News Roundup -- CAO returns next week

CAO returns next week

The City Council is lacing up for the last leg in its long-running effort to update the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance.

“I’d love to see this finished this month,” said Councilwoman Deborah Vann, who helped shepherd the ordinance update as former chair of the Land Use Committee. “But the way this process is going, who knows?”

Vann is concerned that a discussion scheduled for Monday’s “committee of the whole” meeting could lead to significant changes, canceling public hearings set for Tuesday and Wednesday.

But City Administrator Mary Jo Briggs said the council’s discussions Monday were unlikely to cancel the hearings.

The updated CAO, which regulates land use affecting wetlands, wildlife habitat and other sensitive areas, is already overdue for state consideration by nearly 10 months. The council has wrangled over the science used to justify environmental measures, among other issues.

Councilman Nezam Tooloee introduced late-hour proposals for incentives to encourage voluntary compliance with environmental protections. But members of the Association of Bainbridge Communities fear these changes could weaken environmental safeguards. Vann agrees, adding that additional changes may speed past citizen scrutiny.

Satisfied with the bulk of the update, Vann said she has only two or three changes she’d like to investigate, including maintaining low-density development near wetlands.

“We’ve already had some 50 hours in meetings on this,” she said. “I think that, really, all that’s left is a little word-smithing.”

The workshops are slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday and 1 p.m. Wednesday in the council chambers.

—Tristan Baurick

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