Planning & Community Development Major Projects

Key Initiatives

University of Washington Bellingham Annexation Research Initiative: A team of University of Washington (UW) Master of Urban Planning students is partnering with the City of Bellingham Planning and Community Development Department to assess unincorporated UGA resident interest in annexing to the City.   This partnership leverages UW Department of Urban Design and Planning resources and research capabilities to inform future City of Bellingham growth management strategy.

2019 Downtown Survey – A collaboration between the Planning Department and Downtown Bellingham Partnership to find out what residents want to improve downtown. The survey will go live on May 13, 2019.


Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) Ordinance Update: The update includes a review and analysis of current regulations and recommendations for possible changes that will ensure implementation of related comprehensive plan goals and policies, efficient use of land, and clear and consistent review processes. The Happy Valley and Columbia neighborhoods have expressed interest in participating in a pilot project to elevate allowing a limited number of detached accessory dwelling units.

Annexation Phasing Plan: Urban Growth Areas (UGAs) are areas adjacent to the city that are eligible for annexation. Most of the areas remaining in the UGA are already developed with urban-level densities and land uses due to previous City policy allowing extension of utilities prior to annexation. The 2009 Annexation Phasing Plan will be updated to review priority areas and to develop strategies for annexation or recommend removal from the UGA if near term annexation is not feasible.

Commercial Zoning: Phase 1, completed in 2016, included working with graduate students from the University of Washington’s Department of Urban Design and Planning to facilitate a series of focus group meetings with business and property owners, developers, elected and appointed officials, residents and agencies. The groups discussed how well the current codes are working and if the community is achieving its desired goals in regard to commercial development.

Consolidated Plan: This is a 5-year plan that profiles the community service and housing needs of Bellingham, and lays out strategies for meeting these needs over time. About 5 million dollars a year go into these programs from a combination of federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnership (HOME) dollars, City housing levy funds and program income repayments from previous investments.

Infill Toolkit Revisions: In response to the increased number of inquiries to use the infill toolkit provisions, staff has had an opportunity to work with these provisions and has identified some challenges with the implementation of these provisions. Staff will conduct a Type VI legislative review to amend the infill toolkit provisions that are necessary to address these challenges to increase opportunities for implementation.

Low-Barrier Shelter: Like nearly every city in Western Washington, the City of Bellingham has seen a significant increase in unsheltered and homeless individuals. While the City has undertaken significant steps to address this problem through outreach programs, and working with housing providers, it has become evident that the community is in need of a low-barrier shelter that can address the short-term shelter needs that will allow people a place to spend the night this is preferred over our City streets and doorways. The City and Lighthouse Mission Ministries will continue working together to identify a location for and plan to provide a low-barrier shelter.

Shoreline Master Program (SMP): During the remainder of 2021 the City will be updating its Shoreline Master Program (SMP). The SMP is the document that regulates development along the City’s shorelines or, “shorelines of the state.” The City’s “shorelines of the state” are Bellingham Bay, Lake Whatcom and Lake Padden, Chuckanut, Whatcom and Squalicum Creeks and Padden Creek upstream to McKenzie Avenue. The City’s SMP was last updated in 2013 and is codified in Title 22 of our Municipal Code. (BMC Title 22, Shorelines) SMP’s are required to be updated every eight years. The Washington State Department of Ecology engages in the update along the way and is the state agency solely responsible for issuing final approval of an SMP update.

On June 24, 2021 at 7:00 PM – at a virtual work session – the Planning and Community Development Department (PCDD) will introduce the Planning Commission to the City’s update of its SMP. Register to attend the meeting at

This work-session intends to achieve two objectives. First, the introduction will include a description of the scope of the update itself. Generally, identification of the required elements and the topic areas that are intended to be updated will be outlined. Second, and more importantly, PCDD staff will provide an introduction to the existing SMP itself. Think of it as an “SMP 101” very short course. Staff believes that the commissioners need to be educated on the intent and mechanics of the SMP and how it implements the Washington State Shoreline Management Act at the local level BEFORE reviewing any proposed revisions.

Materials for the June 24, 2021 virtual work session can be found here: Planning Commission – City of Bellingham (

Please participate in the “Quick Poll” and sign the “Guestbook” for the Shoreline Master Program Update page on the “Engage Bellingham” website.

Subdivision Ordinance Update: The City’s subdivision code will be updated to reflect the goals and visions of the Comprehensive Plan, ensures efficient use of land, and provide clear and consistent review processes. The update includes stakeholder input, drafting new regulations and ensuring public review through the legislative process.