Hearing Examiner Process

Filing an Application


An application for a land use permit is filed with Planning and Development Services. Review by that department follows a standard pattern within a time frame dependent on the complexity of the project. After that review, the staff of Planning and Development Services prepares a recommendation (referred to as a staff report) to the Hearing Examiner.

The staff report, application, comments from other county and state agencies, site plans, maps, public comments and other relevant documents are then submitted to the Hearing Examiner. The Hearing Examiner is not bound by that staff report but gives it weight appropriate to an expert recommendation.


Before a Hearing


Once received in the Hearing Examiner's Office, an application is placed on the hearing calendar and reviewed for notification requirements. Upon request, the Hearing Examiner will send any member of the public a written Notice of Hearing three weeks prior to the hearing date. Hearing notices for preliminary plats, major development permits, planned unit developments, and shoreline matters are also published in the official county paper (currently the Bellingham Herald).

All forms of notification encourage interested persons to review the file to learn which documents are in the record and to gain understanding of the proposal. The file on the matter is available for review from 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Planning and Development Services Department, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. Specific questions regarding this proposal should be directed to the appropriate technician or Planning Staff at that Department. Anyone may request paper copies at a per-copy cost. Interested persons are also encouraged to submit written comments or concerns for inclusion in the pre-hearing record. The Hearing Examiner's Office will provide a copy of the Business Rules (Rules of Procedure) (PDF) which outline the hearing procedures.
Anyone planning to attend a hearing should check with the Hearing Examiner’s Office the day before a hearing is scheduled to confirm that the matter will be heard at the time noticed.

In accordance with the Hearing Examiner's Business Rules, it is mandatory that the applicant or an authorized representative, be present at the time and place of the scheduled public hearing or open record hearing. If the applicant is not present, the representative must submit a letter of authorization. Failure of the applicant or representative to appear will result in dismissal of the application. In addition, if the applicant is not the property owner of record, written authorization must be provided to the file by the applicant prior to the hearing.
The public hearing or open record hearing will be conducted in accordance with the Business Rules of the Hearing Examiner and in a manner somewhat less formal than a court.

You may express your views on the matter, either in-person at the hearing, by writing to the Hearing Examiner, or through counsel. Written comments mailed to the Hearing Examiner must be received prior to the date of the hearing if they are to be included in the record.
You may also review the Hearing Examiner's file, when available, and obtain information regarding hearing procedures and copies of the Rules of Procedure at the Hearing Examiner's Office at the Whatcom County Forest Street Annex, 1000 North Forest Street, Suite #100, Bellingham. Business Rule 1.5.A prohibits any communication with the Hearing Examiner regarding this proposal outside of the public hearing. Please call the Hearing Examiner Administrative Assistant at 360-778-5040 to determine if the file will be available and to set a time to review it.

Hearing Procedures


The Hearing Examiner is a “quasi-judicial” officer, not a judge, and formal courtroom rules of evidence do not apply. However, Washington State law requires local government to regulate land use and development proposals with Constitutional safeguards, much like a court. In fact, the term "quasi-judicial" means "as if judicial." That is why public notice of the Examiner's hearing, the Examiner’s written rules of procedure, and a semi-formal hearing are all provided. The Hearing Examiner process also provides a meaningful opportunity to be heard, impartiality, a publicly available written decision with the Examiner’s reasoning, and an appeal opportunity.

Any party who has reason to doubt that the Hearing Examiner would be impartial in a given matter has a right (and, in fact, a duty) to raise that issue at the very outset of the hearing.

Applications


A permit application hearing typically begins with a presentation of the staff report and recommendation prepared by Planning and Development Services, followed by a presentation of the proposed project by the applicant, and then testimony from the general public in support of the application, and finally testimony with concerns, questions or opposition to the proposal.

Appeals to the Hearing Examiner


An appeal hearing typically begins with the appellant’s presentation of argument, followed by the County’s response and/or any opposing party’s response.

Testimony


Speakers are typically asked to respond only to specific issues previously mentioned. No time limit is imposed upon relevant testimony that is not repetitive. A focused sense of relevance is the best tactic in support of a development proposal, in defense of a development proposal, or in opposition to such a proposal.

Testimony Under Oath


One of the constitutional safeguards is to require that testimony be taken under oath or affirmation of truth. It is important that participants not be intimidated by the fact that they must speak under oath and it is also important that participants understand that testimony at the hearing is intended to present facts rather than philosophical viewpoints. Every speaker must be willing to respond to questions about the statements made.

Testimony is usually not formal, but the Examiner can permit cross examination, usually when the witness is a qualified expert witness. Generally, a person with an interest in the case may ask questions.

It is not necessary to submit the written text of verbal testimony. Often, a person will speak briefly to highlight or summarize a more detailed, written statement and then offer the document into the record. Copies should be provided to opposing parties so the Examiner does not need to halt the proceeding while opponents read the single copy in order to decide if they object to its admittance into the record.

At the close of the hearing, participants are advised that a written decision will be issued within ten working days. Once the hearing is closed, no further testimony (written or oral) can be accepted and, again, the Examiner is not permitted to have communication with anyone about the merits of the matter. The Examiner may leave the record open for a short time for submission of specific additional evidence he requests or allows.

After a Hearing


The Hearing Examiner is required to complete and publish the written ruling within ten working days of the close of the record, which is usually 2 weeks after the public hearing.
A prompt decision promotes fairness because, when a citizen (or business) needs a government permit, delay can hinder or halt the project or dream of the citizen. However, a permit issued in haste can hamper the quality of life for a neighbor or a future generation. Thus, a good balance between thoroughness and speed is important.

Major Development Permits and PUDs


For applications involving a major development permit or a planned unit development, a written recommendation is made to the Whatcom County Council. The County Council must meet to consider the Hearing Examiner´s recommendation and decide the matter according to procedures in Whatcom County Code 22.05.120.

Additional Information


In accordance with the Hearing Examiner's Business Rules, it is mandatory that the applicant, or an authorized representative, be present at the time and place of the scheduled public hearing or open record hearing. If the applicant is not present, the representative must submit a letter of authorization. Failure of the applicant or representative to appear will result in dismissal of the application. In addition, if the applicant is not the property owner of record, written authorization to file the application must be provided by the applicant prior to the hearing.

The public hearing or open record hearing will be conducted in accordance with the Business Rules of the Hearing Examiner.
You may express your views on the matter either in person at the hearing, by writing to the Hearing Examiner, or through counsel. Written comments mailed to the Hearing Examiner must be received prior to the date of the hearing if they are to be included in the record.
The file on this matter is available for review from 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Planning and Development Services Department, 5280 Northwest Drive, Bellingham. Specific questions regarding this proposal should be directed to the appropriate technician or Planning Staff at that Department.

You may also review the Hearing Examiner's file and obtain information regarding hearing procedures and copies of the Rules of Procedure at the Hearing Examiner's Office at the Whatcom County Forest Street Annex, 1000 North Forest Street, Suite #100, Bellingham. Business Rule 1.5.A prohibits any communication with the Hearing Examiner regarding this proposal outside of the public hearing.
Notice of the decision in this matter will be mailed to any party of record upon receipt of a written request. If you plan to attend the public hearing or want to review the file, it is suggested you contact the Hearing Examiner’s Office at 360-778-5040 to confirm that there have been no changes in the hearing schedule and that the file is available for review.