Final SMP hearing postponed until new year, city still waiting for final word from Ecology

The Bainbridge Island City Council decided Wednesday to cancel the final public hearing for the Shoreline Master Program and postpone it until the new year.

As late as Wednesday morning, the state Department of Ecology informed city staff that the final written conditions for approval of the SMP would not be ready in time for next week’s final public hearing.

Moreover, Ecology has been unable to confirm if there will be additional “recommended” or “required” changes to the SMP draft ordinance. They were also unable to say if the potential changes would be significant or not.

In this week’s council session, Interim City Attorney Jim Haney and city planning staff advised the council to cancel the public hearing.

“The council could go ahead with the public hearing next week, but the risk is that if there are significant changes to the SMP we will have to repeat the public hearing at some point in the future,” Haney said.

In either case, Haney explained, Ecology would not have the written findings, conclusions and conditions for approval by next week, making it near impossible for the current council to adopt the draft SMP before the new year.

“So the question for council is … do you wish to have the public hearing next week and have an additional public hearing if the DOE comes up with more?” Haney asked. “Or do you want to simply cancel the public hearing next week and wait to see what we get from DOE and have one final hearing on everything when we know truly — from DOE, in writing — that it is final?”

Haney explained that despite there being nothing under state law that says the council must have the written conditions for approval before the final hearing, it would be backwards to do otherwise.

The way the statute is written, he said, requires the council vote to “agree or deny the written findings, conclusions and conditions for approval.”

Planning Director Kathy Cook added that Ecology informed her there was a possibility the city would have the “recommended” or “required” changes by this week, but it would still be past the date to give proper public notice before the next public hearing.

The city would not have the required amount of time to publicize additional information in the agenda packet before next week.

“Right now this is really on the DOE,” said Councilman Bob Scales. “We’ve given them ample notice of what our situation is. We’ve said we’d like to get everything from them so we could pass it this year, that would have been by next Wednesday. DOE has not been able to accommodate our schedule.”

“We did the best we could to get this wrapped up before the end of the year,” Scales continued. “I think it’s obviously not ideal for many reasons to kick this over until next year. For one thing, we will have three council members that have not had any experience with the SMP having to get up to speed and then make final major decisions on the SMP.”

With the advice from city staff, the council decided to cancel next week’s final public hearing until after Jan. 1.

“The biggest shame here is just that it creates the expectation of starting a whole new round of process in January,” said Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos. “It will be their [the next council’s] decision whether they want to delve back into an extended process after we’ve withered it down this tightly.”

Mayor Steve Bonkowski concluded the discussion by citing conversations with city staff in Jefferson County and their challenges adopting aquaculture regulations more restrictive than Bainbridge Island.

With that, he asked the council by vote to recommend the incoming council reconsider alternative language surrounding the aquaculture section of the SMP draft before its final adoption.

“I’d like to have some time for the city to go look at what are the pros and cons and what are some of the issues that we might encounter if we decided to challenge those aspects of the aquaculture,” Bonkowski said. “It gives us an opportunity, if we’re going to delay this, to look at that and decide if that’s something we’re willing to take on.”

The council voted 6-1 to cancel next week’s hearing and ask the incoming council to reconsider the aquaculture section of the ordinance. Councilwoman Sarah Blossom opposed the vote.

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