Timeline

In the Beginning   Trillium logged Squalicum Mountain
2001 Trillium (David Syre) deeded the property to his cousin Gordon Iverson.
2006
July Bill Sygitowicz of the Vineyard Development Group LLC came to the Squalicum Valley to meet with members of the Y- Squalicum Water Association. He announced that he had received the “nod” to move ahead with a clustered development on top of Squalicum Mountain from the County Council. The gated community for the “right kind of people” would create a mini-city and include urban amenities such as streetlights. He said construction would begin in September.
August The Squalicum Valley Community Association held its first meeting on August 2, 2006. Members began to attend County Council meetings to express their concern about the legality and impacts of urban levels of development in the rural zone. There were those who objected to what sounded like a “backroom” deal based on what Sygitowicz had said.
September Members of the association visited the offices of Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District. They discovered and obtained photos of the Feasibility Study done on behalf of Vineyard Development. The Study revealed that the acquisition of the Lake Whatcom Residential Treatment Center’s water system was part of the plan to serve the Vineyard development. It was also learned that the district was seeking grant money from the State Department of Heath to help pay for the acquisition. After filing public disclosure requests to obtain all the documents relative to Vineyard, we obtained Resolution 705 and the Developer’s Agreement between Vineyard and the district. These three documents show clearly the district’s intention and plan to extend water service to Vineyard. At some point, we learned that councilors Seth Fleetwood and Laurie Caskey-Schreiber visited the site for the proposed cluster with Sygitowicz. We invited both of them to come and meet with valley residents to discuss our concerns. Seth was gracious enough to meet with us, while Laurie has not responded to repeated invitations.
October Ward Nelson introduced an emergency ordinance temporarily removing the lot clustering provision from the Rural Forestry zone. A meeting with residents on the west side of Squalicum Mountain took place on October 19th. Residents of Academy Road had concerns regarding the Vineyard proposal as well as rampant development occurring on Vineyard Drive. Property owners Jacob Smith and Rome Sarwas were advertising building lots on Vineyard Drive. The subdivision process was incomplete and the ads boasted city water and at least one lot at two acres in a zone where five acres is the minimum. Jacob Smith is also listed as the registered agent for Sygitowicz’s LLC.
November A late fall visit to the Whatcom County Planning & Development Services to examine the files pertaining to the Vineyard project proved to be serendipitous when a county employee provided a copy of the interlocal agreement between the City of Bellingham and Water District 7. This agreement was supposed to limit development in the watershed on the west side of Squalicum Mt. The district purchases and resells city water. The agreement limits service to lots of record as July 1991. This agreement was signed by current district manager Jim Trowbridge who was not abiding by its terms requiring, written approval from the city before providing water service to new lots.
2007
January SqVCA and the Y-Squalicum Water Association wrote letters to Whatcom County Planning & Development Services requesting to be notified of any development and opportunities for public participation relative to projects that could have any impact on the Squalicum Valley and its aquifer.
February SqVCA members attended city council meetings to focus attention on the violation of the interlocal agreement between COB and Water District #7, and the threat posed to the reservoir by the rampant development occurring on Vineyard Drive and the cluster development proposed for the top of Squalicum Mountain.
April The following statement was read at a City Council meeting:City water is being used to facilitate development in the Lake Whatcom Watershed in an area outside of the city and its urban growth area, and in an R5 zone. On a private road called Vineyard Drive near Academy a water tower is about to be constructed in District 7’s service area. District 7 purchases its water from the city of Bellingham and is bound by an interlocal agreement between the city of Bellingham and Water District 7 dated April 13, 1993. This agreement states in part that District 7 “will not sell or resell water for any use other than single-family dwellings on lots of record as of July 1, 1991.” The extension of urban services into the rural area is contrary to the Growth Management Act and the County Comprehensive Plan. It appears that the County has issued a permit to construct a water tower illegally to the detriment of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir. Are you aware that the Lake Whatcom Cooperative Management is comprised of the city, the county and water district 10 working in concert to protect Lake Whatcom, because it is the drinking water source for over 85,000 people? In a joint resolution the city, the county and water district 10 stated its adopted goals and policies which read in part: that protection takes priority over treatment in the management of the Lake and its watersheds; to pursue public ownership and protection of the watershed; promote low impact forest practices in the watershed over residential development while working to ensure that forest management practices are conducted in harmony with the principles of a drinking water reservoir; to prevent water quality degradation associated with development within the watershed; to review and recommend changes in zoning and development potential that are compatible with a drinking water reservoir environment; to identify and promote action to minimize potential for in increased development in the watershed; to develop specific standards which reduce the impacts of urbanization such as minimal lot clearing; to ensure that sewer systems promote, improve, and protect water quality without promoting growth. These are just a few of the stated goals and policies of 1992’s Joint Resolution. These few policies are in no way being practiced or enforced at the site of this project. I’m here to ask that the city work with the county to ensure that the policies and goals that were written to protect the Lake Whatcom Reservoir be enforced. The protection of Lake Whatcom and its watershed was a high priority for Joan Beardsley. What better way is there to honor her memory that to take up her cause?
May A stop work order was issued on May 9, 2007 to halt a project on the west side of Squalicum Mountain after concerned citizens got the attention of the Bellingham City Council. In the fall of 2006, two citizens obtained a copy of the Interlocal Agreement between the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County Water District 7 from Whatcom County Planning & Development Services. This agreement gives the City of Bellingham the power it needs to protect the Lake Whatcom Reservoir from further degradation caused by inappropriate development in the watershed.This agreement states in part: “The District agrees it will not sell or resell water for any use other than single-family dwellings on lots of record as of July 1, 1991, without the specific approval of the City of Bellingham.” This restriction was put in place to prevent urban sprawl. The Growth Management Act (GMA) adopted by the Washington State Legislature in 1990 protects rural lands from urban sprawl by prohibiting the extension of urban services (city water) outside of the city and its Urban Growth Areas (UGAs). The Washington State Supreme Court does not allow the extension of urban services into rural zones outside the UGA.The stop work order applied to construction that was well underway. Roman R Sarwas and Jacob L Smith own 20 acres of land on Vineyard Drive off of Academy Road just northeast of Silver Beach. According to the assessor’s office, parcel # 380323 326496 0000 is zoned Rural, is designated forestland, and required a tax payment of $46.76 in 2007. R5A zoning allows a density of 1 dwelling per 5 acres. Although this 20-acre parcel has yet to be subdivided into 4 five-acre parcels, a large sign on Vineyard Drive indicates that 2 of the parcels are already sold in addition to advertising city water. Currently there is a moratorium on subdivisions in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

