Accord elusive on new regs for wetlands

The council is divided, with some calling for new landowner incentives.

With the December 2004 deadline long past and a new May 9 goal looming, divisions over the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance update remained as the City Council took up the issue Wednesday.

“It’s time for us to move forward with this,” said Councilman Bill Knobloch. “This is a wrap up, as far as I’m concerned.”

Others disagreed.

“I clearly don’t hold that opinion,” Councilman Nezam Tooloee said. “I won’t vote for such an ordinance without adequately deliberating on it.

“I feel the need to set the record straight,” Too­lo­ee added. “There are some people who have emailed us or written letters to the local paper who feel now is the time to vote on this. I beg to differ. The time for deliberation has just begun.”

Regulating development and othe activities around the island’s wetlands, streams and other natural areas, the ordinance has recently undergone proposed changes to make the rules more consistent, easy to understand and flexible for landowners.

Knobloch and some other councilors feel the draft – which would establish different buffer widths around some critical areas – is generally sound and must be finalized by May 9, or else the city could lose some state funding.

But Tooloee argued that the ordinance is a vital piece of legislation that has not been properly analyzed or adequately debated.

He and Councilman Jim Llewellyn would like to see incentives incorporated into the ordnance that would reward landowners for taking steps to preserve habitat and water quality on their properties.

They said regulations, by nature, are counterproductive toward effective stewardship.

“We shouldn’t be afraid to establish a new paradigm on how to protect critical areas,” Llewellyn said. “I’d like to add flesh to ideas (for) less regulation and a more collaborative, cooperative approach.”

Tooloee also proposed financially compensating residents who must incorporate buffers and other protective zones.

“We should put our money where our mouth is,” he said. “We should pay for it.”

While some councilors support an incentives program, Knobloch said the time is past for another major revamp of the ordinance, which has been discussed in committee for the past year.

“At this late date, we don’t have enough time,” he said. “It’s a nice concept (but) it’s a major concept. It should have been dealt with nine or 10 months ago. We’re jogging in place.”

Councilwoman Deborah Vann, who shepherded the update as chair of the Land Use Committee, said the ordinance would pass most islanders’ muster.

“This is a grassroots ordinance,” she said. “Everybody got to discuss it and was listened to.

“It was not crafted by experts or certain groups; it was crafted by consensus. I’m hoping to get moving on this.”

Planning Director Larry Frazier said he isn’t sure if the state will allow the city to pass the ordinance after May 9 without the risk of losing funds.

“I don’t know what the state’s going to do,” he said. “But the council needs to do something soon if it wants (state) grants.”

The proposed shrinking of buffers around Winslow ravine from 50 feet to 25 feet was met with widespread concern among the council. Under the new proposal, all streams of a certain type would receive a consistent 25-foot buffer, said planner Steve Morse.

“This would make (the ravine) the same as every place else,” he said.

A building setback along the ravine’s buffer was also dropped to encourage more growth downtown, Morse added.

But Councilwoman Debbie Vancil hopes the ravine, which intersects Winslow Way near the highway, will retain its current protections.

“If the ordinance is to protect environmentally sensitive areas, why is the most sensitive area on the island, in the most dense area” having it’s buffer reduced, she asked. “It seems we should be doing the opposite.”

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