Another go-round for shoreline regs

While the Bainbridge Planning Commission is not going to throw out all the work that has been done on the city’s Shoreline Master Program, it will take a fresh look at the issues that have sparked public outcry.

The commission plans to hold a series of public workshops, probably beginning next year, on questions involving a native vegetation zone, docks and bulkheads, and on whether current shoreline uses will be considered non-conforming.

But first, it wants to find out at its meeting this Thursday exactly how current regulations are being applied.

“Speaking for myself, I’m still uncertain about what regulations presently exist and don’t exist, and exactly how they are being applied,” said Planning Commission vice chair Bill Luria, who will conduct the meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at city hall.

The city is in the process of updating its 1996 Shoreline Master Program, and a technical advisory committee has proposed policies aimed at restoring the near-shore environment to enhance salmon recovery.

Planning staff members have suggested that those policies could include requiring a buffer of native vegetation along the shoreline, including trees. Other policy suggestions have included limiting the uses that would be permitting within that buffer zone, the phasing out of bulkheads and a prohibition on new docks on the island’s outer shore.

Those possibilities have sparked strong criticism from shoreline property owners, who have packed the last three Planning Commission meetings to protest.

Two weeks ago, the commission decided that rather than continue reviewing the current proposals, it would back up and take a fresh look.

To that end, the group plans to hold separate workshops on the three most controversial issues – native-vegetation zones, docks and bulkheads, and the idea of declaring certain present uses non-conforming, to be phased out over time.


Planning Director Stephanie Warren believes the concerns of the protesters are over-blown.

The provisions they point to are contained in the existing 1996 regulations, she said, but those regulations have not been interpreted in the manner the protesters fear.

“I don’t understand the disconnect,” she said. “I think that in the past we have only required people to plant a total of two trees.”

Warren said she is withdrawing from use so-called “guidelines” for restoration and enhancement of disturbed vegetated areas.

That document, developed by the staff, calls for seven trees per thousand square feet spaced 12 feet apart, guidelines that protesters claim would create a view-blocking “wall of trees.”

Existing city regulations don’t necessarily require trees, Warren said. The guidelines, she said, were an effort to provide consistency and clarity, but were not intended to be binding despite language saying both trees and shrubs are “required.”

“We have not been using those guidelines in the past, but if they are causing confusion, we will stop using them,” she said.

Charles Schmid of the Association of Bainbridge Communities, who has defended the shoreline process, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Vince Mattson of the Murden Cove Preservation Association declined to comment in Schmid’s absence.

Bill Marler, one of the principal protesters, said he was pleased that public process is being reopened.

“I’m pleased that the commission is going to take a look at the 1996 Shoreline Master Program and see how it is operating and whether it needs changes before going through a whole new document.”

He said that despite the city’s efforts, it had failed to involve the public adequately in the drafting process.

“I’m a pretty involved guy, but I’m in Seattle 12 hours a day or traveling,” he said.

“And if a guy like me is unaware of something that could drastically affect 2,000 homeowners, then I think other people are unaware as well.”

He suggested that a program of voluntary incentives might actually work better than city-imposed regulations.

“If you explained the idea of shoreline vegetation, and provided incentives like half-price trees or tax breaks, you’d probably get 10-15 percent of the people complying voluntarily, which could get you to the end-game a lot faster than regulations that phase in only when you remodel or rebuild.

“In the end, you might not even need the regulations.”

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