Regulations loved, hated

Sides debate the merits of wider buffers around streams, wetlands.

Residents expressed a range of concerns at a hearing Wednesday on proposed rules protecting island wetlands, streams and other at-risk natural areas.

Some said the draft Critical Areas Ordinance’s expanded buffer zones will restrict development and crowd views.

“I see buffers as a black shroud descending on the island,” said Manzanita Road resident Don Flora.

But others commended the ordinance’s expanded protections for wildlife and waterways. The draft ordinance proposes tripling buffers around fish-bearing stream to 150 feet, and boosting the range of wetland protections, currently set at 25 -150 feet, to between 35 to 200 feet.

“It is a landmark in awareness on environmental issues,” said Crystal Springs resident Jon Quitslund. “We have to plan now. It would be reckless if we went along as though there’s nothing to worry about.”

Wildlife biologist Dawn Garcia commended the city’s work, calling the draft a step in the right direction.

“I’m quite pleased with the product,” she said. “I’m really excited about the wetland buffers.”

The ordinance was crafted seven years ago as a remedy for unchecked growth through the regulation of streams, wetlands, steep slopes, aquifer recharge areas and other environmentally sensitive zones.

The council considered the buffer boosts after looking at draft requirements in other jurisdictions. Pierce County issued plans to expand wetland buffers near high-impact developments from 150 feet to 300 feet, while Kitsap County’s wetland buffers will likely remain at 200 feet around highly sensitive areas. Pierce and Kitsap counties are looking at expanding their stream buffers to within 150 to 200 feet.

The state Growth Management Act mandates a local ordinance update by Dec. 1, but city planners doubt they will meet the deadline.

It’s said to be a familiar story, with communities across the state planning post-deadline work and early 2005 filings. Missing the mark could jeopardize the city’s eligibility for state funds, according to planners.

“About 160 jurisdictions are trying to meet that deadline,” said city resource planner Steve Morse. “If you do the math, Dec. 1 is not a date we’re going to make.”

Some property owners urged the city to change some of the draft proposals before submitting a complete ordinance sometime in January or early February.

“Buffers have a cost, and that cost is the right for people to use their property and enjoy it,” said Gary Tripp of Bainbridge Citizens United, a citizen activist group.

Tripp said many of the ordinance’s proposed property restrictions are unnecessary.

“You’re talking about changing regulations and increasing restrictions,” he said. “Regulations are to solve problems. But where’s the problem? Bainbridge’s wetlands are not being degraded.”

Tripp also criticized policies encouraging plant growth in protected zones.

“You’re giving the opportunity for more trees,” he said. “Gee, just what we need – more view-blocking trees.”

Carl Anderson said restrictions on his property would straightjacket any improvements.

“With these rules and regulations I am completely stifled from doing any modifications on my house,” he said. “Let’s be adults and not stifle innovation.”

Some fumed over the draft’s allowance of only a 20-foot gap in protected zones if residents feel plants block their views of the sound.

“Imagine having a house with a band of vegetation through it and having a 20-foot wide telescope to (see) the view,” Flora said. “That’s pretty tight if you have an 80-foot lot.”

The city’s scientific basis for standardized buffers also drew skepticism. Tripp argued that popular values, rather than verifiable science, sparked changes in the ordinance.

“They take a public opinion poll rather than science,” he said. “Science supports a range of buffers and is site-specific.”

Fisheries biologist Wayne Daly said the ordinance’s science is sound. He said the “best available science” backs the recommendations to protect waterways and habitat. Much of the city’s science is based on research used by King County and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Morse said.

Daly and other ordinance supporters said the development restrictions will help reverse trends toward unchecked growth and benefit the larger ecosystem.

“As a society we have become so engrossed on personal gains and our need for mega-houses that we fail to consider the global impact of our actions,” he said.

But supporters of the ordinance also had a few complaints.

Jim Brennan, a marine ecologist and Fort Ward area resident, said the ordinance should also protect the island’s shorelines.

“The fact that shorelines are not included is of great concern to me,” he said, adding that salmon depend on both fresh and saltwater habitats.

Cara Cruickshank, co-chair of the Natural Landscapes Project, advocated tougher penalties for ordinance violators.

“It’s important to have fines, especially with repeat offenders,” she said. “We are known as a place where anything goes, and that’s embarrassing. We should try diplomatic means and education first, but when that fails, we should have penalties.”

The council and planning staff pledged to fix some wording in the draft and to take citizens’ comments into account as they head into the final stages of crafting the ordinance.

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