Burien Residents Air Concerns At Packed Shoreline Program Meeting

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by Ralph Nichols

Burien residents had their final opportunity on Tuesday night (Feb. 23rd) to voice to the Burien Planning Commission their opinions and concerns about proposed rule revisions in the draft update of the city’s Shoreline Master Program.

Written comment still will be accepted, addressed to either the Burien Planning Commission or Senior City Planner David Johanson, at 400 SW 152nd St., Burien, WA, 98166, or by emailing [email protected].

Concerned citizens will also have opportunities to speak out on the draft plan at public hearings, which will be scheduled later, conducted by the Burien City Council and the state Department of Ecology.

After hearing the last of the public testimony Tuesday evening, Planning Commission members began the process of working their way through a detailed summary of earlier comments by shoreline-area residents and draft responses prepared by city staff and consultants.

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 their reactions:

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

Martin: “That absolutely is not the case.”

Turnout was so high at the last meeting that Tuesday night's Shoreline Master Program meet was moved to city council chambers.

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 at http://burienwa.gov/index.aspx?NID=851.

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 http://www.ecy.wa.gov.

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.

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