By Meg Olson
There was less flash and more substance to the discussion as the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) continued to wrestle with what to do with the character plan during a series of March meetings.
“The tone of this meeting is so much different than that Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre,” said committee member and taxpayers association representative Jeff Christopher at a special March 6 meeting of the committee, referring to the group’s previous meeting on the topic.
While the previous meeting proposed to address the two substantive changes in a draft revised plan, it had devolved into an argument over whether or not the plan should exist.
After consulting with their boards the groups represented on the committee came to this meeting ready to repeal or defend the plan. Chamber representative David Gellatly led with a motion unanimously approved by his board stating the character plan was “superfluous and unnecessary,” and requesting the county repeal the plan and incorporate language regulating signage and lighting into the Point Roberts Special District section of the county zoning ordinance (Chapter 20.72).
Taxpayer’s association president Mark Robbins read a statement prepared by treasurer Jennifer Urquhart in support of retaining the plan. “It is imperative the community create a way to ensure we retain local control and a plan of some sort is critical,” she wrote. Currently PRCAC is involved in review of proposed commercial projects only in regards to their compliance with the character plan. Urquhart insisted they needed to remain in that role, and perhaps revising the old plan had been the wrong approach. “If we were starting from scratch, what would a community development character plan look like?”
Several other audience members also cautioned against abandoning the only document that gave the community any official local voice on development. “Don’t repeal until you can replace,” said Steve Wolf.
While the voters’ association was in favor of repealing the character plan, their representative and committee chair Joel Lantz was quick to point out they did not favor giving up local control. “I don’t think there’s any intention of relinquishing advisory and oversight functions of PRCAC for building permits,” he said. He suggested they “incorporate the important parts” of the character plan into 20.72 and “as part of that take a broader look at 20.72.”
The distinction between what is character plan and what is zoning code persisted from the previous meeting, with certain audience members crediting the character plan with defeating the radio tower proposal and halting the proliferation of gas stations. Gellatly pointed out the height restriction of 25 feet exists in 20.72, and that the character plan simply references that code. The character plan addresses design criteria but not uses, which are regulated in the zoning code.
Joan Dickerson, former Brewster’s Fine Foods owner, suggested they focus on harmonizing the two codes. “We’re all caught up with repeal and replace when what we’re really talking about doing is merging two documents,” she said.
Others agreed their goal was to simplify regulations, eliminate confusion and retain local oversight. “I strongly suggest PRCAC not only retain their oversight capacity but actually codify that into 20.72,” Lantz said. “Every commercial building permit or sign permit should come before PRCAC for review against 20.72.”
Christopher suggested committee members and their associations look at what the “greatest hits” of the current draft character plan were. “The character plan isn’t perfect, it’s awkward,” he said. “But there’s a tremendous work product here that shouldn’t be ignored. We need to take the greatest hits of the character plan that should be woven into 20.72.”
Gellatly withdrew his motion to repeal the plan with a consensus among board members that they would come to the next meeting with what they and the groups they represent feel is the meat of the character plan. “My board certainly feels the color you paint your building and the width of boards is superfluous, but there’s important stuff like lighting, signage and building mass,” he said.
Meeting on March 14 with a crowded agenda Lantz introduced a motion brought forward by Christopher on behalf of the board of the taxpayers association. “The existence of these two sets of regulations and guidelines adds confusion and perplexity,” Christopher read. “Both documents are overdue for review and revision.” The motion asked that PRCAC “harmonize and update the Character Plan and Title 20.72 as one document.” The move would “reduce restrictions, simplify the permitting process while retaining desired esthetic and environmental protection,” he said. “While also “retaining a simple and effective mechanism for the community to advise the county whether a proposed commercial project complies with the revised 20.72.”
The motion passed, and a special meeting was scheduled for March 16 to move forward. “There’s a lot of work to get done and get done quickly,” Lantz said.
At that meeting the committee took one vote, to recommend the county take the existing character plan and the draft by extension and incorporate it into Title 20. “Once this is done there will be no character plan,” Lantz said. “Over the next few months we will put forward text amendments to modify that language in 20.72.”