What’s in a name?

People everywhere like to use labels to compartmentalize things - as well as other people.

People everywhere like to use labels to compartmentalize things - as well as other people.

People everywhere like to use labels to compartmentalize things - as well as other people. In the context of our local growth debate, we hear terms like Pro-Growth vs. Anti-Growth, NIMBY vs. Greedy Developer, Activist vs. Advocate, etc.

For fun, I’d like to add two more to the list: Pro-Growth Paying Its Own Way and Anti-Growth Subsidy.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate concerning the fair allocation of the costs of providing the new infrastructure needed to accommodate growth. Should current residents subsidize developers and new residents, or should developers and new residents pay their full share of the costs they are responsible for?

According to the Municipal Research & Services Center of Washington (MRSC), “In many communities, residents do not want to raise their taxes to pay for growth – growth that they do not want in the first place. Some argue that if it were not for unwanted growth, the demand and the pressures for new and expanded facilities would not exist… Developers and/or residents of new development ought to pay their own way.”

As a fiscal conservative, this argument makes sense. Externalizing the costs of development onto the community that receives little or no benefit from the development flies in the face of the market theory of economics. Why should the average Joe subsidize the wealthy developer?

Turning to the NIMBY label, I’d simply like to say that I wish I lived in a neighborhood full of NIMBYs. In fact, I wish the entire city and county were nothing but NIMBYs. Hell, the entire nation and even the entire planet. I’d much rather associate with people who are willing to fight to protect their safety, health and welfare than those who would allow others to take it from them. Isn’t fighting for what you believe in the American Way?

Certainly, land must be allocated for essential public facilities; however, do these essential facilities need to be located where people live? Can’t we do a little advance planning and place these facilities on land away from residential neighborhoods? Then, if people want to live nearby, it will be by choice rather than by force.

As far as the growth debate is concerned, how would you label yourself?

Where do you stand when it comes to the need for developers and new residents to pay their own way?

About Larry Horowitz

Commenting member • Member since Jan 16, 2008

Comments by Readers

g.h. kirsch

Sep 11, 2008

How about, “Stuck in the middle with you.”

For my part I’d just love more growth so we can convert more of our forest and farmland into housing. 

If we have to subsidize it with ever increasing taxes, how can we complain?  That’s just the price of progress!


John Watts

Sep 11, 2008

I appreciate Mr Horowitz again raising this issue.

My blog of Wednesday, July 9, 2008 on the subject of
Word Games: Taxes versus Fees may be helpful in understanding some of the definitions.
Additionally, here’s my 2-cents on Impact Fees:

4 types of impact fees -by that name- are allowed by WA State law;

School - proposed & administered by School District, then OKed by City [currently at about 11%, which may be considered low in WA]

Transportation - administered by City & authorized by Council. [currently at just over 50%, having risen from about 8.5% 10 years ago; probably well above average for WA]

Parks - administered by City & authorized by Council. [currently at 35%, having risen from zero% 3 years ago; probably now above average for WA]

Fire - administered by City & authorized by Council. [currently at zero%, probably slightly above average for WA]. Note that staff has recently been tasked with researching how this might be accomplished to help finance new equipment and/or stations in the future, which currently rely upon bond issues.

While there exists popular sentiment for 100% of costs to be paid by impact fees, this is not practically possible for at least 3 reasons;
? defining a true nexus between impact fees & directly associated new development;
? spending the funds collected in the immediate area within 3 years;
? political will of elected officials to take risk and/or face expensive legal challenges deemed likely to succeed.

A more realistic approach is to research what levels of fees and accounting systems have worked elsewhere successfully, then emulate these.
Good information is available through either the Municipal Research Services Center [MRSC] in Seattle or through the Association of Washington Cities [AWC].
The City has ready access to these sources of factual information, which it uses regularly.

Other rates & charges that function as Impact Fees include:

Water -administered by City & authorized by Council. [currently at 100%, having risen significantly during last 10 years; probably above average for WA]

Sewer -administered by City & authorized by Council. [currently at 100%, having risen significantly during last 10 years; probably above average for WA]

Stormwater -administered by City & authorized by Council. [currently at 100% of projected costs, having risen significantly during last 10 years; probably above average for WA]

Because all of these 3 Utilities are so-called Enterprise Funds, they must by law collect all the funds necessary to maintain & sustain their operations.
That is the reason these funds can and do charge fees & charges that cover 100& of their costs.
Of course, these fees & charges are also reviewed and updated periodically.

In summary, I believe Bellingham is doing relatively well in dealing with growth paying its way.
School Impact Fees are low, but the Bellingham School Board must deal with that issue.
Parks Impact Fees can probably be raised to about 50%, and this ought to be considered.
Fire Impact Fees are more problematic and may require redefinition by the State Legislature to make them viable. Transportation Impact Fees seem OK as they are, since I doubt any municipality has higher ones.

I hope this information is helpful to those interested, and forms a basis for future discussion on this important topic.


Tip Johnson

Sep 11, 2008

Lois Gibbs (who some of us were privileged to work with when it was discovered that Columbia Cement had started burning hazardous waste as “alternate fuels”)once said, “NIMBYs only emerge in response to LULUs”

LULUs?  Locally Undesirable Land Uses!

I love NIMBYs.  In this day and age of rampant apathy, I am pleased when anyone gives a damn. And where better to care than right there in your neighborhood?  Gee, that’s the theoretical basis for our land use code - I said “theoretical”, mind you.

NIMBYs are WAY better than LULUs!

“As far as the growth debate is concerned, how would you label yourself?”

I guess I’d have to say I’m a utopian.  I keep thinking towns can be nice places, but conventional land use regulation seems continually hellbent on proving me wrong.

Zoning and it’s administration have become the problem, not the solution.  Fairhaven Highlands is the perfect example: Every possible oversight and corrupt or convenient shortcut advantages the developers while creating decades of onerous burden for vigilant citizens.

Hopefully, someday we will figure out a way to reward community conscious development and discourage the wreckage, pillage and plunder.  I imagine a matrix of goals and objectives that score a properties potential according to the benefits of the proposal. 

Growth Management started out as a citizen initiative that was withdrawn when the legislature promised to pass suitable legislation.  It was originally conceived as a cost containment measure that would also protect people’s investment from the ravages of development. I’m not sure it’s really working the way it was originally imagined.  We might want to try a do-over on that one.

