Q&A on proposed CAO revisions

The City of Bainbridge Island is considering revisions to the Critical Area Ordinance to better protect the health of Puget Sound. After hearing concerns from some of our neighbors and friends, we believe myths are being spread that need to be corrected. Below are some of the common questions, along with answers based on what’s stated in the draft and existing regulations, as well as on conversations with city officials. We think it is important to help people understand the draft ordinance because the proposed regulations are not a threat. They represent a really positive step toward preserving and rehabilitating the Sound.

Q: How much would buffers change?

Currently, the city requires a shoreline native plant vegetation zone that is 25 to 50 feet wide, depending on where you live. Within that, you have to protect native vegetation and can build only a few things, such as a 120-square-foot deck.

The proposal would create two protection zones: a marine riparian habitat area 100 feet back from the shore (or up to 125 feet if vegetation is sparse) and a marine riparian management zone ending 200 feet back from the shore. The first zone has rules that are basically the same as those for the current buffer. In the second zone, you could build, but you would need a professionally developed vegetation conservation plan first.

Q: My lot is too shallow to build a house 100 or 125 feet back. What happens now?

You can apply for a reasonable-use exception, which allows a house on virtually any legal lot, subject to certain restrictions.

Q: I already have a house and deck on my shoreline lot. What would the changes mean to me?

Existing structures, driveways, parking areas, yards (this includes landscaping), play areas and storage areas may continue to exist in their present form. With the exception of bulkheads, which are addressed below, existing structures and the other features mentioned above may be altered, remodeled, reconstructed, or expanded, provided you keep the change inside its existing footprint.

You can also expand these features on sides that don’t touch the buffer. If you want to expand within the buffer, you need a variance. These rules are the same as those that exist now, but the effect on your lot could change because of the wider buffers.

Q: Can I clear a path to get access to the beach or prune vegetation to keep my waterfront view?

There is no change in the current regulations. You can build a 4-foot-wide path to the shoreline using hand tools, or a wider one if you need handicapped access. You can prune and limb vegetation to maintain a view, provided you don’t threaten the health of the vegetation. With permission from the planning director, you can remove a hazardous tree.

Q: Can I build a new bulkhead?

The draft ordinance does not change the rules for new bulkheads. These rules state that you need to explore non-structural alternatives first. They also prohibit you from harming areas with valuable biological processes, such as feeder bluffs, marshes and wetlands.

Q: I already have a bulkhead, but it is damaged. Can I repair it?

Current regulations apply, and they do allow repairs. However, repairs of more than 25 percent of a structure in a 10-year period would now be classified as replacements. These would be evaluated as if you were applying for a new bulkhead.

Q: Can I replace my dock, boat launching ramp, pier, or float?

Yes. It may be replaced if you do not increase the width or length. The design would need to follow current standards, and the surface area might need to be smaller between the high and low water marks.

Q: How about building a new residential dock or expanding an existing one?

The draft allows you to build a new dock, as long as you build it to standards set by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Current rules governing docks in Blakely Harbor wouldn’t change.

Jeanne Huber is a member of the Bainbridge Alliance for Puget Sound,

Bainbridge Island Keepers,

and the Association of Bainbridge Communities

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