The Growth Management Act was passed in 1990, and here is the sordid history of Whatcom County's compliance with that state law.
1992 - Whatcom County Council adopts an interim Critical Areas Ordinance, to be repealed by voters (Referendum 92-3) and replaced with less-protective ordinance.
1994 - The Growth Management Hearings Board ruled the referendum invalid, and the Supreme Court rejected the Referendum on 12/8/94. Whatcom County established interim urban growth areas (IUGA) and established new interim CAO.
1994-1997 - Western Washington GMA hearings board continues to find the critical areas ordinance not in compliance and issues invalidity orders. 1995 date for comprehensive plan adoption missed.
1997 - Rather than revising its interim ordinances and regulations in response to the Board's determinations of invalidity, Whatcom County adopted its first GMA Comprehensive Plan in May 1997. This was two months before the effective date of new additions to the GMA governing the Rural Element, including the Limited Area of More Intense Rural Development ("LAMIRD") criteria. The County asked the Hearings Board to rescind its finding of invalidity, but the Board found that the new plan still allowed new urban growth outside of urban areas. Hearings Board ruled the plan allowed an unacceptable pattern of low density sprawl in urban areas. Permanent CAO adopted.
1997 - Citizen petitions against the Comprehensive plan go to the Growth Management Hearings Board
1998 - The Hearings Board finds 3 UGA and all but 2 of the designated rural areas and various zoning regulations to be invalid. Local water districts appeal decision and win in Superior Court.
2000 - Citizens appeal is ruled invalid due to lack of standing and Superior Court’s order reversing the GMA board’s final decision is affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
2005 - County completes review of its Comprehensive Plan: makes no changes to zoning. Adopts new CAO utilizing Best Available Science (BAS).
2005 - Futurewise appeals rural development and urban densities to GMA board who agrees County is out of compliance, except for changes in the Lake Whatcom Watershed and near the Airport.
2005-2006 - Gold Star developer appeals rural part of GMA decision to Superior Court, who reversed the Hearings Board.
2007 - Futurewise appeals Superior Court decision to the Court of Appeals and wins.
2008 - Gold Star’s appeal to the State Supreme Court is partially lost. The County was found to be out of compliance but the Court ruled that the Hearings Board could not apply a "bright line" test for rural densities. Remanded back to Hearings Board.
2009 - Whatcom County revises UGA designations, reducing many in size. Council elections in fall change political makeup.
2010 - New County Council changes UGAs for Ferndale and Birch Bay. Futurewise gets Order of Invalidity from Hearings Board due to continued non-compliance with rural development. Revised UGAs challenged by citizens.
2010-2011 - The County put in place several building and permitting moratoriums to work out problems with development in rural areas. Rural Invalidity Order lifted by Hearings Board.
2011 - Hearings Board rules Ferndale UGA too large and plans for public facilities and services inadequate. Ferndale and County revise UGAs, and Hearings Board finds compliance. County adopts package of amendments to address rural element (Gold Star case). New appeals on rural element filed. Hearings Board ruled that a County ordinance that allowed old permits to continue without protecting the environment to be inconsistent with GMA; an Order of Invalidity is issued on this ordinance. County makes changes to Caitac property in north Bellingham and held hearing on putting Yew Street in Lake Padden watershed back into UGA. Supreme Court rules that the County committed a "clear error by finding that WCC 20.80.212 [fire concurrency] was satisfied." County's approval of three land use applications were reversed. Supreme Court affirms the Court of Appeals in Citizens for Rational Shoreline Planning (Ron Jepson) v. Whatcom County regarding taxes or fees on development in the shoreline.
2012 - County found in violation of GMA for failing to include adequate measures to protect rural character, development regulations for LAMIRDs failed to provide that development in rural areas is based on the character when GMA passed, some rural areas oversized or improperly established, inconsistency between population allocation in rural areas and plan, failed to coordinate with water service and fire protection. Invalidity imposed. County found to be in continued non-compliance on permit extension ordinance (January), and then in compliance in June. County's decision to NOT approve an MRL designation for Concrete Nor'West upheld.
2013 - Found the County failed to provide a variety of rural densities, failed to provide required protection for Lake Whatcom, did not establish rural boundaries, and created internal consistency regarding water transmission lines. Invalidity imposed. Found the County's rural element does not include measures to protect the rural character because they do not protect surface water and groundwater.