The size and amount of 8-inch water pipe on the site indicated a system capacity far beyond one required to service 4 dwellings was being installed. Trenches and a stake labeled center of water tank were observed and photographed. A visit to the office of Water District 7 provided concerned citizens with documentation that wells in this area have failed to provide sufficient quality or quantities of water. A document listing names and/or addresses that obtained water service from the District since the year 2000 revealed that the District has agreed to provide water to 96 new customers 25 of whom are connected or scheduled to be connected this year. It was also learned that if a landowner is willing to install the infrastructure at their own expense District 7 will sell them water even when it means providing water outside of its service area boundary.

A 2006 Water System Plan Map indicates that the Whatcom Water District 7 Service Area Boundary includes all of Squalicum Mountain. Attached to the Interlocal Agreement is a map indicating the District 7 service area in 1991, and it appears significantly smaller. In order to expand its service area a water district must apply for a service area boundary extension with the Boundary Review Board, the board must hold public hearings, and then make recommendations to the County Council. The County Council must vote to approve the extension of any water district’s service area. None of these requirements have been met. Some developers have already profited from this illegal provision of public water. Other landowners and developers are just waiting for their turn. This is probably the case with the proposed cluster development for the top of Squalicum Mountain.

There are two entities using the word Vineyard in their name that are involved with development on Squalicum Mountain. Last summer Vineyard Development Group LLC owned by Bill Sygitowicz proposed a clustered subdivision for the top of Squalicum Mountain. A public disclosure request revealed that Jacob Smith is the registered agent for this limited liability company. The County Council has passed an emergency ordinance removing the clustering provision from the rural forestry zone from the Whatcom County Code. Citizens are currently working to ensure this change in the code becomes permanent. Vineyard Land LLC is the name of the company owned by Sarwas & Smith whose development on the west side of Squalicum Mountain was issued the stop work order in May.

In addition to the water issue, zoning issues are also a threat to Squalicum Mountain. In 1996 Whatcom County lost at a hearing before the Growth Management Hearings Board and was told that zonings at higher densities than 1 dwelling per 5 acres outside of the UGA are illegal. In 1997 the acronym LAMIRD for Limited Areas of More Intense Development was used to describe areas where development had occurred at higher densities in the rural areas prior to the passage of the GMA in 1990. This concept was based on the already built environment. There is an improperly designated LAMIRD on Squalicum Mountain. It is carved into the RF (Rural Forest) zone outside of the UGA. The area is still a forest, and the homes there are recently built. County Executive Pete Kremen owns property in this illegally designated LAMIRD. He has 4 lots that he could sell for $500,000 each. Once the area becomes non-rural, it will become part of the UGA, and his 8.7 acres will yield 17 lots at 2 lots per acre. A short plat application filed with the Planning Department in Kremen’s name is not yet vested due to water not being available. It’s on the record: County Council members Seth Fleetwood and Dan McShane saying Kremen’s property does not meet the criteria for a LAMIRD.

