One of the major tools that Whatcom County has to prevent more development in the Lake Whatcom watershed — the drinking water source for more than half of the county — is currently a moratorium on building. It’s major because it literally stops the development being cited as a major source of the lake’s degradation (meaning more costs to taxpayers to increase and enhance the ability for the government to make sure your water is clean to drink).
The moratorium is designed to allow the county to work toward different regulations in the watershed to protect that drinking water source, but they’ve been very, very, very slow in coming.
The moratorium, which was supposed to be temporary, has been extended numerous times, to the chagrin of nearly all interested parties, whether it be those who don’t want the ban or those who would like a set of regulations to protect the lake through, say, downzones.
Last night, in a surprise move, the council voted to reject a permanent ban. One such council person who voted for it, another shocker, was County Councilman Ken Mann, considered to be on the losing end these days of many votes due to a conservative majority on the council.
But in a 6-1 vote, Mann helped reject the permanent ban.
*UPDATE* – Here’s Jared’s full story on the meeting last night.
It clearly was a shocking vote to some of his supporters, too, because on his blog this evening, Mann has decided to defend his actions (noting the anger from some) and says he wants to work toward a transfer of development rights program because he doesn’t want to use the “blunt instrument of a downzone.”
The problem with a TDR program? They don’t appear to be working very well. Or, rather, at all.
In a March 25, 2009 article by Growth & Transportation reporter Jared Paben wrote an article detailing two separate reports from both Bellingham and Whatcom County that stated not only has the city’s current TDR program not worked for Lake Whatcom watershed protection, if the county wanted to expand a program to protect agricultural lands, it likely wouldn’t be successful.
Even more glaring, even if a program were set up, it likely wouldn’t be used in an effective manner for the next decade.
A big deal as the county, city and Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District try to figure out how exactly to meet what will be severely-stringent mandates on reducing oxygen-choking phosphorous levels in the impaired water body. Not in 10 years, but now.
I can’t provide you with a direct link, because the article is more than a year old, so I’ll put it below the fold.
But Mann is committing to trying to do something effective, though he doesn’t have much detail yet.
One other issue with that, however, is Mann being in the minority on the council right now.
Take, for instance, a call to increase the level of detail in how the legislative body makes appointments to the council and boards and commissions. Mann said he wanted to increase transparency, so he wanted applications in two weeks before the council ever made a vote on them. He wanted to stop a council member nominated to fill a vacancy from being able to vote during the whole selection process, too.
After just the first meeting to hash out the details of the proposal, Mann was already sitting through committee meetings during a process that he clearly was no longer in control of (though he started it).
Since then, nearly none of his original proposal remains.
Would that happen to any TDR proposal he offers up?
Time will tell, but Mann very obviously has gotten at least some of his constituents mad at him, and mad enough he decided to respond on his blog.
This should be interesting.
Here’s Jared’s full story from 2009:
Under existing law, developers can transfer development rights from the Lake Whatcom watershed into urban areas north of Bellingham, but a new report from the city says the law hasn’t worked.
And a separate Whatcom County report says that if county government expanded the program to include the endangered agricultural lands, it probably wouldn’t be successful.
Meanwhile, city planners will soon propose law changes aimed at accomplishing the same thing as the existing ” transfer of development rights ” law. Instead of transferring rights , they’ll sell development rights in urban growth areas and use the money to buy watershed land or development rights .
The city’s goal is to curb development in the watershed that is damaging the quality of Lake Whatcom, drinking water source for the city’s residents.
The law currently allows owners of land in the Lake Whatcom watershed to sell the right to build houses to developers, who can then take those rights and build more homes in certain areas of Bellingham’s unincorporated urban growth area. But only one developer, Ralph Black, has ever done it, and he said he wouldn’t do it again.
According to the city’s report, by consultant Property Counselors, the extra development rights don’t have much or any value to developers, so they’d have to get a lot of rights for the purchase of one valuable watershed development right , for example.
Inside city limits, the recently annexed King Mountain neighborhood has the biggest single area that’s designated for using transferred development rights , city planner Greg Aucutt said. Most of the areas already allow for six homes per acre, which is where the market is, he said.
CAUSES OF PROBLEMS
The transferred rights lack value for the following reasons, according to the Property Counselors’ report:
— Developers in Bellingham’s urban growth area aren’t building as many homes as they are allowed to anyway. A study of 11 housing projects showed they were building only 43 percent of the number of homes zoning outright allows. Black said wetlands and other environmental constraints make it hard to even build as many homes as zoning allows.
— Uncertainty for developers. Black transferred development rights from his own watershed land to land he owned near East Bakerview and Irongate roads. After he signed papers to reduce development potential on his watershed land, he still had to face City Council approval to use the rights as part of the Stonecrest project, and neighbors fought back.
“Most developers are skeptical about the value of TDRs primarily because of uncertainty about exactly how it would work and whether higher density projects could ultimately be approved,” the consultant wrote.
“I believe it will not work without fundamental changes,” Black said. Developers need to be able to use the transferred rights if they meet certain predetermined conditions, not based on public opinion and the council’s approval.
AG LAND PROTECTIONS
Whatcom County is considering allowing transfers from agricultural lands to help meet its goal of preserving at least 100,000 acres of agricultural land, according to a new report by county planners.
But the chances of it working are low for many reasons, including that the value of development rights to developers is so low.
Also, developers may be able to develop more densely under law by doing things like providing affordable housing, child-care facilities or open space, according to the report.
CITY PLANS CHANGES
The city’s report recommended setting up a program because, while it might not be used in the next decade, it could become useful later when developable land becomes rarer.
In April, city planners expect to bring the Planning Commission a draft new law that would allow developers to buy outright from the city the right to build more housing or larger buildings in certain areas, Aucutt said. Prices would be set by the council.
The city would then take that money and buy land or development rights in the watershed, he said.