The state growth management hearing board has invalidated Whatcom County’s proposed new comprehensive plan designations for rural areas, including Point Roberts.
In a December 22 order, the board gave the county a 90-day extension to get comprehensive plan designations for rural areas into compliance with the state Growth Management Act (GMA). In the order the board acknowledges that issues of rural density and how to manage it in Whatcom County are “of unusual scope and complexity” and need additional time to be resolved.
In the meantime, however, the board agreed to a request by public interest group Futurewise to declare the county’s criteria for the designation of “limited areas of more intense rural development” (LAMIRDs) invalid, effectively halting most new development applications in those areas.
The county is proposing that Point Roberts be designated one large LAMIRD, a “rural community” rather than the patchwork of rural, small town commercial and resort/recreational designations in the current comprehensive plan. Therefore the recent ruling will affect all proposed development on the Point except single homes, lot line adjustments and remodels.
The county has been reworking its comprehensive plan since 2005 after the board found it out of compliance with the GMA. The county pursued several years of legal challenges but was denied by the state Supreme Court in 2009, forcing the county to revise its comprehensive plans once again to bring it into compliance.
In their recent decision the growth management hearings board found that the county conceded it had “allowed subdivision ‘in and around’ LAMIRDs in the absence of compliant GMA criteria” for those areas.
In documents filed with their extension request the county admitted seven applications in Point Roberts that have vested since 2005. “This is a troubling admission as both this board and the state Supreme Court have previously found the county’s LAMIRD criteria to be noncompliant with the GMA,” the board wrote.
Continuing to allow these criteria to be used, the board found, would “promote the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling low-density development,” which would substantially interfere with the fulfillment of state growth policies.
Whatcom County planning division manager Roxanne Michaels said the county was still accepting applications but projects that were not exempt under the invalidity order, such as single-family homes, would not be vested. “We are a little bit in flux,” she said.
Any new applications for new commercial construction, subdivisions, or conditional uses would not be vested under existing criteria and would have to wait for the county to develop new ones that comply with state laws.