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Birch Bay Watershed Action Plan: Linking Low Impact Development with Improved Critical Areas Management

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The Birch Bay watershed encompasses 31 square miles between Drayton Harbor and Lummi Bay in Whatcom County, Washington. The watershed supports exceptional biological diversity and the bay is classified as a critical shellfish protection area. These resources and amenities are under pressure from land development, and in danger of being damaged or lost unless specific steps are taken to ensure their preservation. Whatcom County, through collaboration with stakeholders within the Birch Bay community, is developing a watershed action plan to provide incentives and flexibility for developers that minimize hydrologic and water quality impacts onsite and mitigate for wildlife habitat impacts offsite. The voluntary program creates a Birch Bay Watershed Low Impact Development (LID) to encourage low impact development by providing incentives to qualifying projects, including access to a new habitat mitigation fund (HMF), flexibility to standard code provisions, reductions in critical area buffers and resources for implementing LID.

The Birch Bay Low Impact Development (LID) Overlay establishes a scoring system for low impact developments in the Birch Bay/Terrell Creek watershed. While enrollment in this program is not required, all applicants for development permits are encouraged to use LID techniques in their projects. This overlay is intended to fulfill the following purposes:

• Manage stormwater through a land development strategy that emphasizes conservation and use of on-site natural features to more closely mimic predevelopment hydrologic conditions.

• Minimize impervious surfaces.

• Encourage the creation or preservation of permanent forest cover and native vegetation.

• Promote innovative housing design and coordinated site planning.

• Provide standards for development practices that will earn credits toward incentives.

• Provide incentives for project proponents whose project exceeds the standards of existing development regulations.

Developers who implement low impact development measures through this pilot program also have access to the Birch Bay Habitat Mitigation Fund. This fundprovides an alternative approach to mitigating impacts to wildlife habitat functions resulting from alterations to wetland and stream buffers. The fund creates a fee-in-lieu of program whereby applicants can pay into the fund as an alternative to on-site and/or permittee-responsible mitigation. The county will direct mitigation funds to subbasins, identified through a detailed watershed characterization study, that provide the best opportunities to restore ecological functions and processes within the watershed.

The program was developed through twenty-six public meetings, including community open houses, workshops, planning commission meetings, and stakeholder group meetings. Stakeholder groups consisted of community members, builders, planning commission members, design professionals, regulatory agencies and conservation groups over a 36 month period. The code revisions and supporting materials approved by the Planning Commission on January 26, 2012, and will be reviewed and approved by the County Council in summer/fall of 2012. The program will be evaluated after a five year period and amended as necessary based on feedback from enrollees, number of applications enrolling in the program, effectiveness of LID to treat and retain stormwater, effectiveness of the program to preserve and restore habitat and advances in technology. This presentation will provide a summary of the program, progress to date and lessons learned for future incentive-based programs.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2012-01-01

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