Thursday, February 12, 2009

Clean, Safe Drinking Water and Smart Growth

Over on Northwest Citizen, Larry Horowitz posted an article regarding the importance of Growth Management Act population projections for the residents of Whatcom County. His article can be found here: Population Projections: Futurewise speaks

Larry also posted a schedule of public meetings to discuss population projections over the next couple of weeks.

Feb 12 (Thur) @ 7:00 pm: Bellingham Planning Commission public hearing to review the new 20-year population forecasts. Location: Bellingham City Council Chambers, City Hall, 210 Lottie St.

Feb 17 (Tues) @ 7:00 pm: Whatcom County Council & Planning Commission joint public hearing on alternative visions, UGA and regional land use concepts. Location: County Council Chambers, County Courthouse, 311 Grand Ave

Population projections are commonly used to describe the magnitude of human impacts to the environment.

In a 2004 paper, Dana Beach, with the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League writes, "the number of people in a region does not, in itself, determine environmental health. What matters is what these people do, where they live, and how they get around. By most measures, human impacts to the environment have grown considerably faster than the rate of population growth. Americans are consuming more land, driving more, boating more, and generally using more resources than they were 30 years ago. Sprawl is at the root of the problem."

Americans are deeply concerned about water quality, yet many citizens do not realize that sprawling development patterns across the nation are the second largest and fastest growing source of pollution to our lakes, streams, rivers and bays.

If we want to protect our drinking water, Bellingham Bay, Birch Bay and Puget Sound, we need to plan urban and rural growth carefully.

In fact, the linkage between sprawling growth patterns and water conditions creates a powerful argument for land use reform.

Stormwater runoff is one of the primary causes of pollution in watersheds. The second largest, and fastest growing, source of stormwater runoff is sprawl.

Studies have shown when impervious coverage in a watershed reaches ten percent, water chemistry suffers.

Recently, the City of Bellingham began drafting the Silver Beach Ordinance to control growth and mitigate stormwater runoff into Lake Whatcom from property within the city limits.

But Whatcom County is still building homes in the Tweed Twenty, Greenville, Brownsville, Academy and Hillsdale neighborhoods. Many of the county's developments drain directly into Lake Whatcom via Silver Beach Creek and a system of county ditches, depositing household pollutants and sediment into our drinking water.

A growing number of land use experts across the nation believe that comprehensive land use reform can protect aquatic resources from additional damage.

Nevertheless, Beach tells us, "in spite of extensive research affirming the ten percent rule, planners, environmental advocates, and the general public are largely unaware of the importance of watershed protection for water quality. The perception remains, in part perpetuated by environmental agencies and conventional regulatory programs, that watersheds can be developed without inflicting damage on rivers, lakes, and estuaries. This misconception should be dispelled. Just as important is the need to explain the range of community growth choices and how certain choices can protect water resources."

What are the current governing criteria for adopting comprehensive plans and development regulations?

WAC 365-195-335, 365-195 Growth management act--Procedural criteria for adopting comprehensive plans and development regulations.

(1) Requirements.

(a) Each county planning under the Act shall designate an urban growth area or areas within which urban growth shall be encouraged and outside of which growth can occur only if it is not urban in nature.

(b) Each city that is located in such a county shall be included within an urban growth area. An urban growth area may include more than a single city.

(c) An urban growth area may include territory that is located outside a city if such territory already is characterized by urban growth or is adjacent to territory already characterized by urban growth.

(d) Based upon the population growth management planning population projection made for the county by the office of financial management, the urban growth areas in the county shall include areas and densities sufficient to permit the urban growth that is projected to occur in the county for the succeeding twenty-year period. Each urban growth area shall permit urban densities and shall include greenbelt and open space areas.

(e) Urban growth should be located first in areas already characterized by urban growth that have existing public facility and service capacities to serve such development.

(f) Urban growth should be located second in areas already characterized by urban growth that will be served by a combination of both existing public facilities and services and any additional needed public facilities and services that are provided by either public or private sources.

(g) It is appropriate that urban government services be provided by cities and urban government services should not be provided in rural areas.

(2) General procedure.

(a) The designation process shall include consultation by the county with each city located within its boundaries.

(b) Each city shall propose the location of an urban growth area.

(c) The county shall attempt to reach agreement with each city on the location of an urban growth area within which the city is located.

(d) If an agreement is not reached with each city located within the urban growth area, the county shall justify in writing why it so designated an urban growth area.

(3) Recommendations for meeting requirements. The following steps are recommended in developing urban growth areas:

(a) County-wide planning policies. In adopting urban growth areas, each county should be guided by the applicable county-wide (and in some cases multicounty) planning policies. To the maximum extent possible, the creation of urban growth areas should result from a cooperative effort among the jurisdictions involved.

(b) General considerations. For all jurisdictions planning under the act, the urban growth area should represent the physical area within which that jurisdiction's vision of urban development can be realized over the next twenty years. The urban growth area should be based on densities selected to promote goals of the act - densities which accommodate urban growth served by adequate public facilities and discourage sprawl.

(c) Development of city proposals. In developing the proposal for its urban growth area, each city should engage in a process of analysis which involves the steps set forth in (d), (e), and (f) of this subsection.

