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Wetlands regs revisitedThe council hopes to restrict development in sensitive areas.
"The city council will take another shot at curtailing development near island wetlands, after a recent ordinance was declared void.One of three boards that administers the state's Growth Management Act struck down the wetlands ordinance in February, citing the city's failure to provide proper notice of the change.The decision establishes that the Growth Management Act lays out guidelines, and that everybody has to play by the same rules, said Mike Brown, president of the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County, the group that challenged the ordinance.But the opinion suggested that the measure itself may pass muster if the procedures had been proper, prompting the city council to revisit the regulations.The ordinance at issue, passed in June of 2000, said that in determining how many homes can be placed on a tract of land, the area occupied by wetlands must be excluded from the computation of acreage. The ordinance it replaced had allowed wetlands to be included under certain circumstances.The decision by the Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board said that the city had not complied with some of the notice requirements of the Growth Management Act. The act's public notice requirements are designed to encourage public comment and to give state agencies an opportunity to review the regulations for compliance with the GMA.So the ordinance is being re-introduced, and will have a first reading at tonight's council meeting.The home builders had also challenged the substance of the ordinance, contending it amounted a downzoning that would be impermissible under the GMA and the city's comprehensive plan. The city has defended the measure as protective of the environment.Two of the three hearing board members declined to address those arguments either way. The third member filed a separate concurring opinion in which he opined that the city's ordinance was substantively OK.Woodland lessons learnedIn a sense, the ordinance was an after-the-fact replay of the battle of Woodland Village, the controversial subdivision on Ferncliff Avenue. Some three acres of the 10-acre tract was found to be wetlands. Zoning on the parcel called for 2.9 homes per acre. Developer Doug Nelson sought to build 27 homes under a provision of the ordinance that allowed wetland acreage to be included if innovative, creative and flexible design was used. Opponents claimed that with wetlands excluded, no more than 21 homes could be built. The rationale for excluding wetlands in density calculations is to protect those environmentally sensitive areas.The science isn't exact, but in general, the fewer homes you have around wetlands the better off you are, said Steve Morse, the wetlands resource specialist for the city planning department.The purpose of the exception was to give value to wetlands, according to Planning Commissioner Darlene Kordonowy. We wanted to give people an incentive to take care of wetlands instead of trying to fill them in, she said.While the exception may have been well-intentioned, it proved unworkable, according to the city planning department. You can't define what is innovative or creative, Morse said.City council member Michael Pollock agreed.The idea was to allow more development near wetlands if the applicant could demonstrate that there would be no degradation. But it became a battle of dueling experts - you would always have somebody saying the wetlands would not be degraded, and someone else who would disagree.Pollock anticipates that the measure will be re-enacted. It would be an insult to the public participation process to say no minds will be changed, he said, but the vote was unanimous the first time around.The practical impact of the measure is difficult to assess. Although the planning department's inventory shows 1,242 acres of wetlands - some 7 percent of the island's total area - neither Pollock nor island home builder Dick Allen could pinpoint any pending development in which wetland-density is an issue.Woodland Village is under construction, out from under legal challenges. The East Central Bainbridge Island Community Association, the development's long-time opponent, has decided not to appeal a Superior Court decision upholding the city's approval of the development.We will work through the political process and try to elect candidates to the city council who will vote differently, said Lois Andrus, an ECBICA leader. "