Various citizen groups are working to protect the Lake Whatcom Reservoir from the water quality degradation associated with development in the watershed by insisting current zoning and the laws protecting our resource lands be upheld. The City and the County under the banner of Lake Whatcom Cooperative Mangement are supposed to be ensuring the protection of the drinking water source for more than half of the county residents. Their advice to ”carpool, carpool, carpool” and “fix fuel leaks” is important, but they could achieve more of their goals by enforcing the regulations that are in place to limit development and therefore reduce its deleterious effects on the Lake Whatcom Reservoir.

June A petition was presented to Water District # 7 Commissioners requesting the termination of District Manager Jim Trowbridge’s employment due to his inappropriate and possibly illegal activities related to granting water hookups. The items listed included: he operated in violation of the inter-local agreement with the City of Bellingham limiting water service to lots of record as of July 1991which he signed in 1993; he violated WA State’s Growth Management Act; he demonstrated a lack of concern relative to protecting Lake Whatcom and its watershed; he created a state of embarrassment for the members of WD #7 who pride themselves on being environmentally active citizens: and he subjected WD #7 to potential lawsuits for his mis-appropriation of water from the City of Bellingham. Petitioners requested a vote of no confidence be an agenda item on the district’s June 12, 2007 meeting agenda.
July Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District obtained a Conditional Use Permit to construct a reservoir and install 1700 linear feet of 8-inch water main. The address given for the location of the 105,700-gallon reservoir is 3400 Agate Heights Road. LWW&SD claims this reservoir and water main are to service the Lake Whatcom Residential Treatment Center only. Last August members of the Squalicum Valley Community Association learned this project is step one of the strategy identified in a Feasibility Study done on behalf of Vineyard Development to obtain water for its proposed clustered development on top of Squalicum Mountain. LWW&SD has a map posted in its conference room showing this water main continuing beyond the treatment center to the cluster site and ultimately connecting to Water District 7’s 8-inch main on Academy. Earlier this year both associations wrote letters to LWW&SD and the Whatcom County Planning & Development Services Department expressing interest in and concern about this project. Those letters went unanswered. Notice of the public hearing pertaining to this permit application was not received. It was by chance that the date and time the Hearing Examiner set for the permit hearing were discovered. Fortunately, an officer from each association was able to attend. The water association’s well and the Agate Bay area wells used by LWW&SD rely upon the same aquifer. No aquifer study has been done. While state water law protects senior water rights, the burden of proving negative impacts lies with those negatively impacted. We contend that the 8-inch main is not necessary to service the Treatment Center. The water association serves 70 families with four and six inch pipes. We contend that an 8-inch water main constitutes an urban level of service and therefore is prohibited by the state’s Growth Management Act in the rural zone. The Y-Squalicum Water Association and the Squalicum Valley Community Association filed a joint appeal of this permit on July 27, 2007.
September A joint meeting of the Y-Squalicum Water Association and SqVCA took place at the Rome Grange on September 17, 2007. The water association and the community association have a common goal: to protect the Squalicum Valley aquifer. This aquifer supplies water to the water association’s well; private wells in the valley; the Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District’s Agate Heights well; and the Lake Whatcom Reservoir. The water association’s water right certificate is dated July 16, 1961 and is senior to LWW&SD’s water right. Attendees were given the history itemized above beginning with the Sygitowicz meeting and concluding with the in progress first appeal of the conditional use permit.
October As a result of the appeal, on October 11, 2007 the County Council added the following words to the conditional use permit: “The improvements authorized by this permit shall not be used in the future to improperly extend urban services to the rural areas contrary to the provisions of the Growth Management Act.” This language is vague and fails to acknowledge that the proposed waterline itself is prohibited by the GMA. The City of Bellingham and both associations filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the County Council on October 22, 2007. This motion was denied.
November On November 1, 2007 both the City of Bellingham and the Water and Community Associations filed an appeal in the Superior Court of the State of Washington.
December The temporary ban on clustering in the Rural Forestry zone was extended for another six months.
2008
January On January 18. 2008, in Whatcom County Superior Court, Judge Ira Uhrig ruled that a new hearing was warranted as Whatcom County failed to give proper notice of the CUP hearing to concerned citizens and the City of Bellingham as required by Whatcom County Code. The permit remanded back to the Hearing Examiner and a new hearing was won.
March The remand hearing took place on March 19, 2008. As expected, the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner again approved the Conditional Use Permit allowing the Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District to construct a waterline and reservoir described in the water district’s feasibility study as necessary to provide water service to the Vineyard Development.At the remand hearing before the Hearing Examiner we were able to get critical evidence and testimony into the record. The evidence that the ultimate purpose of consolidating the Treatment Center’s water system with the district’s Agate Heights system is clear. The Feasibility Study done on behalf of Vineyard; LWW&SD’s Resolution 705 to provide water service to Vineyard; and the developer’s agreement between the water district and Vineyard are now part of the public record. According to the Feasibility Study, the Lake Whatcom Residential Treatment Center reservoir, the additional segment of water main, and the upgrade of the existing Opal Terrace Booster Station would be required as part of a system expansion to serve the Vineyard Development property.The Hearing Examiner refused to consider the project in its entirety. This decision is virtually identical to his first decision. There is a concession to the city’s request for written notification should the district attempt to use the water line to provide water outside of the district, but only if this decision is not appealed.

