Hey, how about a new feature on the Hawk called Stupid Planning Tricks? / Facebook post, Whatcom Hawk, Wendy Harris

ostriches on road

2 hrs  March 11, 2016  Wendy Harris

Hey, how about a new feature on the Hawk called Stupid Planning Tricks? Post a video here [in the Whatcom Hawk Facebook group] showing how dumb a planning decision is, whether it is for the comp. plan [Comprehensive Plan] or CAO [Critical Areas Ordinance] update, an existing ordinance, a Hearing Examiner decision, etc.

I will go first.

My Stupid Planning Trick video highlights the decision of the Planning Commission last night to provide exemptions to critical area review and permitting for “low impact” activities. These include things like hunting, hiking, nature watching and photography. And once an activity is exempted, any development in support of that activity is exempted and may engage in “alteration of the critical area and buffer.” To summarize, this means we are allowing an activity asserted to be low impact to be excused from critical area rules. And once excused, we than allow development that is not low impact to occur to support that low impact activity.

A few relevant details. The CAO does not apply to activities. Hmmm. That almost seems like this is some sort of trick, including activities as an exemption, and then in another statute provision, specifically allowing related development that does have impact, to be exempted as well.

Know what else? It is not stated, but it is clear that the staff has discretion to determine what is defined as low impact, and the fact that they include HUNTING, does not make me comfortable. And this..according to science, there are no low impact activities, not even nature watching and photography. And people significantly underestimate their impacts.

So enjoy this video of an ostrich family running down a hot highway in the middle of what I assume is Australia. The babies are adorable and the adults are fascinating. Their feet flop, their knees bend backwards, they have little stick necks and legs on a huge body of gorgeous feathers.

Then get to the very last second of the video. What do you see? Why it is a friendly nature watcher, chasing them in a car with video recorder. And admit it.. how often have you seen things like this happen? The reality is that some people will harass wildlife to get a good look or a good shot.

My recommendation? 1. Do not do this. 2. Write to the Planning Department, The Planning Commission and the County Council and ask them to eliminate the exemptions to the critical area ordinance. That is not to say that certain activities may not be permitted, but they should still go through the critical area review process. 3. Under no circumstance, even when a permitted activity is involved, should development within a critical area or buffer be exempted.

Read Wendy’s post in the Whatcom Hawk Facebook group here.

Contact the Planning and Development Services Department here:


Contact the Planning Commission here:


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