The Planning and Community Development Department is responsible for a wide range of functions related to community change, enhancement and preservation. Areas of responsibility include planning and zoning, building inspection and plan check services, and community and economic development. Specific task areas include current and long-range planning, zoning administration, environmental review, historic preservation, code compliance, redevelopment, grant and loan administration for affordable housing and community services, and fostering appropriate economic growth. The Department strives to provide vision and leadership within the context of innovative, high quality, equitable and efficient services which encompass and reflects community values.
As we conduct our work, we strive to be:
- Efficient and effective in the provision of services for our City;
- Proactive, creative problem solvers;
- Responsible stewards of public resources;
- Strategic partners with enterprise, public and private entities; and
- Respectful public administrators who are responsive to the changing needs of our community.
2022-2023 Key Initiatives
Affordable Housing & Prevention of Homelessness
- Housing Pipeline. Work with county-wide partners to establish priorities for coordinated pipeline of affordable housing development and complete underwriting and loan documents for the Opportunity Council’s senior housing development slated for State Street and Mercy Housing’s family housing development slated for the Waterfront District. Continue discussions with Kulshan CLT, Catholic Housing Services, Pioneer Services and Bellingham Housing Authority about next projects.
- Assessment of Fair Housing & 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. The new 5-year plan begins July 1, 2023 and will utilize a new reporting system which will soon be under development. About 8 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, affordable housing sales tax and program income repayments from previous investments. The plan and corresponding annual action plans are a requirement of receiving the federal CDBG and HOME funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Results of this planning process will inform any future housing levy put forward by the City. Plan implementation happens primarily through the over two dozen contracts in place at any given time for delivery of housing and services projects throughout the City. Climate resiliency will be a new area of emphasis for this plan.
- Budget Strategy. The City Council authorized an Affordable Housing Sales Tax in 2021 which will generate an additional $3M per year. Staff will work with Whatcom County staff to strategize how best to utilize the various funds each agency works with, including this new fund, to ensure the community’s highest priorities will continue to be met as federal recovery dollars subside.
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Homeownership program assessment & analysis with regard to wealth building & integration of limited equity cooperatives.
Homeless Crisis Response
- Lighthouse Mission Ministries (LMM) Shelter. Like nearly every city in Western Washington, the city of Bellingham has seen an increase in unsheltered homeless individuals and families. The City supported LMM’s temporary shelter facility known as the Drop-in-Center and lead its relocation and expansion of Base Camp due to COVID. Base Camp is in another temporary location and needs a permanent facility. LMM has decided it wants to pursue redevelopment of its own properties in Old Town. This project is lead by LMM with support from the City.
- A New Pathway for Families with Children Experiencing Homelessness. Complete the feasibility analysis for developing a replacement to the motel stay program. If proven feasible, identify city and partner agency roles, secure a site, begin the design and finish raising the capital for construction.
- Continued Shelter and Outreach Support. Support our experienced partners in operating shelters, including but not limited to Base Camp, Gardenview, NWYS Young Adult Winter Shelter, and the motel stay program for families with children. Support the Opportunity Council’s expanded Homeless Outreach Team help unsheltered community members access services, shelter and housing.
Urban Village Implementation
- Urban Village Design Standards and Guidelines. We conducted a review and analysis of our urban village implementation strategies in 2018. One of the priority recommendations was to overhaul the design review process as well as the standards. Staff are finalizing the code changes and will be prepared to work with the Planning Commission and City Council in 2022.
- Downtown Services. Work with Downtown Bellingham Partnership to implement an Ambassador program. And, assist downtown businesses with COVID-related adaptations and compliance with DOH regulations, best practices for retail and filling downtown vacancies.
Other Community & Economic Development
- Childcare. Support childcare operators with grant funds to expand childcare facilities while also exploring ways in which local government can relieve the stressors causing workforce shortage.
- Tourism Strategic Plan. Work with the Tourism Commission, Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, Whatcom County and other stakeholders to develop a tourism strategic plan which will prioritize actions funded by the Tourism Promotion Area and Lodging Tax.
- Tourism Promotion Area. Establish and administer this new funding source.
- COVID Recovery. Support economic recovery associated with the impacts associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, including administering programs and projects utilizing federal recovery dollars.
The core function of the Division is processing permits; including implementation of zoning and environmental regulations, land use and building permitting, plan review, inspections, process streamlining, counter and field customer service. Staff also manages the work of the Historic Preservation Committee, Design Review Board and the Hearing Examiner.