We might also consider some carefully crafted advisory votes to find out where folks stand on policies affecting development, e.g. infill and urban villages, sprawl vs. the preservation of neighborhood character and transportation alternatives.

“Where do you stand when it comes to the need for developers and new residents to pay their own way?”

I think it will always be difficult if not impossible to fully bill new development for the demand they place on community services and infrastructure.  For instance, new parks are needed when there is new development, but we can all use them thereafter.  New schools are needed when new families move in.  Is it fair that longtimers or retirees without children should help pay?  I say yes, because education helps add value to our economy and prevents future burdens on various services.

That said, impact fees should be much higher to reflect the true cost of new development to the community.  Problem is, they are already becoming prohibitive to small scale development that is more likely to attend to community interests - like single parcel owners wanting to build their home. 

Perhaps we could add impact fees to a property’s taxes and spread it out over many years, instead of throwing huge sums in the path of single parcel owners.

Just a few thoughts.  Thanks for writing, Larry!


Dick Conoboy

Sep 13, 2008

...and there is the hidden impact fee, which, when it hits your neighborhood as it has already done in many throughout the city, will degrade your home’s value and change your neighborhood character. I am talking about the uncontrolled, unlicensed and unregulated single family home rental market which produces those pesky little critters known as illegal rooming houses.  These illegal entities also distort the rental market as landlords can charge more for a single family dwelling whose rent is split 5,6,7, 8 ways among some singles who are willing to put up $400 per month for room in a house while perversely, a single family of modest means cannot make a $1500-2000 per month rental as an economic unit. Yet, the council still refuses to admit that we have such an uncontrolled infill problem and seems to think we can solve the hidden infill (density) issue by controlling nuisances such as litter, noise, etc., much as one would control TB with cough syrup.  Cough gone, TB cured.  It’s a miracle!


Bob Aegerter

Sep 13, 2008

?Where do you stand when it comes to the need for developers and new residents to pay their own way??

They should.  One problem is that the owner of the new house will pay property tax and a portion of this does go for transit, parks, schools, and roads.  So a “100%” share is not equitable.  We want to encourage compact development.  If the county does not have equivalent development fees the higher city fees will drive development into the county.

A significant portion of the demand for services does come from existing residents.  For example, the miles per person driven per year has increased 4 times over the span of my career.  Should a new resident carry that burden?  Each year more of the gas tax goes to maintenance cost of the existing roads.

Another problem is that we really have not discovered how to have viable cities without growth. Cleveland, Detroit, and the small agricultural towns with empty banks and stores bypassed by the automobile would all love to have growth.  Be careful what you wish for.

On the issue of “informal rooming houses” in “single family” zones the U S Supreme Court has tied the hands of local jurisdictions on what they may do.  Thus the reliance on the nuisance ordinances like noise, litter, parking, etc. The problem is we all know the police are not going to be out on nuisance cases at 11 PM Saturday night.  Too many family violence, drunken driving, traffic accidents, etc. for the available force to deal with.


Tip Johnson

Sep 14, 2008

Must respectfully disagree with Conoboy.

Nuisance control is the only way to deal with nuisances.  Nuisances are the basis of Conoboy’s complaints.  Deal with them.

Otherwise we end up with sneak-and-peek legislation that encourages government to pry into our homes.  No thanks.  It’s a vicious cycle that ends in discrimination.  Maybe that’s Conoboy’s real aim - to keep certain classes out of his neighborhood?  Why punish so-called group homes that do not create nuisances?  They do provide affordable housing.  Do we want to put an end to that?

Aegerter is correct.  The problem is not a lack of miracles, but inadequate enforcement.  And he’s also correct that the cops have better things to do.

The anonymous code compliance complaint process has got to go.  It is too subject to abuse - as we discovered with noise complaints downtown.  The problems Conoboy discusses should be dealt with first on a Neighborhood Association basis by petition upon which people certain detail the complaint and deliver it to the accused and afford them opportunity for correction. If the problems continue, complaints could go downtown.

In over thirty years of living in Happy Valley with college students everywhere, I have discovered that very often, they just don’t understand what constitutes a nuisance.  I have had very good results simply knocking on the door and politely explaining that the kids are trying to sleep, that a little old lady lives next door, that parking there impedes mail delivery, recycling is free, dogs must be fenced or leashed, etc.

Give peace a chance before legislating against everything!


Dick Conoboy

Sep 14, 2008

Perhaps Bob might clarify the reference to the Supreme Court decision which has ?tied the hands? of local jurisdictions.  I am familiar with the decision VILLAGE OF BELLE TERRE ET AL. v. BORAAS ET AL. in 1974 wherein the court ruled (Justice Douglas writing for the majority) that zoning laws restricting the number of unrelated individuals in a single residence was not unconstitutional.  Perhaps there is another decision with which I am not familiar.

I recently had an exchange with Larry Horowitz on my blog, Twilight Zoning in Bellingham, entry entitled Weiss Proposal Number 5 -  Upgrade of Nuisances Ordinances.  Below is one of my responses to him.  You can read the entire blog entry and comments at http://zonemaven.blogspot.com/2008/09/weiss-proposal-number-5-upgrade-of.html

?I have spoken to the issue of density vs nuisances on several occasions in this blog. One of my most recent posts on the subject can be found at http://zonemaven.blogspot.com/2008/03/back-to-basics.html. I invite you and my readers to review that blog entry.

However, in short there are reasons cities have zoning, one of which is to control density. Single family areas are less dense than multi-family areas for reasons having to do with city services, transportation, fire and police protection, road capacities, etc. When a city like Bellingham allows increased density by way of illegal rooming houses, it no longer has control of the “where” of increased density. Density is determined by a crap shoot, i.e., which property owner decides to rent his property.

Larger numbers of people crammed into single family homes (the economic pressure defines this) distort planned densities as an average family is calculated to be between 2-3 individuals. Repeat this often enough in any area or street and you essentially have multi-family housing (high density) by default. If citizens think this is OK, then we can just eliminate the distinction between single family and multi-family areas allow as many homes as possible to become mini apartment buildings. Logically then, as these homes deteriorate, pressure will mount to replace them with small, 4-6-8-10 (pick which) unit apartment buildings since zoning is a thing of the past. Check with the folks over in the York neighborhood where they have already had to fight off this phenomenon.

