Burien City Council Dives Into Shoreline Master Program Review

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by Ralph Nichols

Against a backdrop of requests for civility and respect – and new expressions of public unease – city council members took a preliminary step on May 3 toward a summer-long review of Burien’s revised Shoreline Master Program.

Their discussion, which lasted over an hour, focused on the process they will employ in considering the updated shoreline plan, especially at the first formal discussion of the controversial draft scheduled for June 14.

Council members want a briefing at that meeting, which has been dubbed “Shoreline 101,” on what is required of them in the review process, the regulatory issues, shoreline ecological functions, “no net loss” of wetlands, and the legal and scientific definitions involved.

City Manager Mike Martin will submit to the council for its consideration on May 10 a refined plan for the process.

The preliminary schedule proposed by Community Development Department staff sets subsequent meetings on:

  • June 21 – the first of two public hearings.
  • July 19 – council discussion.
  • Aug. 2 – council discussion and direction to staff for final updates to the plan.
  • Aug. 16 – the second public hearing.
  • Aug. 30 – a special meeting for council discussion and adoption of the city’s revised Shoreline Master Program.

Property owners from city’s two regulated shoreline areas, Three Tree Point and Lake Burien, want at least one meeting for a discussion at which they can engage in dialogue with council members and not be limited in their remarks to three minutes.

But while Council members Brian Bennett, Lucy Krakowiak – who would prefer two roundtable discussions – and Gordon Shaw endorse the idea, Mayor Joan McGilton and Deputy Mayor Rose Clark aren’t so sure.

“I’m not a strong proponent of a public forum,” McGilton said. Council members need to read all the letters about the shoreline plan, submitted earlier to the Burien Planning Commission and the council, to “have a good understanding of what the community’s concerns are,” she added.

“Many times the city has had public forums,” Clark continued. “Often the public treats us not as a partner but as someone to fight against … I would hope for civility and respect.”

While she would “hope to come into a [forum] as friends, neighbors, with mutual respect, I am troubled that lawyers have already been hired [by shoreline property owners] as if we have motives that are not sincere,” Clark said. “I don’t have any of those motives.”

Concern over the draft shoreline plan, which was approved and submitted to the city council by the Burien Planning Commission on March 30, was evident during public comment that preceded the lawmakers’ discussion.

“The planning commission failed to do what they should have done,” said Clark Mounsey. What they did “was blatant activism.”

Don Warren said there are “various state guidelines [in the Shoreline Management Act] we wrongly used and treated as requirements.”

And Greg Anderson suggested that the “residents of the waterfront … are probably the best stewards of that waterfront. Please let the citizens help you put a good plan together.”

Looking at the work ahead of them, which then will be reviewed by the state Department of Ecology, Shaw said, “I don’t want us to be under the threat of doing something we don’t want to do.”

But, McGilton responded, “We are the decision makers.”

Later, Shaw added, “We’re not Seattle. We’re not Tacoma. We don’t have industrial development on our waterfront. We’re not even Des Moines with a marina … everyone in this room agrees that protection of the shoreline is a good idea. But there is no benefit from one size fits all. That will not improve Burien’s shoreline situation.”

Shaw said he wants someone from the Master Builders Association and a real estate representative to speak to the council in addition to those who will talk about shoreline ecology.

Bennett said he wants “scientific experts and real estate experts” to discuss the impacts of more restrictive shoreline regulations on waterfront property owners.

And, said McGilton, “I hope we can get an expert from the Puget Sound Partnership. I would really like to get that perspective … lots of folks talk about individual property rights, but I want to hear from others.”

Senior Planner David Johansen told council members that under state law, the shoreline jurisdiction extends 200 feet inland from the ordinary high water mark, and includes associated wetlands.

Major issues facing the council in adopting an updated shoreline plan for the city include public access, repair and replacement of bulkheads, alterations to native vegetation – as well as non-conforming structures and buffer zones, Johansen said.

The current setback for homes and other structures along these waterfronts is 20 feet from the ordinary high water mark. The updated shoreline plan before council members proposes a new setback and buffer of 65 feet.

More than 130 homes would be classified as “non-conforming,” which could affect property values and future additions or repairs, if that proposal is adopted.

