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Views may be lost with shoreline policies

If the views of the city’s planners prevail, the views of future waterfront dwellers might be a bit narrower.

In revised shoreline regulations under consideration, city planners propose the requirement of a planted buffer zone “in a diversity and density natural to the conditions of a native area.”

In plain talk, that means trees.

“Under the existing regulations, we required a ‘native vegetation zone,’ but you could choose whatever you wanted, and a lot of people chose shrubs,” city planner Peter Best said. “Under the new regulations, we would be requiring trees. We are talking about reduced views, but not a total loss of views.”

The Bainbridge Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposals at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at city hall.

Commission chair Sean Parker hopes for a large public turnout. “These are pretty substantial changes, and we want to see what the public thinks,” he said.

The buffer requirement is seen as a way of restoring shoreline habitat areas for fish. Yet unanswered is how the vegetation regulations would be applied to existing homes and developments.

“Existing uses are grandfathered and may continue,” said Best, “and a lawn is a ‘use.’ People would be required to conform to the new regulations only if they do something to trigger it.”

But what that “something” may be is unresolved. During study sessions before the commission, staff members suggested that any permit application would mean the applicant would have to plant a complying vegetative buffer, regardless of whether the permit had anything to do with the shoreline.

“There is some real concern about whether an application to put an addition on the inland side of the house should trigger a requirement to plant a buffer,” Best said.

Best said some sort of nexus between application and vegetation might be required, but said those questions could not really be addressed until regulations are proposed to implement the policies now under consideration.

Another proposed change is a long-term phasing out of bulkheads other than those needed to protect principal structures from erosion – but again, existing bulkheads would be grandfathered and could be repaired and maintained, Best said.

Another area of possible controversy are proposals to prohibit new docks on the outer shoreline.

“There are a number of things put in the draft to get public comment, on which the commission came to no conclusion,” Parker said.

“We put in the most restrictive language, which the staff wants, hoping to get a reaction from people who will come in to tell us what they want.”

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