As more homes on a street become illegal rooming house rentals, property values will begin to plummet. Then more people, who have the means to do so, will move out for greener territory (the county) leaving those of modest means to watch their home values go down in spite of a life-time of hard work to maintain their investments.?


Tip Johnson

Sep 14, 2008


You should check some of the prices over in the York Neighborhood. You will find that, despite the prevalence of the densification “phenomenon” you indicate has occurred there, prices have definitely NOT plummeted.

I do check in with the folks in York and they seem very tolerant of people in your so-called “illegal rooming houses”.  They do experience some problems and are responsibly approaching it through Neighborhood Association outreach and better nuisance controls.  They have one of the best neighborhood newsletters and more “young folk” involved in their organization than any other N’hood Assoc. of which I am aware.  Bless them!  That’s the way to get kids up to speed with community performance standards.

When you say that SF zones are zoned because of limited services, look around.  Many MF zones enjoy exactly the same standards for roads, sidewalks, fire and police protection - often less.

I am still searching for some thread of substance to your argument that is not classist in origin.  The more you define the problems of concern, the more a nuisance control approach makes sense to me.


Dick Conoboy

Sep 17, 2008


Sorry for the delay in replying but I was concentrating on a response to the Herald interview of the new WWU President, Dr. Shepard.

I have spent some time with the members of the York neighborhood association and other residents of the neighborhood.  I have met with their planning committee and recently spoke at one of their neighborhood meetings. Although they have done some admirable work with welcoming students and other renters, all is not well.  Whether or not the prices of homes there is on a downward spiral at the moment is difficult to determine given the overall problems with the housing market.

You say that York residents are tolerant of illegal rooming houses, however, I have found that to be inaccurate.  I personally know of one single woman homeowner and a single family who have moved out of the York neighborhood in the last two years precisely because of the proliferation of illegal rooming houses.  It is interesting that some have found these tolerable but the entirety of the neighborhood should not be held to the lowest common denominator of illegal infill and lack of enforcement of codes by the city government. 

With respect to service deliveries, just because you cannot see a difference in service does not mean it is not there.  For example, utility services have to be tuned for usage.  Pipe size, pressures, wattage, peak period usage, etc., all depend on the number of people in an area.  Some services are easily adjustable and some are not.

Finally you stated, “I am still searching for some thread of substance to your argument that is not classist in origin.”  If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will find that I have made repeated comments regarding ad hominem accusations, no matter how thinly veiled.  Directly or indirectly accusing me or others who wish to protect their hard-earned homes from devaluation of being classist is not acceptable.  You picked the wrong guy.  I came from a family that was bordeline poor/lower middle class.  I paid for my college degree by hard work and loans. I lost a job in mid-career, depleted my savings, collected unemployment and later worked for minimum wage.  I have no fortune but a comfortable and hard-earned retirement.  My home is my major asset. To accuse me of classism is way off the mark.


Tip Johnson

Sep 17, 2008


No ad hominum attack intended.  The comment reflects my frustration with your argument, not any sentiment toward you.  I would hope that my genuine interest and involvement in the discussion would demonstrate that.

The argument appears classist to me because I can’t grasp why we should legislate measures that will punish those who are not creating the problems - especially an entire class of people.

Prior discussions have amply illustrated numbers of ways bona fide families might assemble with three, four or more persons unrelated by blood.  Furthermore, it seems impractical, if not illegal, to impose any arbitrary definition of family on anyone.  Enforcement of such would always require draconian intrusions into peoples homes. No one wants to start that nonsense.

I’m all for defining better community performance standards and finding ways to prevent public nuisances.  Regulating (or designing) for better residential parking and traffic, noise controls and waste management makes sense.  Telling folks who they can live with where does not.  Prying into the private affairs of people on private property does not.

I hope that clarifies my comment.  Also, please understand that I appreciate your effort even though I disagree with your conclusions.  The discussion needs to take place, especially in the context of new policies encouraging infill densification.  The larger issues cannot advance without debate.  So thanks again, Dick.


Michael Lilliquist

Sep 17, 2008

It’s often easier to say what you are opposed to, rather than offer a positive alternative.  So, I am sort of cheating when I offer my label-of-choice:  anti-sprawl.

No one likes sprawl.  It’s an easy target, with a great deal of anecdotal and hard evidence to show the many harmful effects of sprawl.  So, we’re all against sprawl.

But what are the alternatives?

One alternative is infill and redevelopment.  This works great in some cases (such as the Waterfront District, where we have a kind of blank slate to work with), but is very tricky in established single family areas.  Urban villages are another great way to go, but there is a limited number of places for such multi-use centers.  If successful, infill yields considerable benefits, socially, economically and environmentally.  Ah, but how to make it work!

Another alternative is to sprawl, but sprawl more slowly and carefully.  This is the UGA approach.  We plan for growth on the fringe, but we work to see that this new growth is relatively dense, and that it includes a mix of both residential and commercial development.  The worse-case scenario is all-residential development on the fringes, leading to the classic rush-hour problem as most people commute in and out of town at the same time every workday.  “Slow sprawl” offers the hope of minimizing this problem.  Again, mixed-use centers are a key to making this “slow sprawl” work.  It’s not smart growth, but it’s not as dumb as it could be otherwise.

A final alternative is an elusive steady-state economy, one that transforms and prospers without necessarily increasing the population base.  The grandchildren of lumberjacks become computer-aided machinists, for example.  The key to this approach is to realize that economic growth and prosperity are not the same as population growth.  Indeed, sometimes population growth is the problem - as in the case of sprawl.

The usual retort in this debate is that “growth is inevitable.”  I think we need to examine and question this assertion.  Certainly the farm towns in Iowa are a counter-example.  These towns are in decline and disappearing, even as more and more acreage is turned over to industrial agricultural production.  Talk about a separation between economic and population growth!

Here in Whatcom County, almost all of our population growth is attributable to immigration, new people moving here.  Can this be stopped, and should it be?  On what basis, ethically speaking, could we adopt such a policy?

