Shoreline Master Program Meeting Tonight; Some Misinformation Debunked

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by Ralph Nichols

Concerned citizens who live along Burien’s two residential waterfront reaches – Three Tree Point and Lake Burien – will have yet another opportunity at 7pm this evening (Tuesday, Feb. 23) to comment on the draft update of the city’s Shoreline Master Program.

Public interest in this issue is so great – as is the level of concern among local shoreline residents who fear their property rights could be impacted by a revised plan – that the Burien Planning Commission, which will continue its review of the plan, will meet in the City Council chambers on the first floor of City Hall.

Almost 200 people, troubled primarily about the impact revised regulations – and public access to shorelines – will have on their property, crowded a smaller room for the Planning Commission two weeks ago.

But in the wake of that meeting, said several persons involved in the planning process, many of those commenting on the draft document were not well informed or were basing their concerns on “disinformation.”

Burien City Manager Mike Martin and Senior City Planner David Johanson recently sat down with The B-Town Blog to address what they said is misleading information circulating about provisions in the draft update of the Shoreline Master Program. Here are there responses to some common misperceptions:

Non-conforming structures on shoreline property cannot be rebuilt if damaged.

Martin: “That absolutely is not the case.”

New public access to these shoreline reaches is proposed.

Martin: “It does not do that. Period.”

Rights-of-way at the water’s edge can be taken over by the city.

Martin: “Contrary to what anyone may have heard, there is nothing in the document that gives the city new authority to take over any right-of-way.”

The Planning Commission will make the final decision to approve the shoreline plan.

Martin: “That absolutely is not true. The City Council will make the final decision.”

The Planning Commission is expected to deliberate on the public comment it has received, complete its review of the document, and forward a recommendation to the City Council by the end of March.

At least one public hearing will be held by the council while it considers the plan before taking final action. Once the city has adopted its updated Shoreline Management Program, it still must be reviewed and approved by the state Department of Ecology.

Because of widespread misconceptions about provisions in the draft plan, some Planning Commission members are encouraging concerned shoreline residents to read it first, and then ask questions and address specific concerns, rather than simply reacting to rumors about what purported new regulations would do to their property.

The draft shoreline plan is available on the city’s website

Johanson noted that updating the city’s Shoreline Master Program is not a local option. “The state requires us to do this … over 200 jurisdictions [in Washington] are doing this.”

The state requires all cities and counties to periodically update their Shoreline Management Programs, which implement the Shoreline Management Act at the local level.

According to Ecology, local plans are based on state law and regulations, but “are tailored to the unique geographic, economic and environmental needs of each community.”

This is to improve and protect the health of Puget Sound and other waterways, improve water quality and salmon recovery, and enhance the state’s economy and tourism, Johanson added.

Information about the Shoreline Management Act and guidelines for local Shoreline Master Programs is available on Ecology’s website at

Burien was awarded a $117,000 state grant from Ecology for this project, which began with a comprehensive review of the current document by the Shoreline Advisory Committee. The committee then made recommendations and submitted that draft to the Planning Commission.

Martin stressed that the draft revisions give the city “no new rights or authority under its shoreline document.” This includes Lake Burien, which has no public access to its shoreline.

“The city does not have any more authority in this document to provide public access [to the lake] than at any time in the past,” he said.

Johanson said setbacks allowed in the proposed revised plan, in the event of reconstruction due to property damage, are “similar to those of other urban jurisdictions” in an attempt “to strike a balance between state objectives and the urban setting” where shorelines already are developed.

The draft plan would require a 65-foot setback from the average high water level, compared to a current setback of 20 feet along the Puget Sound shoreline. If adopted, those homes would be classified as non-conforming structures – but could be rebuilt on their existing footprint if damaged.

Johanson indicated that after the Planning Commission has finished taking public testimony, staff will compile a list of frequently asked questions together with clarifications and answers, and post this on the city’s website.

The next Shoreline Master Program Planning Commission meeting will take place tonight (Tues., Feb. 23rd) at 7pm in the main City Council Chambers meeting room on the first floor of the new city hall, located at 400 SW 152nd Street. Also, according to the city’s website, this meeting will be televised live on TBC 21 (The Burien Channel), live streamed on the City’s website here, and available via archived video on the website.