- Permit Record Archiving. Develop and implement an electronic permit record archiving system to reduce the physical space dedicating to archiving decades of large paper plan sets.
- Permit Expiration Timelines. Currently permit expiration dates for projects with multiple land use permits do not align and can result in permits expiring at different timeframes for the same project. Staff will review and consider code changes to align all land use permit expiration timelines.
- Shoreline Master Program (SMP). The State Shoreline Management Act requires periodic review of the city’s SMP. The review ensures the SMP stays current with changes in laws and rules, remains consistent with other Bellingham plans and regulations, and is responsive to changed circumstances (sea level), new information and improved data.
- Cordata PUD. The PUD was drafted prior to annexation of this area into the city and it was designed to be an all-inclusive business park with limited uses identified in ‘sectors’. The PUD never developed as intended, which results in conflicting regulations and review processes for development. Staff in PCD and legal will draft rules dissolving the PUD.
- New Building Electrification. Continued review and consideration of regulations requiring the electrification of certain commercial and multifamily buildings, as well as increases in energy efficiencies for these buildings and solar readiness for all buildings.
- Rental Registration and Safety Inspection Program. The RR&SI program was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic but will restart in January 2022. Staff will continue to simplify the registration and inspection scheduling process and review current software applications. Staff will also bring forward several clarifying code changes intended to improve implementation of the program.
- Development Review Process Improvements – LEAN. The city has completed a four phased review of the development review process (pre-application, land use enablement, public facilities construction, and building permit review), that identified many customer-based efficiencies. Staff has implemented several of those improvements. As LEAN philosophy suggests, Phase I land use processes will be re-examined to ensure continuous process improvements.
- TRAKiT Upgrades. The original permit tracking software project has generally been completed, however several desired functions for project tracking were postponed. This project will prioritize and resource those functions, it also includes additional permitting improvements. TRAKiT improvement projects will be an ongoing and recurring work item, each project will need to be evaluated for resources including in-house functions as well as budgeted funding for outside contracting.
- 2025 Comprehensive Plan Periodic Update. This update to our long-range planning guiding document includes changes to conform with new state legislation, updated Countywide Planning Policies, shifting regional and local conditions, and updated visioning for the City’s future.
- ADU ordinance update. The update includes a review and analysis of current regulations and recommendations for possible changes that will encourage more ADUs, ensure implementation of related comprehensive plan goals and policies, efficient use of land, and clear and consistent review processes. The ordinance was last updated in 2018.
- Inclusionary zoning study. Engage consultants to study the feasibility of an inclusionary zoning program.
- Comprehensive Plan Annual Docket. Annual review of applications for proposed comprehensive plan amendments and rezones through a Type VI legislative review process. In the 2021-22 cycle, several significant projects have come forward: 1) Fairhaven “pit” property CPA and rezone; 2) Urban village plan for Barkley area; 3) Jerns property rezone; 4) Cordata Town Center amendment; 5) Bellingham School District CPA and rezone for Cougar Road property; 6) Area 1, Irongate Neighborhood
- PeaceHealth IMP. Review proposed amendments to the institutional master plan for PeaceHealth medical center campus.
- Buildable Lands. Complete “Buildable Lands” report by mid-year 2022. Phase 1 includes a look back to 2016 to evaluate how the city is doing with respect to accommodating projected population growth. Phase 2 includes forecasting future population growth (to 2045) and comparing lands needed to accommodate the growth with existing developable land capacity.
- Family Definition. Complete revisions to the “Family” definition to comply with State law.
- County-wide Planning Policies. Begin review/update of the County-wide Planning Policies (CWPPs). Work with Whatcom County and other cities to update State mandated set of policies that guide the development of comprehensive plans.
- Annexations. Complete the Meridian/Kline/Kelly annexation.
- Infill Toolkit Phase 2. Staff will begin review of possible changes to the ITK promoting expanding housing choice throughout the city. The project envisions a broad community review of the toolkit including where it is allowed, differences between standards for greenfield and true infill development and possible density changes to promote the creation of more “missing-middle” housing forms.
- Multi -Family Tax Exemption. Update and implement the Multi-family Tax Exemption program to comply with recent changes to State law. Formalize administration of Multi-Family Tax Exemption program for the 12-year exemption /affordable housing and development materials to increase the uptake of the Multi-family Tax Exemption for affordable housing.