If there is a justifiable basis for our local governments to adopt a slow- or no-growth policy, or even a growth-neutral policy, I think it will be found in the idea of sustainability.  Put simply, a sustainable way of doing business is one that can be continued indefinitely.  A sustainable practice takes no more than it replenishes, returns or recycles as much as it uses up.  I think an argument can be made that any non-sustainable practice is in some sense unethical, in that it damages and makes others pay for our debts.  It shifts and avoids responsibility.

So, ask yourself, is a long-term plan of continued population growth in Whatcom County a sustainable plan?  Probably not.  Which is why I am anti-sprawl.

Like I said, being anti-sprawl is the easy part.  Being pro-something is much, much trickier.


Larry Horowitz

Sep 17, 2008


Nicely put.  Thanks for commenting and for challenging us to be pro-something.

Personally, I am in favor of preserving the natural resources (farmlands, forests, wetlands and other critical areas, etc.) that sustain our economy and quality of life, AND I am in favor of preserving the positive aspects of existing neighborhoods.  Some people believe that if we densify existing neighborhoods within the city, we can prevent sprawl and save our farmlands, forests and critical areas in the county.  I disagree. 

The only way to preserve these important natural resources is to adopt laws IN THE COUNTY to do so.  Upzoning city neighborhoods will not prevent our county?s farmlands from being subdivided and developed.  Only zoning laws that restrict the subdivision of ag land will do that.

Many of the current anti-sprawl / infill plans only serve to destroy the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods and do nothing to save farmlands and forests.  As you know, our state legislature found that the original requirements of the GMA did not adequately protect single family neighborhoods and actually increased the pressure to rezone established neighborhoods to allow development of apartment buildings and commercial uses. 

In 1995, the GMA was amended to include a housing element that MUST ENSURE the vitality and character of established neighborhoods and include mandatory provisions for the preservation of single-family housing.  Many infill strategies, including the city?s new infill toolkit, violate the intent of the amended GMA.

While I believe the positive qualities of existing neighborhoods must be protected, I am in favor of making changes to existing neighborhoods that address undesirable qualities.  Certainly, many Bellingham neighborhoods would benefit from redevelopment, while others are fine as they are.  There is no need to treat all neighborhoods as if they all suffer from the same disease.  Where infill strategies improve neighborhoods - and the neighborhoods themselves agree - by all means, let?s implement them.  On the other hand, under no circumstances should the city impose an infill strategy that adversely impacts an established neighborhood, especially over the neighborhood?s objection.

To summarize, let?s encourage the county to adopt legislation that will actually protect our natural resources (ag land, forest land, wetlands and other critical areas) and let?s encourage the city to assist neighborhoods with infill strategies that will actually enhance quality of life rather than detract from it.  Neighborhood residents have a keen sense of what changes will positively impact their neighborhood vs. those that will adversely impact them.  The city would be well-serve by listening to the neighborhoods.


John Watts

Sep 17, 2008

2 Points:

The GMA options the City had to consider were four in number, per the EIS:

? No growth scenario [wouldn’t fly]
? All growth by In-Fill [impossible]
? All growth by expanding the UGA [irresponsible]
? Some combination of the 2nd and 3rd options [what we tried]

The GMA goal of preserving neighborhood character is one of 14 goals, many of which contradict or compete with each other. Because all 14 are to be applied simultaneously, there will always need to be some compromise inherent in this process. Citizens need to understand these dynamics whenever growth related issues are discussed and not pretend there are any easy answers!


Larry Horowitz

Sep 17, 2008

Actually, there are only 13 GMA Planning Goals, not 14 (see Related Link to RCW 36.70A.020 above immediately before the Comment section).

?Ensuring the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods? is not a GMA goal; it is a GMA REQUIREMENT.  (See Related Link to RCW 36.70A.070(2) above).  The requirement was established by State Senate Bill (SSB) 5567 in July 1995 (see Related Link above).

There was never a need to balance the REQUIREMENT to preserve neighborhood character with the 13 GOALS of the GMA.  A requirement is just that; it is not sacrificed or compromised.

Additionally, everyone ? unless they?ve been sleeping under a rock somewhere ? knows that the city?s UGA decision was based on a fatally flawed land supply analysis.  One of the major errors - involving the number of park acres the city plans to acquire - is in the process of being corrected.  Two others remain:  an erroneous UGA density assumption and the failure to consider the UGA clustering provision.

Personally, I believe most citizens understand these dynamics incredibly well.  Some of us have even become experts.  There may not be easy answers, but there are certainly better solutions than have been adopted to date.


John Watts

Sep 17, 2008

I’ll stick with my earlier comments and back them up with the following direct quotes from the URLs shown below:


RCW 36.70A.020
Planning goals.

The following goals are adopted to guide the development and adoption of comprehensive plans and development regulations of those counties and cities that are required or choose to plan under RCW 36.70A.040. The following goals are not listed in order of priority and shall be used exclusively for the purpose of guiding the development of comprehensive plans and development regulations:

(1) Urban growth. Encourage development in urban areas where adequate public facilities and services exist or can be provided in an efficient manner.

(2) Reduce sprawl. Reduce the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development.

(3) Transportation. Encourage efficient multimodal transportation systems that are based on regional priorities and coordinated with county and city comprehensive plans.

(4) Housing. Encourage the availability of affordable housing to all economic segments of the population of this state, promote a variety of residential densities and housing types, and encourage preservation of existing housing stock.

(5) Economic development. Encourage economic development throughout the state that is consistent with adopted comprehensive plans, promote economic opportunity for all citizens of this state, especially for unemployed and for disadvantaged persons, promote the retention and expansion of existing businesses and recruitment of new businesses, recognize regional differences impacting economic development opportunities, and encourage growth in areas experiencing insufficient economic growth, all within the capacities of the state’s natural resources, public services, and public facilities.

(6) Property rights. Private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation having been made. The property rights of landowners shall be protected from arbitrary and discriminatory actions.

(7) Permits. Applications for both state and local government permits should be processed in a timely and fair manner to ensure predictability.

(8) Natural resource industries. Maintain and enhance natural resource-based industries, including productive timber, agricultural, and fisheries industries. Encourage the conservation of productive forest lands and productive agricultural lands, and discourage incompatible uses.

???? (9) Open space and recreation. Retain open space, enhance recreational opportunities, conserve fish and wildlife habitat, increase access to natural resource lands and water, and develop parks and recreation facilities.

???? (10) Environment. Protect the environment and enhance the state’s high quality of life, including air and water quality, and the availability of water.