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11 Responses to “Shoreline Master Program Meeting Tonight; Some Misinformation Debunked”
  1. Jim Branson says:

    After the creation of Eagle Landing Park, many private property owners tried in vain to work with the city to resolve misuse of private tidelands between Eagle Landing Park and Seahurst Park. The most we could get was an acknowledgment that it is private property. In contrast, in the City of Des Moines, if you stray outside the boundaries of Saltwater State Park, a State Park Ranger will come and ask you to leave, issue a citation if necessary, and arrest you if given no other choice.

    If the City plans to increase public access to publicly owned shorelines, then they ought to ensure that that access does not result in degradation of the ecological function of adjacent private tidelands. In my two years on the Shoreline Advisory Committee, I asked repeatedly for some mechanism of enforcement that will ensure No Net Loss. The most I could get was a vague statement, now buried somewhere, that there should be enforcement.

    The City of Burien has not enforced regulations that would protect the environment in the 35 years since the Shoreline Management Act was first passed. Whether this is the fault of the government or the lack of demand from the citizens, past history leaves no reason for optimism that new regulations will be enforced.

    If we had a Park Ranger system, we could increase safe public access to current public tidelands while enforcing laws and ensuring protection of adjacent private tidelands. Any cost of a Park Ranger team would be repaid in increased property values, increased tax revenues, and fines levied against those people that make enforcement necessary.

    One of the reasons that 200 people fill a tiny room to make their voices heard on the issue of public access to shorelines is that a small minority of people take advantage of public shorelines to commit illegal acts. If every visitor to the beach followed the rules, adjacent property owners would be happy to have them there, or at least less opposed. Instead of turning the Shoreline Master Program into a battle between property rights advocates and public access advocates, we could simply start enforcing the rules and ease tensions on both sides.

    A Park Ranger system is a win-win situation for all parties. Please let the planning commission know that you would like to see actual enforcement of the environmental regulations they are considering. Or, if you disagree that a Park Ranger is a solution, please let me know why, so I can address any concerns you might have.

  2. Cyndi Upthegrove says:

    Our City Manager and Planner are being truthful, but disingenuous, because:
    1. State law does not require a change in the Shoreline Mangement Plan unless the city is out of compliance with the current state law. It requires a review.
    2. The state Shoreline Management Act prioritizes protection of the environment as its highest priority. The Draft Burien plan prioritizes public access as its highest priority.
    3. The consulting firm, hired with $98,000 of taxpayer money, never conducted any environmental studies, and instead refers to nonexistent “newsletters”, obsolete information and other nonexistent sources, particularly regarding Lake Burien.
    We are hoping the Planning Commission will look carefully into the discrepancies in this information. The Shoreline Management Advisory Committee never reached out for public comment during their meetings, thus leaving the Planning Commission in this unfortunate position.

  3. napavine says:

    Jim, I will try one more time. I vote yes for Park Rangers. It is a great idea and most likely a solution to many Seahurt problems. Hip hip horray for Jim.

  4. Reader says:

    Let’s give a hearty round of applause to the two main purveyors of mis-information, Bob Edgar and Steve Lemon.

    While I actually applaud their effort to involve their neighbors in a government process, unfortunately they got quite a few people upset for no reason a couple weeks ago. They encouraged people to attend a meeting with the idea that Feb 9th was their last chance to have their say, when the schedule posted on the City’s website clearly, CLEARLY outlines the process, which will involve more public hearings held by the City Council and the Department of Ecology.

    Steve’s very words:

    “It’s very important to attend the Tuesday nights Planning Commission meeting. This will be the final hearing on the soon to be approved Shoreline Management Plan. It is my understanding the advis ory committee that drafted the Plan had no representation from homeowners on Maplewild or 172nd.”

    Hey Steve, two clicks of a mouse and you could have checked the schedule yourself before sending out inflammatory emails.

    They also stressed the ‘idea’ that an existing house could not be rebuilt in the existing footprint if it burned down. Those of us attending the meeting found out that that point had already been discussed and corrective language was in the Planning Commission’s recommended changes.

    Now, let’s all take a deep breath, do a little of our OWN research on the issue so we’re not being rounded up like an angry mob in what we believe is the last minute, read the whole ACTUAL document on the City’s website, and then decide if we have issues. And if we do, yeah, let’s THEN take them to the city.

    Thanks to the Burien Blog for their efforts to help us understand.

  5. Julie D. says:

    Dear no name “reader” above comment:

    2 clicks of a mouse and you would know that the planning commission has offically closed public comment in this matter except in writing, and Feb. 9th was the last posted meeting where public comments were to be taken by The Planning Commission. (However it was opened up for a few more last night.)

