By Meg Olson

County approves zoning changes

Posted

Whatcom County Council has unanimously approved changes to Point Roberts zoning regulations recommended by the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC).

The only two speakers at the November 10 public hearing, held virtually, were PRCAC members Allison Calder and Steve Wolff who encouraged council to approve the proposed changes but said PRCAC and the community would need to move into a more comprehensive regulatory review.

“We acknowledge we have more work to do,” Calder said.

“We picked the things that were the most potentially interesting, the most potentially difficult,” Wolff said of the changes to Whatcom County Code 20.72, the Point Roberts Special District zoning regulations, before council.

“These were things that were really necessary,” such as changes to parking and storage regulations to allow more flexibility for businesses and get some property owners out from under enforcement action.

“A lot of Point Roberts was brought into the conversation,” Wolff said, during the course of 27 public meetings in Point Roberts on the proposed changes before they went to the county for approval.

As their October 15 virtual meeting PRCAC members discussed their next steps.

“These are our proposed changes now,” committee chair Stephen Falk said. “There is still more interest in doing a more comprehensive study so let’s start from a vision, find consensus in the community and go from there. This is not intended to be the end of the process.”

Falk said the first thing the committee needed to do was find funding. “We will need funding to do an economic development study and finding consensus in the community we may need to hire some professional help.”

Whatcom County senior planner Cliff Strong, who has worked with PRCAC in developing the proposed changes, agreed the community needs the resources to undertake a comprehensive review of planning documents and development regulations. “The economy is so different from what was hoped for and planned for when they were put in place. The current plan isn’t working for the community,” he said.

The Port of Bellingham funded the Point Roberts Strategic Economic Plan in 1999 and PRCAC members suggested the Port could be approached to fund a new study.

Falk also suggested the county, which through the county executive has designated PRCAC as its advisory body for Point Roberts, should be providing funding for it to operate.

“We have no funding,” he said. “This leads us to a small budget request so we can have, for example, our own website.” The committee also no longer has control of the email account created by past chair Joel Lantz who is no longer in the community and would like to establish a new one, but at whose cost?

A website and committee email account could also help create more options to gather community input, such as the coming selection of who should fill the at-large position currently held by Falk, whose terms up in January.

“I haven’t decided if I will seek to retain my seat and even if I do we need to get the word out now” and develop a selection method that maximizes community involvement, Falk said. The most recent selection process, through which Pamala Sheppard was selected for the second at-large position was by email voting.

Developing a priority list for the expenditure of Transportation Benefit District funds, now at over a million dollars, would also benefit from having a vehicle to gather community input beyond the comment period at the beginning of each PRCAC meeting, committee member Steve Wolff added. “And I think there definitely needs to be a discussion of the expansion of PRCAC,” said committee member Allison Calder. “With more members the committee could be more adaptable and get more done.”

Committee members unanimously endorsed a motion to put a request for annual funding of the committee forward to Whatcom County.

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