(11) Citizen participation and coordination. Encourage the involvement of citizens in the planning process and ensure coordination between communities and jurisdictions to reconcile conflicts.

(12) Public facilities and services. Ensure that those public facilities and services necessary to support development shall be adequate to serve the development at the time the development is available for occupancy and use without decreasing current service levels below locally established minimum standards.

(13) Historic preservation. Identify and encourage the preservation of lands, sites, and structures, that have historical or archaeological significance.

Most knowledgeable folks also consider a 1996 Amendment concerning the Shoreline Management Act (SMA, Chapter 90.58 RCW) to be an additional [14th] goal.
[see below]


The Growth Management Act
The Growth Management Act was adopted because the Washington State Legislature found that uncoordinated and unplanned growth posed a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development, and the quality of life in Washington. Known as the GMA, the Act (Chapter 36.70A RCW) was adopted by the Legislature in 1990. In 1991 the GMA was amended to create the Growth Management Hearings Boards to hear and determine allegations of non-compliance with the GMA. (Click to see the RCW version of the GMA or a more detailed version on the CTED site.)
The GMA has been amended several times since, including 1996, when the boards? jurisdiction was expanded to include allegations of non-compliance with certain provisions of the Shoreline Management Act (SMA, Chapter 90.58 RCW). In 1997, the Legislature again modified some of the Act?s provisions, including the boards? standard of review.
The GMA requires state and local governments to manage Washington?s growth by identifying and protecting critical areas and natural resource lands, designating urban growth areas, preparing comprehensive plans and implementing them through capital investments and development regulations. This approach to growth management is unique among states.
Rather than centralize planning and decision-making at the state level, the GMA built on Washington?s strong traditions of local government control and regional diversity. The GMA established state goals, set deadlines for compliance, offered direction on how to prepare local comprehensive plans and regulations and set forth requirements for early and continuous public participation. Within the framework provided by the mandates of the Act, local governments have many choices regarding the specific content of comprehensive plans and implementing development regulations.
The GMA requires that the three boards meet jointly at least annually to share information that promotes the goals and purposes of the GMA. The boards have jointly adopted administrative rules of practice and procedure, which are found in the Washington Administrative Code (Title 242-02 WAC).
The boards have jointly adopted the following mission statement:
The shared mission of the three Growth Management Hearings Boards is to help local governments manage growth and to serve the citizens of the State of Washington. They do so by making informed decisions on appeals arising from the implementation of the Growth Management Act in a clear, consistent, timely and impartial manner that recognizes the diversity of the three board jurisdictional regions.
-Mr Horowitz, and any other citizen for that matter, are entitled to their beliefs, but the GMA is a State Law, which only those Counties which opt to plan under it have to abide by.
The process which Whatcom County and the City used was not perfect, as has been stipulated several times. But, the results obtained were valid, although always subject to revision and change periodically.


Larry Horowitz

Sep 17, 2008

As anyone can see by reading the 13 goals listed above by John Watts, none of them include ?Ensuring the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods.? 

Why is that?  Didn?t John Watts tell us that preserving neighborhood character is one of the GMA planning goals?  If he?s correct, wouldn?t such a goal be included in this list?

The obvious answer, as I stated earlier, is that preserving neighborhood character is NOT a GMA goal; it is a GMA REQUIREMENT.  It was established as a requirement by State Senate Bill 5567 and is reflected in the language of RCW 36.70A.070(2), which pertains to the MANDATORY housing element of comprehensive plans.

Mr. Watts? opinion that the results of the land supply analysis were valid is just that? his opinion.  In fact, the analysis is fatally flawed and has been for more than two years.  The city has more than enough land to accommodate its projected growth and meet its 25% safety factor goal.  I?m happy to debate this fact with Mr. Watts any time, any place.

Enough said.


John Watts

Sep 17, 2008

In his zeal to reinforce his single issue concern, Mr Horowitz attempts to substitute his own paraphrased remark as a substitute for the plain language of RCW 36.70A.070 Comprehensive plans ? Mandatory elements.

Here is that text for all to read. Please note, in particular, the parts separated by dotted lines:

The comprehensive plan of a county or city that is required or chooses to plan under RCW 36.70A.040 shall consist of a map or maps, and descriptive text covering objectives, principles, and standards used to develop the comprehensive plan. The plan shall be an internally consistent document and all elements shall be consistent with the future land use map. A comprehensive plan shall be adopted and amended with public participation as provided in RCW 36.70A.140.
    Each comprehensive plan shall include a plan, scheme, or design for each of the following:
    (1) A land use element designating the proposed general distribution and general location and extent of the uses of land, where appropriate, for agriculture, timber production, housing, commerce, industry, recreation, open spaces, general aviation airports, public utilities, public facilities, and other land uses. The land use element shall include population densities, building intensities, and estimates of future population growth. The land use element shall provide for protection of the quality and quantity of groundwater used for public water supplies. Wherever possible, the land use element should consider utilizing urban planning approaches that promote physical activity. Where applicable, the land use element shall review drainage, flooding, and storm water run-off in the area and nearby jurisdictions and provide guidance for corrective actions to mitigate or cleanse those discharges that pollute waters of the state, including Puget Sound or waters entering Puget Sound.
    (2) A housing element ensuring the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods that: (a) Includes an inventory and analysis of existing and projected housing needs that identifies the number of housing units necessary to manage projected growth; (b) includes a statement of goals, policies, objectives, and mandatory provisions for the preservation, improvement, and development of housing, including single-family residences; (c) identifies sufficient land for housing, including, but not limited to, government-assisted housing, housing for low-income families, manufactured housing, multifamily housing, and group homes and foster care facilities; and (d) makes adequate provisions for existing and projected needs of all economic segments of the community.
    (3) A capital facilities plan element consisting of: (a) An inventory of existing capital facilities owned by public entities, showing the locations and capacities of the capital facilities; (b) a forecast of the future needs for such capital facilities; (c) the proposed locations and capacities of expanded or new capital facilities; (d) at least a six-year plan that will finance such capital facilities within projected funding capacities and clearly identifies sources of public money for such purposes; and (e) a requirement to reassess the land use element if probable funding falls short of meeting existing needs and to ensure that the land use element, capital facilities plan element, and financing plan within the capital facilities plan element are coordinated and consistent. Park and recreation facilities shall be included in the capital facilities plan element.