    And if you did have any objections, or , say a question, then you get to speak and they say thank you. They actually don’t take questions. Kinda like Tiger Woods……

    Oh, and the footprint correction, while not yet worded clearly, actually did happen as a result of and active and informed public writing comments and showing up.

    Declaring everyone an angry uniformed mob, well, that’s simply uninformed.

  6. Dane Johnson says:

    Non-conforming structures on shoreline property cannot be rebuilt if damaged.
    Martin: “That absolutely is not the case.”
    That actual is not the specific concern,

    A lot of the North Beach properties will have their status changed from Conforming to Nonconforming bringing with it new limitation to expansion and rebuilding. “These buildings may be maintained…..expanded provided that these actions do not increase the extent of nonconformity”

    For most residences any work would fall in that category, the current solution “obtain a variance or come into compliance” Coming into compliance is not an option for most thus leaving the sole option of obtaining a variance. That option is probably unavoidable but with out some guidelines on what maybe asked of the property owners in exchange for a variance it is unnerving. Many people would like to see some set of guidelines written for the city to use in this process as apposed to leaving it up to who ever is currently in charge of the cities planning. We all are acutely aware of how planning can be politicized and how the goals of city planning can change over the years. I.E. the current planned goal of public access.

    But the main issue on this statement comes in the ability to reconstruct;

    “A nonconforming structure which is destroyed……more than 50% of the assessed value of the nonconforming structure as established by the most current county assessor’s tax role at present or at the time of its destruction by fire….may be reconstructed only insofar with existing regulations and the following:

    D. The action shall not extend either further waterward than the existing primary residential structure [not appurtenance], further into the minimum side yard setback, or further into the riparian buffer than the existing structure. Encroachments that extend waterward of the existing residential foundation walls or further into the riparian buffer, or the minimum required side yard setback require a variance.

    See 20.35.045 for the rest of the details”

    Two things have stuck with people on this.

    1.”may be reconstructed only insofar with existing regulations and the following:”
    Because the sentence says “And” it means the structure must be constructed under current compliant rules and regulations.

    In our case and others like us on the beach that is technically impossible due the the pitch of our property and the depth of our property In this case that would leave our property un-buildable and would greatly decrease the value of our property .

    2. Burien currently has a 50% value clause for enacting these rules, due to the current devaluation of our property that would mean $233,000 would be the marker value for a rebuild. With the extremely high cost of building on a inaccessible piece of waterfront we could and most certainly would hit that marker in the case of a total loss due to fire or flood.

    Current Washington State standards is a 75% assessed value loss. Burien’s current and proposed is 50%. If we are looking at revising the SMP we should also review and have the city be prepared to defend a more stringent regulation then what the plan is being reviewed against.

    Burien has some amazingly beautiful communities and coastlines in this it also has some very unique properties that should not be adversely affected by a plan revision.

    A plain and clear grandfather clause is all we are asking for along with a set of guidlines for the planning department to use while working out variances.Without those two simple things we as property owners appear to be in a precarious and unsecured position.

    Dane Johnson

  7. Reader says:

    Julie D,

    I am sorry you did not understand what I was saying. The Planning Commission does not have the authority to “hold the final hearing for the soon to be approved” plan, as Steve indicates above. The Planning Commission makes a recommendation to the City Council, who in turn holds more hearings, then passes the revised plan. Directly from the City’s website:

    “In turn, the Planning Commission will evaluate the document, conduct a public process and provide a recommendation to the City Council. Both the City Council and the state Department of Ecology will conduct public hearings on the updated master program, on dates yet to be determined. Please watch this website for updates.”

    So the 9th was not close to being the last chance to comment on the ‘soon to be approved’ plan.

    Were we in the same room on February 9th? The one where people were shouting insults at the Planning Commission, a group of volunteers who put in countless hours serving on a board that, by the way, ANYONE can apply to be on if they, too want to provide service for no pay. One woman specifically shouted that they should be “Ashamed of themselves!” They did not WRITE the document. They are part of a PROCESS. Thus my comment on the two town criers above. Yes, good that they want to get their neighbors involved, but, ideally the emails they sent would have had more accurate information.

