by Pat Grubb
A townhall meeting held February 14 to discuss possible changes to the Point Roberts Character Plan (PRCP) was long on Sturm und Drang but short on informed opinion and decision-making. Local resident George Wright nailed the atmosphere when he said anytime you get three people together in Point Roberts, “They’ll start arguing about the border or some other piss and moaning stuff.” On Tuesday night at the Gulf Road community center, the people were pissing and moaning about the character plan.
First enacted in 1994, the PRCP has been under review by a subcommittee of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC), members of which itself are appointed by the Whatcom County Executive to provide input into issues affecting Point Roberts. While much of the plan’s review involved minor technical changes, two potential changes remained to be determined and the townhall meeting was intended to allow the public to provide input on those and other aspects of the plan.
While the original plan called for new commercial structures to be marine and/or “turn of the last century” in appearance, the draft plan would also allow building designs described as “West Coast Modern.” An example of that style would be the U.S. border station. The second major change would impose the design standards on residential construction within those commercial areas subject to the character plan. Currently, the PRCP only applies to commercial structures in the general commercial zone on Tyee Drive and the resort commercial zone on Gulf Road. It does not apply to residential structures anywhere on the Point.
PRCAC chair Joel Lantz opened the meeting by stating that the committee would only hear comments involving the character plan and, as such, any discussion regarding a recent spate of code violation reports would be disallowed, pointing out that neither the committee nor the PRCP has anything to do with zoning or allowable uses. Back in October, the county issued 25 violation notices to property owners who had prohibited structures such as yurts or recreational vehicles on their property. Land uses are governed by Whatcom County Code Section 20.72 Point Roberts Special District, not the character plan.
The distinction was lost on many of the attendees, including one woman who kept waving an outdated zoning map from the 1994 character plan and insisted it applied to the entire Point. Others were simply against the plan in general. After loudly telling one supporter to “butt out,” local contractor Brian Calder said, “Point Roberts has done fine for 150 years, just leave it alone.” Earlier he had said, “I am for removal of the character plan. It seems that every eight years a new group comes in and tries to save the Point,” and blamed the closure of several businesses on the character plan. “It’s like Wally World meeting LaLaLand,” he added.
Former PRCAC head Arthur Reber disputed Calder’s conclusions, saying there was nothing in the character plan that had anything to do with businesses closing. A number of people including Reber credited the character plan in defeating a recent proposal to construct radio towers in Point Roberts.
Joan Dickerson, owner of the former Brewster’s Restaurant on Gulf Road, reminded the audience that she had been a member of the committee that created the plan in the first place. “The plan was written to create a cohesive retail community that would attract people and, in turn, create opportunities for people to come and live here,” she said. “The problem is, many of the lots on Gulf Road can’t be built for commercial uses because the lots are non-conforming,” and cited parking and septic system rules contained in Section 20.72.
Also voicing loud opposition to the character plan was Tom O’Brien who at one point waved a sheaf of papers containing, he said, the names of “100, 125 people” who were against the character plan. The list was later derided by Reber in a Facebook post, where he wrote, “It clearly has no legal force. It’s a bunch of names without addresses, phone numbers, email addresses or any other form of identification to show that the signers even exist, let alone live in Point Roberts or rent or own property here. It has no reasoned argument against the CP. It fails to note any downside to the CP or outline any rationale for thinking that repeal would improve the quality of life or the economic wellbeing of residents.”
Wright said, “I’m not opposed to a character plan, I’m not even opposed to the draft character plan. I own three lots on Gulf Road. I don’t think the plan is comprehensive enough … I think we have to stop thinking about this place in terms of restrictions but in terms of possibilities. I think we need to start talking about what can happen instead of what can’t happen.”
A followup meeting to resolve remaining questions of the draft character plan is in the process of being scheduled, according to Lantz. Notification of the public will take place once the date and time has been confirmed.