those who will come after us.