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Friday, November 8, 2013

Seabright Farms Hearing: Review by Ed

Ed Park of Getthewholepicture's Bellingham Bureau filed this special news report on November 7, 2013.  He reports on the public hearing concerning development plans for Seabright Farms.

                                  Council Chambers, Whatcom County Courthouse, November 6, 2013

The public was heard, formally, under oath, Wednesday, in Bellingham, regarding the proposed development of Seabright Farms at Lily Point.  To what effect?  I would guess the answer is "precious little."

Most of the public testimony (mine included) was about what we, the public, want -- wetlands, trails, eagles, trees, setbacks.  For example: "We love the APA maple canopy, and want it protected."  For the most part, Michael Bobbink, the hearing examiner listened patiently to the testimony, but he occasionally interrupted to explain how things really work.

How things work is like this: State and County codes place numerous requirements and prohibitions on the developer.  If plans for the proposed development follow all of the dos and don'ts, the hearing examiner will (must) approve the plans.  If a staff report or public testimony convinces the examiner that the plans are out of compliance with one or more of the requirements, the examiner will order changes to bring them into compliance.

However, testimony like the following has no force: "The plans show drainfields just south of APA Road.  To construct the drainfields, all the trees in those areas must be cut down.  When the trees are cut down, the canopy trees immediately adjacent to APA will be exposed to strong southerly winds and will likely blow down in a big storm.  We want the canopy trees protected."

That testimony just begs the question "Is there anything in the code to prohibit the developer from cutting down those trees?  If so, cite the code section and convince me that the plans are out of compliance.  Otherwise, I have no choice but to approve the developers' plans."

Fortunately, in this instance, the developer shares our love of the canopy and is actively investigating ways to relocate the drainfields away from APA.  But it appears that it's all up to him to do what he chooses to do; the public has no standing to request things that are not already required by code.

If the hearing examiner's ruling ends up being reviewed by the Whatcom County Council, public opinion may carry more weight in that more-political forum.

There may be a lesson here for opponents of the proposed radio towers on MacKenzie Road.  Most of the arguments against the towers seem to be of the form "We think they will be harmful, and we don't want them built."  My experience in Bellingham yesterday makes me think such arguments are unlikely to carry much weight.

The final ruling from the Hearing Examiner on Seabright will be issued next Friday.

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