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LAMIRD work tough but necessary.

When David Stalheim first started as Whatcom County planning director a couple years ago, he had one main mandate from the county's executive body: Get into compliance with the Washington state Growth Management Act (GMA).

He is upsetting a lot of people, but the work must still be done.

For some time, Whatcom County has been out of favor with the GMA due to the absence of a management plan for Whatcom County's small historic communities that fall outside any city or UGA, like Glacier, Acme and Maple Falls.

Now, the creation of a plan for these limited areas of more intense rural development (LAMIRD) is seriously under way and rural Whatcom landowners have slowly realized what this could mean for their properties.

The idea behind LAMIRDs is that if you draw circles around pockets of county development, growth would be managed and contained within the circle. All areas outside that "logical outer boundary" would be downzoned to allow one dwelling per 10 acres.

If a business is within a LAMIRD, it would be able to grow and expand to a level that was found in Whatcom County in 1990. If a business is outside the LAMIRD, it would be considered a non-conforming use and would have to get a conditional-use permit for any expansion or changes to the property.

We have received calls from several county residents who are outraged about this work, but Stalheim and county planning officials have no choice. If residents are angry, they should be angry at the Washington state Legislature, which placed the LAMIRD statute upon the counties.

Stalheim said in an interview that use of the LAMIRD statute is voluntary, but the alternative is to allow no areas of more intense rural development.

Under the circumstances, something is certainly better than nothing.

Along with allowing some rural development, the LAMIRD statute offers a plan for how Whatcom County would maintain its rural lands over the generations. Many people simply speak about protecting Whatcom County's rural lands without offering a plan for how it would happen. These changes in zoning offer a pathway to becoming a reflection of what we are now instead of becoming something that we will not recognize.

You must only look at King County to see what can happen in the absence of a plan dedicated to managing growth and preserving green spaces.

The main flaw in the current LAMIRD work is not considering the Guide Meridian a main thoroughfare where it makes sense for development to happen. The Washington state Department of Transportation has spent millions of dollars widening it in advance of the 2010 Olympics because they recognize its status as a major north-south arterial that is already home to many businesses.

The current work dots the Guide Meridian with nodes of LAMIRDs and downzones small areas to residential. Who would want to buy or build a house next to a four-lane highway?

While, fundamentally, LAMIRDs will help to create a vision for Whatcom County that our children will thank us for, they will thank us even more if we implement it with common sense.

See in-depth LAMIRD feature online at www. bbjtoday.com
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Title Annotation:limited areas of more intense rural development; Washington state Growth Management Act
Publication:Bellingham Business Journal
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1U9WA
Date:Oct 1, 2009
Words:526
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