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Shoreline homeowners dare not to conform to city label

It’s an old argument. If it looks like a duck, and it talks like a duck, then it’s most likely a duck.

The sentiment sums up the Bainbridge Island City Council’s discussion on waterfront properties and their place in the pending Shoreline Master Program.

If it looks like it’s nonconforming, and its code definition says it’s nonconforming, then the home is nonconforming — whether it’s on the shoreline or not.

The council wrestled with the idea of calling shoreline properties "conforming" or “nonconforming structures.” It ultimately voted to keep the designation of nonconforming that has been recomended by the city's volunteer committees, much to the chagrin of many waterfront residents.

Shoreliners fervently showed up at the council’s Wednesday meeting to protest the label.

The debate ran on for nearly two hours, and was marked by heated back-and-forth between the public and the council.

“I’m not sure who is in charge here. The staff is supposed to work for you, you are supposed to work for us,” Larry Reid told the council.

“I implore you to represent us, not the staff. It is your job to protect us.” he said.

The Bainbridge Island City Council continues to consider the latest draft of the island’s Shoreline Master Program, an expansive document that regulates development along the coast. In its recommended form, many of the island’s waterfront homes would be considered “nonconforming.”

The label indicates that the homes may have been built to code at the time they were constructed, but are now out of sync with modern building rules.

The “nonconforming” moniker has concerned shoreline homeowners. It’s created a stand-off between some council members and waterfront residents.

“This has been blown up to scare people into thinking that the city is coming after you with this label,” said Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos.

“We are reacting to this fabricated idea there is this monster coming,” she said.

The shoreline community made its position clear at the city council meeting.

“We feel it is unfair to declare any existing waterfront home as nonconforming,” said John Keller of Rockaway Beach. “It places a stigma on such property and has strong financial implications.”

It was a night filled with heightened emotions.

Shoreline homeowners — many of them sand spit residents — refused to remain silent even during the council’s time to discuss the matter.

“You are going far beyond the protection that is necessary for our island,” Reid said.

Some council members took the side of the shoreline homeowners, such as Mayor Steve Bonkowski, who lives on the Point Monroe sand spit.

Council members David Ward and Sarah Blossom stood with him.

But not all on the council agreed with the shoreliners’ stance.

“I have not seen or heard of any evidence where the word ‘nonconforming’ has ruined our property values or caused individuals to not buy property,” said Councilman Bob Scales. “These are all horror stories.”

Hytopoulos attempted to set the record straight and stressed that the “nonconforming” topic at hand related to structures and should not to be confused with “nonconforming use” — a term associated with weeding out undesirable development.

She argued that many homes on the island are nonconforming and to make special considerations for the shoreline would be to give them preferential treatment.

“None of that is accurate!” cried a man in the audience in response.

Hytopoulos held her ground.

“All across this city people are in the exact same category,” Hytopoulos said. “If we were to make you conforming, we would have to do the same for everyone else upland.”

Councilwoman Anne Blair submitted the idea that they refer to the island's waterfront homes as “legacy conforming shoreline residences,” even though the definition and code of the property would remain the same as nonconforming.

The title would be unique to Bainbridge Island. And while it found favor with some on the dais, it didn’t sit well with others who could not see the purpose of having two names for one definition.

After much discussion, Blair said she was reminded of why she held her original stance of keeping the nonconforming label in place.

She reversed her stance and returned to the idea that the spit should remain “nonconforming.”

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