Population Projections: Futurewise speaks

If you are new to Whatcom County (or have been hiding under a rock for the last several years), you may not be familiar with the gut-wrenching process required by the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA) to adopt 20-year population projections and ensure there is enough developable land to accommodate forecasted growth.

The Whatcom County Growth Management Coordinating Council (GMCC) has been working since August on the 20-year population forecasts for 2029 and 2031. (Please don’t ask why two new forecasts are needed. The answer involves an extension of the county's 2007 deadline to June 2009 plus the next scheduled update deadline of December 2011.) Anyway, the update process has begun in earnest, and many meetings are scheduled in the next few weeks (see list below).

On January 13, the consultants hired by the GMCC published a discussion draft regarding Phase 1 of this process, which will produce initial allocations of projected population growth to each city and the unincorporated areas of the county. The final allocations will be determined in Phase 2, the Review phase.

One participant in this process is Futurewise Whatcom (FWW), the local chapter of the statewide land-use advocacy organization, Futurewise. FWW was founded by local community advocate and retired engineer Eric Hirst (among others) and is led by an 8-person Steering Committee and Chapter Director Cathy Lehman. On February 9, Futurewise Whatcom submitted a compelling argument for a lower 20-year population projection. While the GMCC has recommended a population forecast of 251,490 (a countywide increase of 60,490), FWW recommends 220,000 (an increase of 29,000).

According to Futurewise Whatcom:

• “The lower number represents the preferred future for the people of Whatcom County, and therefore is the most appropriate basis for planning decisions.

• “Political and fiscal prudence dictates that we select a course that can be adjusted to future conditions, and that we avoid a course that is difficult to undo, if our predictions prove inaccurate or our efforts inadequate.”

Futurewise Whatcom concludes that “Whatcom County should use a low number as the basis for future planning because it is both the right thing to do and because it is the least risky course of action.”

A copy of Futurewise Whatcom’s letter to the Bellingham Planning Commission, including its Ten Reasons for a Lower Population Projection for the Whatcom 2031 Planning Project can be accessed through the Related Links below. Links are also provided for:

• The January 13 Phase 1 allocations discussion draft by Berk & Associates; and

• A memo by the Bellingham Planning Department in preparation for the February 12 planning commission public hearing on the 20-year population forecasts.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Here’s a list of upcoming meetings:

Feb 10 (Tues) @ 3:00 pm: Whatcom County Council Planning & Development Committee discussion re: Urban Growth Areas (UGA) review process and population projections. Location: County Council Chambers, County Courthouse, 311 Grand Ave.

Feb 10 (Tues) @ 7:00 pm: Whatcom County Council regular meeting – opportunity to address Council and possible discussion of population projections by Council. Location: County Council Chambers, County Courthouse, 311 Grand Ave.

Feb 12 (Thur) @ 7:00 pm: Bellingham Planning Commission public hearing to review the new 20-year population forecasts. Location: Bellingham City Council Chambers, City Hall, 210 Lottie St.

Feb 17 (Tues) @ 7:00 pm: Whatcom County Council & Planning Commission joint public hearing on alternative visions, UGA and regional land use concepts. Location: County Council Chambers, County Courthouse, 311 Grand Ave.

Feb 19 (Thur) @ 6:30 pm: Whatcom County Planning Commission special meeting to prepare preferred values and vision statement and alternatives. Location: Whatcom County Planning & Development Services (PDS) Annex Conference Room, 5280 Northwest Dr.

About Larry Horowitz

Commenting member • Member since Jan 16, 2008

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