    Dane –

    As you refer to the wording, yes, it is concerning. However, the Planning Commission has proposed changes before it moves on to the Council. One of them is to change the phrase under item 4. Reconstruction:

    “may be reconstructed only insofar with existing regulations and the following”:

    in the draft changes has been changed to:

    “may be reconstructed only insofar as it is consistent with the following”:

    This change removes the ‘existing regulations and’ part that was, rightly so, a sticking point with many people. I relaxed quite a bit when I saw the change.

    The next step for me, then, is to make sure that change makes it into the version that is passed on to the Council and attend those public hearings.

  8. Carol Jacobson says:

    While Mike Martin and Dave Johanson gave partially correct answers to these issues, they did not tell the whole story – and what was left out of their very curt answers says more than what was actually stated.

    Non-conforming structures on shoreline property cannot be rebuilt if damaged. The answer was: Martin: “That absolutely is not the case.”
    What is the case is this: Many homes that are now existing on the shoreline that are “nonconforming” can be rebuilt IF (and the IFs are huge) they meet certain criteria for vegetation etc etc etc. The problem with that is that many of these homes cannot meet those criteria because of their proximity to the shoreline and the fact that they have a hill behind them that prevents their being able to move back away from the shoreline. If indeed this goofy vegetation requirement is left in the document then these homes can’t be rebuilt because they can’t meet that requirement. All we need to fix this is a grandfather clause that allows currently existing homes and structures to be rebuilt – period. How simple is that??

    New public access to these shoreline reaches is proposed. Answer: Martin: “It does not do that. Period.”
    Technically he is correct. This document does not specifically state that they are proposing new public access sites. However, there are several places in the document that leave that door wide open for future development – places where they have cleverly changed wording or inserted things like “unused right of way” and “creating roadside turnouts” that could eventually be used to create more public access sites in places where individual property rights would be lost.

    Rights-of-way at the water’s edge can be taken over by the city. Answer: Martin: “Contrary to what anyone may have heard, there is nothing in the document that gives the city new authority to take over any right-of-way.” While it is true that the document does not specifically give “new” authority, it certainly contains many statements that indicate an intent to use right of way as a method of potentially getting more public access. For example, Policy PA5: The City should seek opportunities to develop new public access ares in locations dispersed throughout the shoreline.” And, 20.30.035 Regulations 2 (c): If a public road is located within shoreline jurisdiction, any usused right of way shall be dedicated as open space and public access.” You will notice that none of these city people have EVER given any reassurance in ANY statement that they do not intend to take over right of way and trample on the property rights of many of the citizens living in the involved areas. Anybody with two brain cells that synapse can see the holes here that indicate the ultimate intent.

    The Planning Commission will make the final decision to approve the shoreline plan. Answer: Martin: “That absolutely is not true. The City Council will make the final decision.” Finally a completely true answer. I don’t know anyone who actually ever thought that the Planning Commission made the final decision.

    One last thing: what is good for downtown Burien and residential areas in other parts of the city are not necessarily good for the shoreline or for shoreline communities. If it was there would be no need for a Shoreline Management Act or Plan. So for the city to say things like ” similar to those of other urban jurisdictions” and use the existing City Comprehensive plan as a basis for policies in the Shoreline Management Plan makes no sense. The city shoreline plan is supposed to account for the unique character of areas like Lake Burien and Three Tree Point, as per the quote take from this very article:
    “. . local plans are based on state law and regulations, but “are tailored to the unique geographic, economic and environmental needs of each community.”


  9. Dawn Lemmel says:

    To the “no name Reader” and their comments,


    Although I was not present for the February 9th meeting, I can attest to the atmosphere of the January 26th Planning Commission meeting, which I did attend. This was really the first meeting in which citizens were able to express their concerns and frustrations over the seemingly lack of public input. Although everyone who spoke felt strongly about their position, at no time did anyone shout insults toward any member of the commission.

    As tax paying and law abiding citizens, those who took the time to be present and had the courage to stand up, state their names and neighborhoods, merely took the only opportunity available at that time to present their concerns and frustrations regarding an overall feeling of lack of public input regarding the development of, and arbitrary changes to, an existing Shoreline Management Act. Make no mistake. The members of the Planning Commission, as well as those on the City Council, who chose to place themselves in the public arena, based on promises made to honor the trust of Burien’s citizens, represent or work for, and therefore must answer to, the citizens of Burien. It is not unreasonable to question whether or not citizen representatives or city employees are implementing policy without due citizen input or in the best interests of the people and taxpayers they committed themselves to serving. As a result of those determined individuals and their willingness to stand up and be singled out in order to be heard on January 26th, giving a voice to the concerns of many citizens, the City of Burien and the employees of its citizens’ began to pay attention, thereby providing for further public input.

