News

Slopes change OK’d by council

The ordinance compromise lets stalled projects move forward.

By CHAD SCHUSTER

Staff Writer

Those uphill wanted progress, those downhill sought protection.

The City Council on Wednesday found footing somewhere in the middle, as an effort that began with caution ended in compromise and the passage of a laboriously revised slopes ordinance.

“It’s about balance,” City Councilman Bob Scales said. “If we set up a process that’s too onerous, some people will look at it and say, ‘I’m not going to do that.’”

The changes, passed unanimously after a series of amendments, allow stalled construction projects to move forward while protecting the safety of downslope property owners.

At the core of the controversy was a variance requirement that was inserted into the Geologically Hazardous Areas of the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance.

Planners said the variance prevented remodels and other development in seemingly stable areas. Others worried that removing it could open the door to unsafe development above their homes.

Ultimately, the variance was removed after a lengthy parsing by the council.

The ordinance was changed to more specifically outline the makeup of an administrative technical review committee, and the public comment period for projects in geologically hazardous areas was extended from 14 to 21 days.

Tree removal restrictions were tightened. Replacement trees now must be planted six months prior to, instead of within six months of, removal.

The city can require review by a certified arborist before allowing removal.

Property owners can trim, but not remove trees to improve views in areas designated as unstable.

A controversial exemption for slopes under 20 feet was retained in the ordinance.

The council didn’t heed pleas from some to consider the changes further.

Blakely Harbor resident Stephanie Ross was among those urging caution Wednesday. She still isn’t entirely pleased with the ordinance.

“A lot of good things happened,” she said. “What’s really important now is enforcement.”

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