In all candor, the condition is meaningless in as much as it only applies to further extensions from the Treatment Center site. With the extension to the Treatment Center the water district will also extend an 8” line to Opal Terrace. They will not need any further permits or need give any further notice to extend lines from Opal Terrace elsewhere.

April The City of Bellingham began to explore the possibility of taking over the Lake Whatcom Water & Sewer District. An appeal of the second Hearing Examiner decision was filed on April 21, 2008.
May County Council members accepted the recommendation of the Planning Commission and voted that the consultant the Executive hired to study clustering on agricultural land also study the unintended consequences of clustering in the rural forestry zone. This is a classic case of mixing apples and oranges, as the GMA allows clustering on Ag lands but not on forestlands. A petition supporting the permanent removal of clustering in the rural forestry zone with hundreds of signatures was presented to the council. The temporary ban on clustering in the RF zone was extended for six more months.
June Construction of the reservoir is underway despite the appeal. SqVCA’s attorney sent this letter to the chairman of county council.
November The ban on clustering in the Rural Forestry Zone was extended for another six months.
December SQVCA members attended a hearing related to the illegal extension of sewer service outside of Bellingham and its Urban Growth Area contrary to the Growth Management Act (GMA). Patrick Uy, the proponent of North Shore Estates and his attorney argued before the Hearing Examiner that a lapsed Developer’s Extension Agreement with LWW&SD entitles him to sewer service for his project. The Department of Ecology refused to sign off on the water district’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan providing such service without the County’s express consent to allow the improper service. The County took the position that it is up to LWW&SD to determine whether or not they can provide the illegal service. The City of Bellingham argued that the sewer service is prohibited under the GMA and that a new 2008 Developer Extension Agreement is invalid. The Hearing Examiner upheld the County’s position writing neither he nor the County have jurisdiction in such matters. The City of Bellingham is appealing the Hearing Examiner’s decision.
2009
January A legal notice appeared in the Bellingham Herald stating Whatcom County issued a Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance (MDNS) for a SEPA checklist that would permit the construction of a road by Vineyard Development requiring the removal of approximately 11 acres of watershed forest. Public comments were sought. The MDNS was withdrawn after the public comment period, and is being appealed by the City of Bellingham.David Stalheim, head of Whatcom County Planning & Development Services asked the County Council for direction on the Rural Forestry Ordinance in a memo dated January15, 2009. Mr. Stalheim informed the Council there are no funds available to pay a consultant as previously approved, and his staff does not have the resources to do this work before the interim ordinance comes up for renewal again this May.The minutes from the January 27, 2008 County Council meeting minutes page 10, item 10 under the heading Report on Committee Review and Recommendations to Council Regarding Direction on Rural Forest Cluster Ordinance (AB2009-089) reads: “Caskey-Schreiber reported for the Planning and Development Committee and stated the committee directed staff to make the interim ordinance permanent. Staff will prepare a permanent ordinance.” This is not as definitive as it sounds.

County Councilor Barbara Brenner explained in an e-mail that the permanent ordinance will go to the Planning Commission first. The Planning Commission will send it to the Council with their recommendation: either for or against. If the Council disagrees with the Planning Commission’s recommendation, then they will have their own hearing. The Planning Commission did not support the ban last year.

May The County Council voted 6-1 (Crawford opposed) to adopt the ordinance that permanently removed the Lot Clustering Provision from Whatcom County Code 20.42, Rural Forestry District. Squalicum Mountain and all areas zoned Rural Forestry throughout Whatcom County are no longer available for clustered developments.