Draft shoreline plan brings wave of criticism from property owners

The Bainbridge Island City Council got an earful at its first meeting on the city’s updated Shoreline Master Program Tuesday.

The meeting served as a general introduction to the process that the council will undertake while considering the regulatory rewrite. It also allowed an hour’s worth of public comment on shoreline issues — an opportunity that had many in the community lining up to talk.

Not much work got underway on the plan. Rather, the council received a primer on the Shoreline Master Program and some of its more controversial aspects.

The event drew considerable attention from shoreline homeowners who will be affected by the update. The council’s consideration of the draft stands to impact the future management of the island’s approximate 53 miles of shoreline valued by homeowners, recreational users and those concerned with the environment.

A heated concern at the meeting arose, and occupied considerable discussion, as the council and staff specifically targeted the sensitive shoreline at Point Monroe.

The topic had residents in the audience stirring with whispers, jeers and frustration.

Point Monroe is a unique feature of Bainbridge where many homes are constructed across a long sand spit that arches from the north end of the island. Homes are perched on the spit between the Puget Sound and a lagoon where many of the houses have extended docks.

The site is so unique that it is practically impossible for any home there to adhere to the draft Shoreline Master Program.

Kathy Cook, director of planning and community development, gave the council two options for the Point Monroe area. The council could do nothing to address Point Monroe, or they could instruct the planning department to seek a limited designation for Point Monroe, with policies and regulations specific to the area.

To accomplish the limited amendment, city planners would need time and money — approximately $15,000 for the additional scientific work required for the amendment.

Cook proposed that the council get the Shoreline Master Program approved first, and then come back to address the limited amendment.

The idea didn’t sit well with some in the audience or on the dais.

Councilman Steve Bonkowski said that he was uncomfortable passing the shoreline plan knowing it was inadequate and “wrong.”

Cook told the council that if a limited amendment wasn’t made, then the draft Shoreline Master Program would apply to Point Monroe as-is, and the procedure for dealing with the area would be to approach each action on the spit through a variance.

If the council did decide to go the route of creating a limited amendment, the planning commission would be where that process would begin.

“Use of variances should be limited, in this case a variance is the standard,” Cook said.

The council struggled with the proper course to take. Councilwoman Sarah Blossom and Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos leaned toward handling Point Monroe as the council takes on the shoreline update this summer.

Blossom was critical of the planning department’s perspective  that the area was problematic for the update of the shoreline rules.

“To me, it just doesn’t seem that difficult,” Blossom said. “It’s a small area. The area itself has small lots. I don’t think it should be so complicated.”

Councilman Bob Scales said he initially wasn’t in favor of the amendment, but that he was beginning to think it would be the better option.

“I don’t know if there is an easy right or wrong answer here,” Scales said. “It seems we would have a cleaner and faster process (with the amendment) than trying to do it now.”

Councilman David Ward offered a temporary solution and instructed Cook to better define both paths by creating a timeline and a budget.

Cook will present the information to the council by June 13, one week before the next Shoreline Master Program meeting.

Public comment gave another angle for the council to consider. Many Point Monroe homeowners spoke — none in favor of a limited amendment.

The evening concluded with an hour of public comment that had residents lining up. There were many criticisms.

“This is the 1996 SMP,” shoreline activist Gary Tripp said as he held up a thin white folder.

“It’s 126 pages including all addendum. It’s pretty well understood.”

“This is the proposed (Shoreline Master Program) draft,” Tripp continued as he then held up a much thicker white folder. “(It’s) 340 pages — no one understands it. No one.”

Ken DeWitt, a commissioner for the Bainbridge Island Parks and Recreation District, noted the park board’s unanimous opposition to much of the plan.

“We believe the draft SMP as it stands is unworkable if it is adopted” DeWitt said. “The plan dictates a lot of minutia and fits a small inflexible template of all shoreside properties.”

DeWitt said the parks district is the largest shoreline landowner on the island. He said that labeling all shoreline parks with one designation was inappropriate and doesn’t take into account each site’s varying characteristics.

He made it clear that the parks department knows its own land, perhaps better than the city.

“The park district believes that our staff has more education, training and hands-on experience and as a result is, really, better equipped than the city to deal with shore-related issues in our parks,” DeWitt said.

DeWitt said that the parks district is in favor of classifying shoreline property as “urban,” and used the example of the city of Anacortes, where the Shoreline Master Program does just that.

Anacortes’ Shoreline Master Program was approved by the Department of Ecology earlier this year, he said.

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