Bainbridge residents split over waterfront development

Proposed regulations would alter development on island shorelines. - Brad Camp/File Photo
Proposed regulations would alter development on island shorelines.
— image credit: Brad Camp/File Photo

t A Thursday court decision will likely delay further debate.

It was high tide at City Hall Wednesday, as a sea of islanders flooded the council chambers for a public hearing on a controversial proposal that would tighten the city’s restrictions on waterfront development.  

In all, 50 people spoke – nearly one for every mile of shoreline on the island – during one of the most crowded public meetings in recent memory.

Responses ranged from support to disgust over the proposal to revise the marine section of the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance; changes would include increased shoreline buffers and tighter restrictions on bulkheads, docks and other structures.

“I’m just real nervous when I read that you want to regulate my property 200 feet back from the water,” said south-end resident Curt Winston. “The reason there’s 200 people here is most of us don’t trust you, the city government, and we don’t trust the administration and we don’t trust some ubiquitous person called staff.

“If you take our property rights away, what we’re going to do is we’re going to get together and we’re going to sue you, and we all know you always lose – you lose our tax money – so please think very carefully about this.”

Winston was part of a large contingent of shoreline property owners who showed up to comment on the proposed revisions. Like him, many said the proposal was too restrictive. Others, like Rockaway Beach resident Linda Hayes, said change is needed.

“I think a hundred feet (buffer) is too small,” Hayes said. “I’m scared to death of the water coming right up – I wish we had this ordinance a hundred years ago. I’m very much in support of any restrictions you can do for the shoreline. I would not mind being taxed if I could have a safer environment that supports Puget Sound as well as my home on the shore.”

No action was taken on the plan by the council Wednesday; instead the issue will be forwarded to the council’s Land Use Committee for more work.

But Wednesday’s discussion may be moot following a ruling Thursday by the state Supreme Court.

The court in a split 5-4 decision ruled that the state Growth Management Act doesn’t apply to shoreline critical areas that fall within the jurisdiction of the Shoreline Management Act.

The ruling essentially invalidates a claim filed against the city in 2006 that prompted the proposed revisions to the island’s shoreline regulations.

The Suquamish Tribe filed a petition with the Central Puget Sound Growth Hearings Board to challenge the validity of the city’s 2005 update to the CAO, claiming the ordinance failed to adequately protect marine critical areas.

Rather than dispute the claim, the city began drafting the revisions first presented earlier this year and aired again on Wednesday.

City officials said Thursday’s ruling means staff will recommend the revisions be suspended and addressed as part of the city’s next required shoreline update in 2011.

Still, the city got plenty of feedback on issues that will need to be addressed eventually.

Under the proposed changes – aimed at protecting marine animals and habitat – shoreline buffers would be increased to 200 feet. The first 100 feet would be treated basically the same as now, with new construction in those areas generally prohibited; the second 100 feet would require additional conservation measures as part of any new development.

Existing shoreline buffers on the island vary between 25 feet and 100 feet depending on location.

Another proposed change would allow for rebuilds of docks and bulkheads, with some restrictions.

Docks could be replaced but not enlarged, and no toxic substances could be used in their construction; bulkheads could be fixed, though repairs to more than 25 percent of the structure would be considered replacements and would be subject to heavier regulation.

City staff on Wednesday said the proposed changes are in line with those in other jurisdictions in the region, but many shoreline property owners said they’re unreasonable.

Several shoreline property owners banded together to oppose the proposal and are being represented by island Attorney Dennis Reynolds.

Many said they’re concerned about protecting the environment and their property rights, and would like to be more involved in the process.

“We were scared to death because it looked like people were going to come in our home and take away our ability to enjoy our homes,” said South Beach resident and shoreline property owner Ken Sethney. “Nobody on this island is more concerned with what goes on at the water’s edge than people who look out at it every morning from their kitchen.”

Sethney said he and other shoreline owners don’t want to feel like villains as the city tries to strike a balance between property rights and the environment.

Other waterfront property owners said the changes would be a positive step toward restoring the health of ailing Puget Sound. Some shared anecdotes about diminishing marine life and habitat in the areas around their home. 

“The value of my property and of living near the shoreline is not just looking at that water,” South Beach resident Marcia Lagerloef said. “It is enjoying the natural resources, it is knowing that that system is functioning and functioning well. We all play a part. I’m willing to play my part. I support what you’re trying to do.”

South-end resident Cara Cruickshank pleaded with shoreline property owners to put the environment ahead of their personal interests. 

“The greed that is implied by property rights is astonishing,” Cruickshank said. “It’s greed and I’m sorry to put it that way but it’s true.”

Many speakers disagreed over the science being used to support the proposed changes.

Pleasant Beach resident Loyal Moore said he’s not convinced that larger buffers would improve the health of the Sound. He said bulkheads and other shoreline armoring have utility. 

“Bulkheads aren’t all bad,” he said. “They serve a purpose.”

Several speakers cited worries about eroding shorelines near their home, though opinions about how to address the issue differed.

Staff will makes its recommendation to the Land Use Committee at 1 p.m. Aug. 5 at City Hall.

Representing property owners, Reynolds said the city should be careful how it proceeds.

“You don’t kick a hornet’s nest,” he said. “And if you do, you run.”

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