City Council Will Begin Review Of Shoreline Master Program Next Month

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by Ralph Nichols

Burien City Council members will begin review next month of an updated Shoreline Master Program.

And when lawmakers finish their work – perhaps before summer’s end – there is a distinct possibility they won’t spend as much time discussing any single provision of the controversial plan as they took on April 5 trying to decide when to begin reviewing it.

After a lengthy, oft-confusing discussion, lawmakers agreed to have on May 3 what Councilman Gordon Shaw, who requested such meeting, called a “Shoreline Master Program 101” session.

At this meeting, members are to receive from Community Development Department staff the draft Shoreline Management Program, including changes made to the plan by the Burien Planning Commission before it was forwarded to the council late last month.

In addition, council members will get a matrix of hundreds of comments from concerned shoreline residents along with any responding action by the planning commission, and will hear a background presentation on the issues, the process, and the legal and scientific definitions involved.

At one point during a confusing part of Monday's council meeting, Councilmember Gordon Shaw held his head in his hands. Photo by Scott Schaefer.

“We certainly are not negating all the hard work done by the planning commission,” declared Mayor Joan McGilton.

“But we are telling the community we heard your comments and are not simply taking the [planning commission’s recommendations] and rubber stamping them, as easy as that would be,” she said, asking the community to “give us a chance to figure out what we’re doing.”

Community Development Department Director Scott Greenberg proposed a review process beginning with a special meeting on June 14 dedicated entirely to the Shoreline Management Program.

That meeting would be followed by:

  • June 21 – the first of two public hearings.
  • July 19 – a general discussion.
  • Aug. 2 – a discussion and direction to city staff about revisions.
  • Aug. 16 – the second public hearing.
  • Aug. 31 – a special meeting for discussion followed by adoption of the city’s updated Shoreline Management Program.

After the city signs off on its Shoreline Master Program, the Department of Ecology “then will take another three months to review it,” including holding its own public hearing in Burien, before giving the document final approval, Greenberg said.

When asked about timetable parameters, he added it is his “understanding that Burien has to have it done by Dec. 31 … Ecology will take as long as Ecology takes” in its final review process.

Although citizens had urged the city council to wait six months before taking up the Shoreline Management Plan and the Planning Commission, in turn, had recommended a two-month delay, McGilton objected.

“I don’t like the idea of a hiatus in terms that this council thinks they can wait” to begin consideration of the document with its complex issues.

“I’m concerned that we have lots of things to do,” she said. This includes every council member reading every one of the public comments, the matrix for which takes more than 30 pages, and the “hundreds and hundreds of letters” from shoreline residents.

And concepts such as no net loss, setbacks and buffers, non-conforming uses, and ecological functions need to be understood.

Therefore, she argued, the council needs to begin its study sooner rather than later.

All council members agreed that holding an open discussion, which several residents urged in comments at the beginning of the meetings, is a good idea.

Such a discussion would allow members of the public to speak for more than the usual three minutes permitted by council rules, and would also allow for exchanges between the public and council members.

But, McGilton cautioned, “when communities start hiring attorneys to come to these meetings, it gives me pause. I realize that you are protecting your interests, but when attorneys are present I talk less freely.”

Shaw – who noted he is reading the state Shoreline Management Act and related state administrative codes – urged restraint in considering shoreline rules. “Burien is not Seattle or Tacoma … or Des Moines with a marina,” he noted. “We don’t have commercial uses on our waterfront.”

When it comes to the nebulous concept of “no net loss,” he noted the city already has spent several million dollars to restore the south Seahurst Park beach and is planning to restore the nearshore habitat on the park’s north beach.

“I think when we get through with this process, we will have a document Burien can be proud of. Burien [already] should be proud of its shoreline … we need to demonstrate a trust relationship with our citizens to do the right thing” to protect the residential shoreline in front of them.

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