Whatcom Watch Online

August 2006

Building Permit Allocation Program by John Lesow

John Lesow is a Responsible Development board member, who lives in Pt, Roberts.

Building permit allocation programs have proven effective in phasing growth in rapidly developing areas of the United States. Examples include Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Hudson, Ohio and Lake Sammamish, Washington, a suburb of Seattle.

The Lake Sammarnish program has been challenged by development interests in the courts and before the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board. The hearings board sustained the challenge earlier this year. The primary concern was the perceived inequity in the lottery method for allocating building permits. Despite this setback, we firmly believe that procedural problems should not deter advocates from implementing a building permit allocation program in Whatcom County to meet the 20-year population projections mandated by the Growth Management Act.

At present rates, the population projections for Whatcom County (61,000 additional residents by 2022) will be realized in a much shorter time frame. Under the present system, developers will then ask the county to upzone more land for development. Given the political pressure on council members and the past history of developmant in Whatcom County, these upzones are likely to occur.

By contrast., building permit allocation represents a responsible approach to land-use planning. It would allow our development projections and our infrastructure casts to be phased concurrently. It would arguably reduce citizen concerns about rapid and unplanned development in both the city and the county. Building permit allocation programs would provide a clear roadmap for what Whatcom County will look like for decades to come. A building permit allocation proposal for the rural, unincorporated areas of Whatcom County was proposed as a text amendment to the County Comprehensive Plan earlier this year. The proposal was supported by council members Fleetwood, McShane and Weimer. Council members Caskey-Schreiber, Nelson, Crawford and Brenner voted against the proposal.

We'll continue to monitor procedural challenges and refinements of similar growth phasing ordinances in other jurisdictions. Our goal is to provide a responsible alternative to the current inadequacies, and uncertainties of land-use planning in Whatcom County.