    (4) A utilities element consisting of the general location, proposed location, and capacity of all existing and proposed utilities, including, but not limited to, electrical lines, telecommunication lines, and natural gas lines.

    (5) Rural element. Counties shall include a rural element including lands that are not designated for urban growth, agriculture, forest, or mineral resources. The following provisions shall apply to the rural element:

    (a) Growth management act goals and local circumstances. Because circumstances vary from county to county, in establishing patterns of rural densities and uses, a county may consider local circumstances, but shall develop a written record explaining how the rural element harmonizes the planning goals in RCW 36.70A.020 and meets the requirements of this chapter.

    (b) Rural development. The rural element shall permit rural development, forestry, and agriculture in rural areas. The rural element shall provide for a variety of rural densities, uses, essential public facilities, and rural governmental services needed to serve the permitted densities and uses. To achieve a variety of rural densities and uses, counties may provide for clustering, density transfer, design guidelines, conservation easements, and other innovative techniques that will accommodate appropriate rural densities and uses that are not characterized by urban growth and that are consistent with rural character.

    (c) Measures governing rural development. The rural element shall include measures that apply to rural development and protect the rural character of the area, as established by the county, by:

    (i) Containing or otherwise controlling rural development;

    (ii) Assuring visual compatibility of rural development with the surrounding rural area;

    (iii) Reducing the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development in the rural area;

    (iv) Protecting critical areas, as provided in RCW 36.70A.060, and surface water and groundwater resources; and

    (v) Protecting against conflicts with the use of agricultural, forest, and mineral resource lands designated under RCW 36.70A.170.

    (d) Limited areas of more intensive rural development. Subject to the requirements of this subsection and except as otherwise specifically provided in this subsection (5)(d), the rural element may allow for limited areas of more intensive rural development, including necessary public facilities and public services to serve the limited area as follows:

    (i) Rural development consisting of the infill, development, or redevelopment of existing commercial, industrial, residential, or mixed-use areas, whether characterized as shoreline development, villages, hamlets, rural activity centers, or crossroads developments.

    (A) A commercial, industrial, residential, shoreline, or mixed-use area shall be subject to the requirements of (d)(iv) of this subsection, but shall not be subject to the requirements of (c)(ii) and (iii) of this subsection.

    (B) Any development or redevelopment other than an industrial area or an industrial use within a mixed-use area or an industrial area under this subsection (5)(d)(i) must be principally designed to serve the existing and projected rural population.

    (C) Any development or redevelopment in terms of building size, scale, use, or intensity shall be consistent with the character of the existing areas. Development and redevelopment may include changes in use from vacant land or a previously existing use so long as the new use conforms to the requirements of this subsection (5);

    (ii) The intensification of development on lots containing, or new development of, small-scale recreational or tourist uses, including commercial facilities to serve those recreational or tourist uses, that rely on a rural location and setting, but that do not include new residential development. A small-scale recreation or tourist use is not required to be principally designed to serve the existing and projected rural population. Public services and public facilities shall be limited to those necessary to serve the recreation or tourist use and shall be provided in a manner that does not permit low-density sprawl;

    (iii) The intensification of development on lots containing isolated nonresidential uses or new development of isolated cottage industries and isolated small-scale businesses that are not principally designed to serve the existing and projected rural population and nonresidential uses, but do provide job opportunities for rural residents. Rural counties may allow the expansion of small-scale businesses as long as those small-scale businesses conform with the rural character of the area as defined by the local government according to *RCW 36.70A.030(14). Rural counties may also allow new small-scale businesses to utilize a site previously occupied by an existing business as long as the new small-scale business conforms to the rural character of the area as defined by the local government according to *RCW 36.70A.030(14). Public services and public facilities shall be limited to those necessary to serve the isolated nonresidential use and shall be provided in a manner that does not permit low-density sprawl;

    (iv) A county shall adopt measures to minimize and contain the existing areas or uses of more intensive rural development, as appropriate, authorized under this subsection. Lands included in such existing areas or uses shall not extend beyond the logical outer boundary of the existing area or use, thereby allowing a new pattern of low-density sprawl. Existing areas are those that are clearly identifiable and contained and where there is a logical boundary delineated predominately by the built environment, but that may also include undeveloped lands if limited as provided in this subsection. The county shall establish the logical outer boundary of an area of more intensive rural development. In establishing the logical outer boundary the county shall address (A) the need to preserve the character of existing natural neighborhoods and communities, (B) physical boundaries such as bodies of water, streets and highways, and land forms and contours, (C) the prevention of abnormally irregular boundaries, and (D) the ability to provide public facilities and public services in a manner that does not permit low-density sprawl;

    (v) For purposes of (d) of this subsection, an existing area or existing use is one that was in existence:

    (A) On July 1, 1990, in a county that was initially required to plan under all of the provisions of this chapter;

    (B) On the date the county adopted a resolution under RCW 36.70A.040(2), in a county that is planning under all of the provisions of this chapter under RCW 36.70A.040(2); or

    (C) On the date the office of financial management certifies the county’s population as provided in RCW 36.70A.040(5), in a county that is planning under all of the provisions of this chapter pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040(5).

    (e) Exception. This subsection shall not be interpreted to permit in the rural area a major industrial development or a master planned resort unless otherwise specifically permitted under RCW 36.70A.360 and 36.70A.365.

    (6) A transportation element that implements, and is consistent with, the land use element.