(d) Determination of the amount of land necessary to accommodate likely growth. This process should involve at least:
(i) A forecast of the likely future growth of employment and population in the community, utilizing the twenty-year population projection for the county in conjunction with data on current community population, recent trends in population, and employment in and near the community and assumptions about the likelihood of continuation of such trends. Where available, regional population and employment forecasts should be used.
(ii) Selection of community growth goals with respect to population, commercial and industrial development and residential development.
(iii) Selection of the densities the community seeks to achieve in relation to its growth goals.
(iv) Estimation of the amount of land needed to accommodate the likely level of development at the densities selected.
(v) Identification of the amount of land needed for the public facilities, public services, and utilities necessary to support the likely level of development.
(vi) Identification of the appropriate amount of greenbelt and open space to be preserved or created in connection with the overall growth pattern.

(e) Determination of the geographic area to be encompassed to provide the necessary land. This process should involve at least:
(i) An inventory of lands within existing municipal boundaries which is available for development, including vacant land, partially used land, and land where redevelopment is likely.
(ii) An estimate of lands within existing municipal boundaries which are potentially available for public capital facilities and utilities necessary to support anticipated growth.
(iii) An estimate of lands which should be allocated to greenbelts and open space and lands which should be protected as critical areas.
(iv) If the lands within the existing municipal boundaries are not sufficient to provide the land area necessary to accommodate likely growth, similar inventories and estimates should be made of lands in adjacent unincorporated territory already characterized by urban growth, if any such territory exists.
(v) The community's proposed urban growth area should encompass a geographic area which matches the amount of land necessary to accommodate likely growth. If there is physically no territory available into which a city might expand, it may need to revise its proposed densities or population levels in order to accommodate growth on its existing land base.

(f) Evaluation of the determination of geographic requirements. The community should perform a check on the realism of the area proposed by evaluating:
(i) The anticipated ability to finance by all means the public facilities, public services, and open space needed in the area over the planning period.
(ii) The effect that confining urban growth within the areas defined is likely to have on the price of property and the impact thereof on the ability of residents of all economic strata to obtain housing they can afford.
(iii) Whether the level of population and economic growth contemplated can be achieved within the capacity of available land and water resources and without environmental degradation. (iv) The extent to which the plan of the county and of other communities will influence the area needed.

If, as a result of these evaluations, the area appears to have been drawn too small or too large, the city's proposal should be adjusted accordingly.

(g) County actions in adopting urban growth areas. The designation of urban growth areas should ultimately be incorporated into the comprehensive plan of each county that plans under the act. However, every effort should be made to complete the urban growth area designation process earlier, so that the comprehensive plans of both the county and the cities can be completed in reliance upon it. Before completing the designation process, counties should engage in a process which involves the steps set forth in (h) through (j) of this subsection.

(h) The county should determine how much of its twenty-year population projection is to be allocated to rural areas and other areas outside urban growth areas and how much should be allocated to urban growth.

(i) The county should attempt to define urban growth areas so as to accommodate the growth plans of the cities, while recognizing that physical location or existing patterns of service make some unincorporated areas which are characterized by urban growth inappropriate for inclusion in any city's potential growth area. The option of incorporation should be preserved for some unincorporated communities upon the receipt of additional growth.

(j) The total area designated as urban growth area in any county should be sufficient to permit the urban growth that is projected to occur in the county for the succeeding twenty-year period, unless some portion of that growth is allocated to a new community reserve established in anticipation of a proposal for one or more new fully contained communities.

(k) Actions which should accompany designation of urban growth areas. Consistent with county-wide planning policies, cities and counties consulting on the designation of urban growth areas should make every effort to address the following as a part of the process:
(i) Establishment of agreements regarding land use regulations and the providing of services in that portion of the urban growth area outside of an existing city into which it is eventually expected to expand.
(ii) Negotiation of agreements for appropriate allocation of financial burdens resulting from the transition of land from county to city jurisdiction.
(iii) Provision for an ongoing collaborative process to assist in implementing county-wide planning policies, resolving regional issues, and adjusting growth boundaries.

(l) Urbanized areas outside of urban growth areas.
(i) New fully contained communities. A county may establish a process, as part of its urban growth area designation, for reviewing proposals to authorize new fully contained communities located outside the initially designated urban growth areas. If such a process is established, the criteria for approval are as set forth in RCW 36.70A.350. The approval procedures shall be adopted as a development regulation. However, such communities may be approved only if a county reserves a portion of the twenty-year population projection for allocation to such communities. When a county establishes a new community reserve it shall reduce the urban growth area accordingly. The approval of an application for a new fully contained community shall have the effect of amending the comprehensive plan to include the new community as an urban growth area.
(ii) Master planned resorts. A county may establish procedures for approving master planned resorts constituting urban growth outside of an urban growth area. Such a resort may be authorized only if the comprehensive plan and development regulations of the county comply with the requirements of RCW 36.70A.360.

Water and Smart Growth:The Impacts of Sprawl on Aquatic Ecosystems

In closing - I hope the City of Bellingham takes a second look at the way it is permitting condos and apartment buildings downtown. For example, the 1000 block of Railroad Avenue lacks sufficient open space and parking for employees and residents. Employees and customers should not be forced to feed meters in order to shop or work in the area. Public market days are awful and there is insufficient parking for the disabled.

Children are forced to play on concrete and asphalt surfaces because there are no small parks or playgrounds close to the high rises.

Neighborhood playgrounds and community garden space would greatly enhance the quality of life for downtown residents and businesses.

Not everyone wants to be packed in to an area like sardines.

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