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Help Shape the Future of Bellingham

Families enjoy a sunny day on Bellingham Bay

As our city grows, planning for the future is more important than ever. While city planning seems like something that may be out of the hands of regular citizens, public participation in the planning process is a right afforded to people living in cities and counties such as Bellingham and Whatcom County.

Currently, our community is in the midst of updating and adopting the 2025 Comprehensive Plan, also known as The Bellingham Plan, and is required by law to include a Public Participation Plan as part of the process. The public’s opinions, insights, and concerns are a vital component of ensuring Bellingham remains the city we all love— while we develop strategies to accommodate future growth.

The Comprehensive Plan and Why it Matters

Fast-growing cities and counties like ours are mandated under the Growth Management Act (GMA) to develop a Comprehensive Plan based on a 20-year growth cycle. Plans are reviewed every 10 years to ensure they comply with the GMA and meet the needs of the community. This process examines land use, housing, capital facilities, transportation and other elements, giving our community a chance to weigh in on how our city is developing and what we want our future to look like. The Comprehensive planning process couldn’t have come at a better time as land use, housing and growth are top of mind for everyone.

To put it in perspective, Whatcom County anticipates it will need 34,377 new homes. If Bellingham takes 48% of the growth, the city will need 16,501 homes by 2045, or about 825 new homes a year compared to the 644 homes per year that were built between 2016 and 2021. Housing is desperately needed, but there’s no denying that the coming demand for new development will make a significant impact on existing infrastructure, daily life and the character of our neighborhoods. The good news is the public has an opportunity to provide input about how we should best accommodate the coming growth.

If Bellingham takes 48% of Whatcom County's growth, it will need to build 825 new homes per year.
Adapted from the Washington State Department of Commerce

A Vision for the Future

The approved Whatcom County Public Participation Plan (PPP) and Bellingham Engagement Plan address different issues (both statutory requirements and docketed requests) relating to matters such as county codes, density and lot sizes, as well as urban growth areas (UGAs).

UGAs, and their annexation into the City of Bellingham, are one way of supporting population growth and housing diversity while still maintaining consolidated urban development. A holistic view of the various statutory requirements and docketed amendments in the PPP show just how much matters of land use, zoning, development, and housing are a regional need and priority. But issues like these are of the biggest consequence to the citizens of Bellingham. It’s not just about where and how we live, but also the length of commutes, public transportation, essential services and infrastructure, the economy, the protection of the environment and our natural resources (just to name a few).

As a resident of Bellingham and Whatcom County, it is your right to participate in shaping the vision of our future. This means sharing your ideas and concerns here and with appointed members of the Whatcom County Planning Commission and the Bellingham Planning Commission so members can communicate these viewpoints to City staff and elected officials.

The Public Participation Element of the Comprehensive Plan

According to the Public Participation Plan (linked above), it should help meet the following goals:

● “Provide a roadmap for the public, outlining a clear and accessible public process for comprehensive plan and development regulation amendments;

● Ensure input is sought from a broad base of public participants and is elicited in a timely fashion, considered, and incorporated as appropriate into review of Comprehensive Plan and Development Regulation amendments; and

● Make a concerted and continuous effort to ensure that elected officials and staff are fully aware of and understand community and stakeholder concerns.”

The PPP lays out various issues and assigns them different levels that are determined by factors such as how complicated they are, how far along they are in the process, and the scope of their impact. Each level then has its own approach as far as public involvement.

Level 1 issues might have already gone through a significant portion of the public process, or they might be less complicated. A Level 1 issue might include matters such as County Code Amendments, Weddings and Special Events, etc.

Level 2 issues may go beyond code-required public process, be sensitive in nature, or have been met by public opposition in the past. Examples of Level 2 issues include Bellingham UGA decisions and Mineral Resource Lands Expansion in certain areas.

Level 3 issues are not only more complicated, but are likely to have implications for the general public. As such, Level 3 issues have an approach that includes plenty of opportunities for public engagement (such as town hall meetings). Level 3 issues include the 2025 Comprehensive Plan, Development Regulation and UGA Update, among others.

The Washington State Open Public Meetings Act dictates that unless there is an emergency, there will be an opportunity for public comment before a final action takes place. The primary ways that the general public can make their concerns heard and engage with the Planning Commission are through written communication (postal and email), and in public hearings. Sign up to stay informed about the City’s updates to the Comprehensive Plan. Notice of public hearings are published in newspapers at least ten days before they are meant to take place.

Bellingham is growing, but that doesn’t mean the future is out of your hands. Take the time to voice your thoughts, experiences, concerns, and vision for what sustainable growth should look like — current and future citizens will thank you.


Housing for Bellingham is a community resource that works to explain the fundamental processes and terminology associated with housing-related decisions in effort to inform the public. When the people understand land use planning processes and terminology, everyone can make more informed decisions about housing and land use policies in their communities.



Contact your Bellingham City Council representative and tell them you support a proactive plan for sustainable growth.

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