    (a) The transportation element shall include the following subelements:

    (i) Land use assumptions used in estimating travel;

    (ii) Estimated traffic impacts to state-owned transportation facilities resulting from land use assumptions to assist the department of transportation in monitoring the performance of state facilities, to plan improvements for the facilities, and to assess the impact of land-use decisions on state-owned transportation facilities;

    (iii) Facilities and services needs, including:

    (A) An inventory of air, water, and ground transportation facilities and services, including transit alignments and general aviation airport facilities, to define existing capital facilities and travel levels as a basis for future planning. This inventory must include state-owned transportation facilities within the city or county’s jurisdictional boundaries;

    (B) Level of service standards for all locally owned arterials and transit routes to serve as a gauge to judge performance of the system. These standards should be regionally coordinated;

    (C) For state-owned transportation facilities, level of service standards for highways, as prescribed in chapters 47.06 and 47.80 RCW, to gauge the performance of the system. The purposes of reflecting level of service standards for state highways in the local comprehensive plan are to monitor the performance of the system, to evaluate improvement strategies, and to facilitate coordination between the county’s or city’s six-year street, road, or transit program and the department of transportation’s six-year investment program. The concurrency requirements of (b) of this subsection do not apply to transportation facilities and services of statewide significance except for counties consisting of islands whose only connection to the mainland are state highways or ferry routes. In these island counties, state highways and ferry route capacity must be a factor in meeting the concurrency requirements in (b) of this subsection;

    (D) Specific actions and requirements for bringing into compliance locally owned transportation facilities or services that are below an established level of service standard;

    (E) Forecasts of traffic for at least ten years based on the adopted land use plan to provide information on the location, timing, and capacity needs of future growth;

    (F) Identification of state and local system needs to meet current and future demands. Identified needs on state-owned transportation facilities must be consistent with the statewide multimodal transportation plan required under chapter 47.06 RCW;

    (iv) Finance, including:

    (A) An analysis of funding capability to judge needs against probable funding resources;

    (B) A multiyear financing plan based on the needs identified in the comprehensive plan, the appropriate parts of which shall serve as the basis for the six-year street, road, or transit program required by RCW 35.77.010 for cities, RCW 36.81.121 for counties, and RCW 35.58.2795 for public transportation systems. The multiyear financing plan should be coordinated with the six-year improvement program developed by the department of transportation as required by **RCW 47.05.030;

    (C) If probable funding falls short of meeting identified needs, a discussion of how additional funding will be raised, or how land use assumptions will be reassessed to ensure that level of service standards will be met;

    (v) Intergovernmental coordination efforts, including an assessment of the impacts of the transportation plan and land use assumptions on the transportation systems of adjacent jurisdictions;

    (vi) Demand-management strategies;

    (vii) Pedestrian and bicycle component to include collaborative efforts to identify and designate planned improvements for pedestrian and bicycle facilities and corridors that address and encourage enhanced community access and promote healthy lifestyles.

    (b) After adoption of the comprehensive plan by jurisdictions required to plan or who choose to plan under RCW 36.70A.040, local jurisdictions must adopt and enforce ordinances which prohibit development approval if the development causes the level of service on a locally owned transportation facility to decline below the standards adopted in the transportation element of the comprehensive plan, unless transportation improvements or strategies to accommodate the impacts of development are made concurrent with the development. These strategies may include increased public transportation service, ride sharing programs, demand management, and other transportation systems management strategies. For the purposes of this subsection (6) “concurrent with the development” shall mean that improvements or strategies are in place at the time of development, or that a financial commitment is in place to complete the improvements or strategies within six years.

    (c) The transportation element described in this subsection (6), and the six-year plans required by RCW 35.77.010 for cities, RCW 36.81.121 for counties, RCW 35.58.2795 for public transportation systems, and **RCW 47.05.030 for the state, must be consistent.

    (7) An economic development element establishing local goals, policies, objectives, and provisions for economic growth and vitality and a high quality of life. The element shall include: (a) A summary of the local economy such as population, employment, payroll, sectors, businesses, sales, and other information as appropriate; (b) a summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the local economy defined as the commercial and industrial sectors and supporting factors such as land use, transportation, utilities, education, workforce, housing, and natural/cultural resources; and (c) an identification of policies, programs, and projects to foster economic growth and development and to address future needs. A city that has chosen to be a residential community is exempt from the economic development element requirement of this subsection.

    (8) A park and recreation element that implements, and is consistent with, the capital facilities plan element as it relates to park and recreation facilities. The element shall include: (a) Estimates of park and recreation demand for at least a ten-year period; (b) an evaluation of facilities and service needs; and (c) an evaluation of intergovernmental coordination opportunities to provide regional approaches for meeting park and recreational demand.

    (9) It is the intent that new or amended elements required after January 1, 2002, be adopted concurrent with the scheduled update provided in RCW 36.70A.130. Requirements to incorporate any such new or amended elements shall be null and void until funds sufficient to cover applicable local government costs are appropriated and distributed by the state at least two years before local government must update comprehensive plans as required in RCW 36.70A.130.


Larry Horowitz

Sep 17, 2008

What the !@#% ?


g.h. kirsch

Sep 17, 2008

Before, I’ve declined to agree with Mr. Horowitz’s interpretation of 36.70A.070. 

While “Each comprehensive plan shall include a plan, scheme, or design for…a housing element ensuring the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods,” that “includes…mandatory provisions for the preservation, improvement, and development of housing, including single-family residences,”  this is a far cry from Mr. Horowitz’s position, “that preserving neighborhood character is NOT a GMA goal; it is a GMA REQUIREMENT” somehow transcending the Act’s original purpose.

A housing element is a GMA requirement for Comprehensive Plans.  Preserving, improving and developing housing is a mandatory provision of that element.  I believe the “character” that has slipped in here is our friend Larry.

One of the attorneys I cavort with made an interesting observation.  He pointed out that though the goals of the GMA are not listed in order of priority, this is a far cry different from saying they do not have any priority.  They went on to point out that the purpose of the GMA, before any goals were even enumerated, was to designate and protect resource lands and the industries that rely on them.

Please consider then the significance of the goals that relate to protection of farmland and forests, and accept the fact that neighborhood character is a secondary concern of the Act.


Larry Horowitz

Sep 17, 2008

The best way to respond is to quote a well-known Bellingham land use attorney who cites the following finding from the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board (CPSGMHB) Final Decision & Order (FDO) in Benaroya v. Redmond (Case 95-3-0072):

“The [Growth Management] Act clearly contemplates that infill development and increased residential densities are desirable in areas where service capacity already exists, i.e. in urban areas - while also REQUIRING that such growth be accommodated in such a way as to

If you have any problems with this interpretation, I suggest you bring it up with the Growth Management Hearings Board.  It appears they have already decided that ensuring neighborhood vitality and character is a REQUIREMENT of the GMA.

There is absolutely no need to sacrifice or compromise neighborhood vitality and character to achieve some elusive infill goal.

