UPDATE | Bainbridge council passes updated but 'imperfect' SMP

Shoreline property owner Linda Young speaks against the SMP update during Monday’s public hearing. - Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review
Shoreline property owner Linda Young speaks against the SMP update during Monday’s public hearing.
— image credit: Cecilia Garza | Bainbridge Island Review

The Bainbridge Island City Council has put its final stamp of approval on the city’s Shoreline Master Program update.

It did not come easy.

In a narrow 4-3 council vote after a public hearing this week, the council OK’d the Shoreline Master Program ordinance and it is now on its way to the state Department of Ecology to become law.

Mayor Anne Blair acknowledged it wasn’t flaw-free.

“I’m sorry that we are faced with voting on something that feels quite imperfect at this point, however I do have a lot of confidence in the work that’s gone on for five years and the amount of effort,” Blair said.

“We’ve all learned a lot,” she said.

Work began more than four years ago to update the Shoreline Master Program, or SMP, to fit with new state guidelines. The program is a comprehensive set of regulations that cover shoreline development and the protection of wildlife habitat and public access to the shore.

The rewrite, however, was prolonged as it made its way from the planning commission to the city council in early 2012.

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

Others said the update was lenient but still necessary to protect Puget Sound marine life.

Headway was made late last summer when the Department of Ecology responded to 20 pages of public comment on the new rules and issued “required” and “recommended” changes to the update.

The update will include the new shoreline designations map and amending goals, policies and regulations. It will also make necessary amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan and municipal code.

Monday night’s public hearing did not lack voices of opposition.

More than 20 citizens, several of them shoreline property owners, signed up to speak.

One shoreline resident and outspoken opponent of the updated SMP, Linda Young, was ceded time by seven other residents.

During her 16-minute speaking time, Young said the SMP lacked true scientific study and did not consider declining property values.

“Nobody really knew much about the SMP in 2010 and ‘11,” Young said.

Young cited a 2013 report from Windermere that said sales for shoreline homes in the million-dollar category declined by 28 percent between 2012 and 2013. She said that the decline was likely because potential buyers know about the SMP.

“This is impacting salability because now, in the year 2012, people started to become aware of the Shoreline Management Act and the SMP, and definitely in 2013 people knew about it,” she said.

State officials reviewed the SMP before this week’s review by the council, and state officials rejected many of the claims made by critics. State officials cited multiple peer-reviewed scientific studies, reports and inventories that the update used as its basis, and also noted studies that rejected the notion that the new shoreline regulations would lessen property values.

During Monday’s hearing, Gary Tripp, another leader in the fight against the SMP rewrite, was ceded time by one resident and told the council that a lawsuit was inevitable if the SMP was approved.

“What do homeowners want?” Tripp asked.

“They don’t want to hurt their environment. They only want to preserve their view and maintain their house.

“If you take this course — which is opposed to the property owners on the shoreline — you are bound to be sued by multiple people,” Tripp said.

Comments also covered the SMP’s aquaculture regulations.

Laura Hendricks of the Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat said residents reached out to her to speak up about the SMP’s leniency and to call for tighter conditions on aquaculture.

“I’m a shoreline owner,” Hendricks said.

“I’m on both sides. I live in a natural area. I’m dealing with having a 150-foot setback, and it’s OK, because I watch those seals and I watch those birds. And I watch all that stuff out there playing around, and I love every one of them.”

“But we are not going to sit on top of a hill 150 feet away and watch an industry go out and clear off our beaches of all the wildlife so they can make more money,” she said.

Like Tripp, she also vowed to help any resident who wants to take Ecology to court if the SMP is passed.

“The next generation deserves not to have our animals picked off, our waters full of plastics,” Hendricks said.

“We deserve to leave it for them, and not just give profits to an industry that has a great lobby. Ecology is helping them and it is no longer your grandfather’s oyster farm.”

Amidst the arguments against the ordinance, there were still voices that asked the council to end the long debate and vote to pass the SMP

“There is no issue that hasn’t been identified, chewed on and fully digested,” said Frank Stowell.

Although the result is not perfect, Stowell said, the process has been thorough.

“You’re at the pinnacle of this long deliberative process. You each have to make a decision individually. But remember that behind you are all these citizen committee members, all the public testimony, really all the voters that stand behind you and helped elect you to political office,” he said. “We ask you tonight, to be consistent and reflect the values they saw in you.”

Council members Roger Townsend, Anne Blair, Val Tollefson and Wayne Roth voted to approve the new SMP, while council members Steve Bonkowski, Sarah Blossom and Dave Ward opposed the adoption.

Once Ecology approves the ordinance and it becomes state law, Planning Director Kathy Cook said monitoring shoreline development will stay largely in the city’s hands.

“A lot of what we’ll be doing is on-the-ground monitoring to make sure that the mitigation that’s required is provided, that it’s maintained, that it thrives, and I’m speaking mostly in this case of vegetation,” Cook said.

Conditions for development of shoreline properties are already built into the permit approval process.

While there is no regional monitoring program to help implement the new ordinance, Bainbridge’s Associate Planner Ryan Ericson said the city will be looking into grant opportunities to supplement the new workload.

As for making future changes to the document, Barbara Nightingale of Ecology said that although there have been some cases where limited amendments have taken years to process, the city can anticipate a change to take less than a year.

It would depend on what kind of amendment was proposed, she added.

The long and contentious update of the SMP ended this week on an up note.

Blair approached the lectern to express thanks for all the work that was put into the almost five-year process and to gift a few individuals with sunflowers.

This included Ericson, who has been on the project since the beginning, but with the city’s work done on the update will be leaving his city planning post to work for Futurewise, a public interest group committed to promoting “smart growth” policies while protecting farmland, forests and shorelines.

Blair further recognized the council, Cook, activist Elise Wright and Interim City Attorney Jim Haney.

“We’ve also had an opportunity to see someone that we worked very closely with and has gotten to know our community so well that on the pleasure of this experience, she’s going to retire,” Blair said of Nightingale.

“I really do want you to know that we are so very appreciative of the hours and hours of work that you put in,” the mayor told her.

Blair also gifted a sunflower to Tripp.

“One of them (bouquets) is to our loyal opposition, at least mine in this case,” Blair said.

“It’s been a challenge to our thinking. It’s been a stretch. I think we’ve learned a lot … It’s expanded my understanding on what the problems are, and which regulations that have sometimes come forward that seemed like a good idea to me, and your persistence and your amazing energy when we get it wrong from your perspective.”


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