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Bainbridge council refuses to reopen old debate over Shoreline Master Program

Cedar Bouta of the Department of Ecology speaks at this week
Cedar Bouta of the Department of Ecology speaks at this week's meeting on the city of Bainbridge Island's update to its Shoreline Master Program.
— image credit: Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review

A few city council members refused to reopen an old debate over shoreline property issues Monday during a Shoreline Master Program council discussion.

The Bainbridge Island City Council met with city staff and officials from the state Department of Ecology Monday to discuss a list of required changes on aquaculture before the draft ordinance is to be approved.

Some council members also took the discussion as an opportunity to revisit two unrelated items on shoreline property regulations. But in a slim 4-3 vote, the attempt was rebuffed.

“It has been decided, we got to honor that decision,” said Councilman Val Tollefson, who voted with the majority.

“We got work to do with the planning department going forward, and rebuilding this thing now is just not the right thing to do,” he said

Councilman Steve Bonkowski asked the council to reconsider two regulations for shoreline properties. Both of which, he said, would have no environmental impact.

The first would have directed staff to incorporate Senate Bill 5451 as an overriding principle when existing structures are considered “conforming.”

The bill, Bonkowski explained, says that existing structures that are classified as “conforming” will not create a risk of degraded shoreline natural resources.

“There was some real concern about the impact now and in the future on their homes,” he said of shoreline property owners who were worried about retaining the “nonconforming” label. “For us to ignore that, says that we don’t have a concern about those property owners.”

Tollefson disagreed with reopening the regulations for further work.

“I think you read too much into the actions of the Legislature (by) saying that they were doing something substantive,” Tollefson said.

“My personal view is that they were pandering. The way that the SMP is written now, it was adopted by the council last year, is absolutely consistent with the way that land-use regulation has been on Bainbridge Island since at least 1996,” he said.

The second reconsideration, Bonkowski said, requested that staff change the SMP to allow a homeowner to rebuild a structure in the same location if the homeowner decides to tear it down.

Both motions failed with a 4-3 vote.

Update is required by state

The city is required to update its Shoreline Master Program, or SMP, to fit with new state guidelines. Work on the rewrite of the SMP began more than four years ago, but the effort became increasingly controversial early last year as the draft plan made its way from the planning commission to the city council.

Some shoreline property owners said the regulations were too restrictive, confusing and unconstitutional.

Other islanders, however, said the update was watered down in deference to coastal landowners but the regulations were still needed to protect the coastline and Puget Sound waters and wildlife.

The regulations — which are meant to support the broader initiative to protect and restore Puget Sound — established protective buffers of 30 to 200 feet on shoreline properties, with flexibility to reduce buffers based on individual property circumstances, and also limited the size of new residential docks and piers to the minimum necessary. It also encourages soft-bank erosion control methods and limits construction of new shoreline armoring, and spells out voluntary improvements in water and upland areas that can be made to enhance the local shoreline environment.

The city council approved the new plan on a split 4-3 vote in May 2013, and sent it on to the state Department of Ecology for review.

The updated SMP became an issue again during last year’s council elections, when three council candidates said they did not support the plan that had been adopted and one of those candidates vowed to kill the plan when it came back to Bainbridge for a final vote. None of those candidates won election.

Final revisions offered

Since then, the state has offered suggested revisions, some mandatory, to pieces of the plan. Most of the changes proposed by the Department of Ecology center on the plan’s rules for aquaculture.

The changes presented by Ecology Monday, likewise, ranged from realigning the ordinance with state and federal regulations to clarifying definitions for aquaculture.

Updating the SMP has been a bit of a moving target, an official with the Department of Ecology noted at this week’s meeting.

“One would expect that after you’ve been working hard for four years that things might get a little out of sync,” said Cedar Bouta of Ecology.

Bouta explained that by providing more direct and consistent language the changes would simplify the city’s aquaculture definitions and categories. It would also better align the ordinance with the Shoreline Management Act and the Shoreline Master Program guidelines.

By implementing these changes, Bouta said, the city would be better equipped to enforce the ordinance, reduce amendments in the future and help homeowners abide by both city and state regulations.

Of the changes, the council agreed to accept Ecology’s requirement to eliminate a regulation that dealt with rafts being located no closer than one nautical mile to any other aquacultural facility that includes rafts.

Ecology explained in its change that grouping uses in one location rather than spreading them along a longer length of shoreline may actually reduce aesthetic and environmental impacts.

The council also requested that staff prepare alternative language for two other items through consultation with Ecology.

Both items, Ecology officials explained, would need to be reworded to match a definition for aquaculture.

Bouta explained that there was some confusion throughout the draft due to the city’s definitions.

“Your definition of aquaculture sort of captured all aquaculture except for your community shellfish gardens. So, in that way, it became more complicated than what you were trying to do, distinguish intensive from non-intensive,” Bouta said.

The planning department will return with alternative language for the two items at the April 28 council meeting before a final hearing on the ordinance is scheduled.

With two Monday holidays in May, the public hearing will not likely be held until June, since the city is also required to give public notice three weeks before the hearing.

 

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