As I stated earlier, the protection of resource lands and industries that depend on them is not achieved by sacrificing the quality of life of existing neighborhoods.  The only way to protect resource lands is for the county to adopt laws to do so.  No amount of infill will prevent these lands from being developed if the county fails to adopt its own laws.  People who tell you otherwise are either attempting to fool you or are fooling themselves.  Don’t fall for it!

The protection of existing neighborhoods is a GMA REQIREMENT.  If you don’t believe me, ask the Growth Management Hearings Board.


g.h. kirsch

Sep 18, 2008

Merely capitalizing “requirement” and quoting from a quasi-judicial board ruling will not probably upset the precedential import of the Washington State Supreme Court, which stated clearly the Legislature’s intent in passing the Growth Management Act.

The court concluded, ?This plain language of the statute reflects the Legislature’s overall goals and policies for the GMA: ‘to reduce sprawl and to reduce the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low density development’; ‘to protect the rural character of an area’”

Not much was said about neighborhood character. 

I do not suggest that it be ignored.  But let’s not loose sight of the primary purpose of Growth Management in order to direct attention to its lesser concerns.


Michael Lilliquist

Sep 18, 2008

I believe Larry is referring to the revisions to the GMA made in 1995.  Here’s what I have from the synopsis of the senate bill:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

SSB 5567
C 377 L 95
Synopsis as Enacted

Brief Description: Providing for preservation of single-family residential neighborhoods.

Sponsors: Senate Committee on Government Operations (originally sponsored by Senator
Senate Committee on Government Operations
House Committee on Government Operations

Background: Counties and cities required to plan under the Growth Management Act are
required to adopt a comprehensive plan. One of several elements in the comprehensive plan
is a housing element which must:

? recognize the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods;

? include a statement of goals, policies and objectives for the preservation,
improvement and development of housing; and

? identify sufficient land for housing.

There is concern that these requirements not only do not adequately protect single-family
residential neighborhoods, but increase pressure to rezone established single-family
neighborhoods to allow development of apartment buildings and commercial uses.

Summary: A comprehensive plan adopted pursuant to the Growth Management Act must
include a housing element. The housing element must:

? ensure the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods; and

? include a statement of goals, policies, objectives, and mandatory provisions for the
preservation, improvement, and development of housing, including single-family

Effective: July 23, 1995


Larry Horowitz

Sep 18, 2008


Unless I?m mistaken, I believe the case you are referring to is Thurston County v Cooper Point Ass?n (108 Wn. App. 429 Sep 2001), which was heard by the WA Court of Appeals rather than the WA Supreme Court.  In any event, I agree the court found that the primary goals of the GMA are:

1) To reduce sprawl and to reduce the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development;
2) To protect the rural character of an area; and
3) To bar extension or expansion of urban governmental services into designated rural areas.

As you can see from my comments, I have not claimed that ?ensuring the vitality and character of established residential neighborhoods? is a primary GOAL of the GMA.  In fact, I said it is not a GOAL at all.  I merely stated that it was a requirement.  In other words, in planning to achieve the various goals of the GMA, cities are REQUIRED to ensure that these plans preserve neighborhood vitality and character.

As you know, the WA State Legislature created the growth management hearings boards to resolve land use disputes in 1991.  You may not agree with their finding that confirmed the requirement to preserve neighborhood character; but that finding has not been challenged.

I believe that what you and I are seeking is not mutually exclusive.  In my earlier comment, I stated that I favor preserving resource lands AND preserving the positive aspects of existing neighborhoods.  The first issue is a county issue; the second is a city issue.  The county needs to get its house in order to preserve resource lands by adopting legislation to achieve this goal.  The city needs to focus on reducing sprawl by encouraging high quality infill and redevelopment while preventing poorly designed development on environmentally sensitive and ecologically significant lands and critical areas within the city.

Fortunately, it is a fact that Bellingham?s land supply is currently more than adequate to accommodate its projected growth AND provide a substantial safety factor in excess of 25% - without expanding its UGA or increasing zoning densities beyond those recently adopted.  Consequently, there is currently no pressure to consume resource lands to accommodate Bellingham?s growth.  Our elected officials should take advantage of this window of opportunity to pass laws to preserve resource lands now before the pressure to consume them returns.

Greg, I respect you and consider you a friend.  On this issue, I don?t believe we disagree; however, you may find that we do.  If that?s the case, I hope we can simply agree to disagree, respect each other?s views, and move on to the next battle.



g.h. kirsch

Sep 18, 2008


Thurston County appealed the ruling of the Court of Appeals, and the final determination of the case was made by the WA Supreme Court.

The Boards are quasi-judicial, and the court system hears most appeals from the boards de novo as I recall.  The court system is the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of the Act.

I agree with you that there is a requirement within the mandated housing element, that planning entities include preservation of neighborhood character within that element.

But I would predict that if a case went up in which a plan required conversion of undeveloped land in order to avoid infilling already urbanized lands, the statement of the Act’s purpose, enunciated by the court, would be the precedent employed to resolve the matter in favor of preserving rural character and preventing conversion of undeveloped land.

I don’t see this as some big disagreement, but as a difference in our views of the priority amongst the purposes and goals of the GMA.


Larry Horowitz

Sep 18, 2008


I see that the WA Supreme Court did review the Court of Appeals decision in Thurston County v Cooper Point; however, I believe only the Court of Appeals case includes the finding regarding the primary goals of the GMA (as cited above by both you and me).  I do not find this language in the Supreme Court?s decision. Regardless, the Court of Appeals is a high court, and I don?t disagree with their opinion.

Certainly, it?s hard to predict what would happen in the situation you describe.  Fortunately, with regard to the resource lands you and I hope to preserve, we are nowhere near that clash in Whatcom County.  The city?s existing UGA is more than adequate, and its 5-year review areas (if that term hasn?t yet been discarded) provide a further buffer between the city and the county?s resource lands.

While this window is open ? where these priorities are not currently in direct conflict ? county residents like you who are concerned about preserving resource lands, farmlands and forests should do whatever they can to encourage county decision-makers to pass laws to protect these lands.  No laws or infill strategies adopted by Bellingham can achieve that goal, and pressuring neighborhoods to destroy their quality of life will not garner you much support.

I am certain that good planning does not involve sacrificing prior planning that is currently working.  There are many areas within the city that would be open to additional development or redevelopment.  Developers would be wise to work with the people living in those areas to improve the city, rather than destroy it.

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