Hearing on character plan to be held tonight

The Whatcom County Planning commission will hold a public hearing tonight as the next step in deciding the fate of the Point Roberts character plan.

The hearing is on the agenda for the commission’s April 13 meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in the conference room of the Northwest Annex at 5280 Northwest Drive in Bellingham.

After concerns were raised at the April 11 meeting of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) over the March 30 staff report, which recommended “repealing” the plan and “amending” zoning code to include basic development standards, county staff revised their recommendation and will present a less drastic option. The All Point Bulletin was not given notice of the staff report.

Released April 12, the updated staff report proposes amending the Point Roberts Subarea Plan, part of the county’s comprehensive plan, to remove the character plan from that document. Simultaneously, the Point Roberts Special District, part of the county zoning code, would be amended to turn portions of it (the character plan) into the “Point Roberts Design Guidelines.”

“Essentially what we’re doing is taking the character plan out of the comprehensive plan,” said senior county planner Cliff Strong. “The reason is because if anyone wants to change the character plan as it is now, it constitutes a comprehensive plan amendment and can only be done once a year.” Zoning text amendments can be done at any time.

Whatcom County Planning and Development Services (PDS) is proposing the change in response to a request from PRCAC, formalized in a motion at their March 14 meeting to “harmonize and update” the character plan and the zoning code. A primary goal of the committee in making that recommendation was to “reduce restrictions, simplify the permitting process while retaining desired esthetic and environmental protection.”

Strong said the proposed changes would incorporate basic development standards from the character plan – such as height, landscaping, PRCAC review and parking – directly into the zoning code. The architectural design guidelines in the character plan would be converted to the Point Roberts Design Guidelines, which would be adopted as an addendum to the code. “Getting them out of the subarea allows us to modify them anytime,” Strong said.

PRCAC president Joel Lantz said committee members’ task would then be to work with the community to determine the “greatest hits” of the character plan guidelines and to cut out those deemed overly restrictive. “The idea is as soon as this is submitted we get busy right away,” he said.

The current process comes on the heels of over a year and a half of review of the existing character plan by a PRCAC subcommittee, and the creation of a draft. PRCAC changed directions following a loud call to repeal the plan, seen by some as hampering economic development, at their February 14 meeting. “We’re trying to address those concerns,” said PRCAC member Jeff Christopher.

The April 13 planning commission hearing is a chance for any member of the public to submit comments. Written comments can be sent to bboxx@co.whatcom.wa.us. Those in attendance at the meeting will have an opportunity to offer up to three minutes of testimony. Following the hearing the commission will discuss whether to modify, accept or reject the proposed changes.

The matter will them move on to county council in May or early June and will move forward with the rest of the 2017 proposed changes to the county comprehensive plan.

Both the original and revised staff reports are available at wa-whatcomcounty.civicplus.com/1660/Planning-Commission-Meeting-Materials. The original and draft character plans are also available at prrva.org.

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