    Secondly, I reiterate the point that these individuals, people of conviction, who spoke up at the January 26th meeting, and subsequent meetings, demonstrated tenacity and fortitude by showing a willingness to stand behind their concerns and beliefs in speaking out, while clearly stating their names. You have chosen to pass judgment and cast aspirations while hiding in anonymity. It is difficult to stand up, state your name and risk the alienation or ridicule of others in order for your voice to be heard. You apparently don’t have the temerity to stand behind your statements or convictions, as demonstrated by your unwillingness to identify yourself. Instead, you choose to hide behind the moniker of “reader.” You have no difficulty calling out individuals by name and directing your judgmental, condescending comments, such as “Let’s give a hearty round of applause to the two main purveyors of mis-information, Bob Edgar and Steve Lemon”, “Hey Steve, two clicks of a mouse and you could have checked the schedule yourself before sending out inflammatory emails”, “Julie D, I am sorry you did not understand what I was saying” and “Were we in the same room on February 9th?” to those who had the courage to state their names in their letters of comment, yet you continually refuse to provide your own.

    Therefore, I would encourage anyone who reads this commentary to disregard your statements or opinion, in your poorly designed attempt to try to “inform“ others. If you can’t stand with courage behind your convictions, then quite simply, your words are not credible.

  10. Reader says:

    On the above comment (I’d use your name but I guess you don’t like that?)

    I was not at the meeting you attended, so I don’t have any feeling about it. From your description above it sounds like a great example of citizens being involved in the public process. I am all for that and, as a citizen, plan to continue to be informed and involved. I applaud your participation. I am not in any way saying that people should not be involved. Nowhere above have I said people shouldn’t speak up. I AM saying that people should be informed before they get involved.

    I was at the Feb 9th meeting. Someone in the back of the room had a copy of the entire Shoreline Plan. A couple people looked it over and then asked what it was. The woman who had it said “It’s what we’re discussing tonight.” I’m sure you can agree that if someone is going to raise their blood pressure they should at least know firsthand why they’re so angry. Also, at the Feb 9th meeting, at least a third of the people there left during the break. Before the break the Planning Commission had said they would address the remarks and they did. So a lot of the people there came, shouted, and left and never heard what the other side had to say. That is very different than the type of participation you described above.

    A big cause of the anger in the room was the belief that this was everyone’s ‘last chance’ to be heard. And yes, I called out some individuals who deliberately spread that idea around. They also chose to put themselves in the ‘public arena’. The few things I said about them are not nearly as bad as the comments aimed at the Planning Commission and City staff. Yes, the PC chose to be in the public arena but do not deserve to be attacked, most of which happened at the meeting you didn’t attend. I’m just saying that that meeting was far more hostile than it needed to be.

    I never put my first and last name “out there” on the Internet. It’s my rule; I understand if you don’t like it but it’s not changing.

  11. Dawn Lemmel says:

    Dear “Reader”,

    Given your need to continually cloak yourself behind your smug comments, you fail to lend merit to your words. In reference to your petty and snide comment “I’d use your name but I guess you don’t like that”, in your response to my earlier posting, let me be clear that unlike you , I have demonstrated I do not have a problem with using my name to express my convictions and statements. I stand behind my disappointment in your approach and unwillingness to be held accountable for your less than courageous tendency to point fingers at others, while not being willing to subject yourself to the same scrutiny.

    Your excuse of “I never put my first and last name ‘out there’ on the Internet” is a feeble excuse at best for remaining anonymous. no doubt allowing you to feel safe about criticizing others without fear of being exposed and criticized yourself. It might interest you to know that after having posted my earlier blog, including my full name, I was inundated by e-mails from individuals, both known and unknown to me, extending their appreciation and thanks for “saying it like it is” in reference to your baseless position and less than neighborly approach. Additionally, due to my previous involvement with city politics, you can find my name included in past city agendas and comments sections on the internet, for which I have not suffered consequences. In fact, given today’s information technology, I would be willing to bet that your name is “out there” more times than you realize.

    If you are to have a voice in which you wish to influence public opinion, then you must be willing to place your name along side your words. If you cant find the fortitude to do that, then might I suggest you refrain from public comment. In my earlier posting I stated to you, “If you can’t stand with courage behind your convictions, then quite simply, your words are not credible.”

    I rest my case.

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