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11 Responses to “Burien City Council Dives Into Shoreline Master Program Review”
  1. curious? says:

    What prompted this whole study (disaster) in the first place?

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    • Ralph Nichols says:

      Local Shoreline Managerment Program updates – Burien’s included – are mandated by the state Department of Ecology, which has final review of each update local plan.

      The 40-year-old state Shoreline Management Act, by which these reviews are mandated and on which they are based, was adopted, in turn, by the Legislature acting (albeit willingly) in response to then-new federal environmental protection mandates.

      Regardless of what citizens think of the “whole study,” whether or not they consider it a “disaster,” is to make damn sure that: (1) new local regs are based on the actual wording of state regs and not just on an interpretation of what those regs mean; (2) state regs are based on the actual wording of state law, etc.; (3) state law is based on the actual wording of federal law, etc.; AND (4) that all of the above are based on actual (NOT assumed) and accurate good science that applied disrectly to the shorelines in question. (These are local plans, not a one-size-fits-all state plan.)

      On the bottom line, this is not just an environmental consideration; it’s a property rights issue.

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      • Jim Branson says:

        The science has not been done, and no one has any plans to do the science. To know if we are accomplishing No Net Loss as mandated by law, we need to do a scientific study of what plant and animal species currently inhabit our shoreline. We are relying on a few general water quality reports and records of where buildings are built or not built. This tells us almost nothing about the ecological function of our shorelines. We have the capability to do the right science, but no one will fund that science. We are using “The best available science that you can get without spending any money,” which is not science at all. In the Shoreline Master Program, what is the budget for conducting the science? What is the funding source? None and none. The entire process is a farce.

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  2. Coverofnight says:

    …….But, McGilton responded, “We are the decision makers.” And the Mayor doesn’t want public input?!!!!! Gee, sounds like their minds are made up already! How’s that for civility and respect? Sorry property owners, looks like the “fix” is in with the City Taliban, er, I mean City Council.

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    • Sheila says:

      I was taken aback by Mayor McGilton’s comments:

      “I’m not a strong proponent of a public forum to have a good understanding of what the community’s concerns are.”


      “We are the decision makers.”

      Certainly sets the tone for things to come, doesn’t it!!!!

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      • citizen says:

        We need to be able to vote for our Mayor….Federal Way has made the change….

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  3. Kai J. says:

    LITIGATION, that is what the City of Burien will get and they will have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars they DO NOT have in the ailing budget and will likely be stuck with the legal fees from the prevailing Waterfront home owners. I hear rumors of a unified and growing alliance with an increasing war chest for a future class action suit. Not to mention how they will lend a hand in the next election?

    Doubtful there is one potentially affected home owner on the council or shoreline panel? Or someone would realize the futility and fallout of damaging their property rights in addition to extracting the lion share of property taxes from this group.

    Make improvements on what Burien has already, such as unimproved street ends and access points. That benefits everyone, but take away someone’s property rights and damage their value in the name of sharing and you have Socialism.

    I hope the council treads lightly in the end and uses what little good will is left in this town to improve the overwhelming commercial vacancy rate and Town Square mess. They were empowed to improve our town, not go out of their way to alianate the high end of the tax payers.

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  4. Lee Moyer says:

    I hope the city council has the backbone to resist the threat of frivilous lawsuits by those with the money to hire lawyers whenever they don’t get their way. Otherwise they will only encourage more extortion.
    There is nothing in the SMP that promotes public access at the expense of property rights.
    Improving existing street ends is a good idea, but it has been done about as much as possible. About all that is left is to get rid of the unnecessary no parking signs, whose primary use seems to be to discourage use of the sites.
    It is easy to get some people excited. Just shout “Property rights”. Or maybe “socialism”. Don’t worry about facts and details.
    I guess “socialism” has replaced the old “communist plot” boogy man.

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    • Kai J. says:

      Opinions abound… Israel vs. Palistine is always a good example.

      There are a multitude of revisions that would directly impact the property rights of said targeted homeowners. And the potential future litigation will be many things but it will NOT BE Frivilous I assue you.

      Municipalities should make positive policy adjustments, but many of these proposed changes will have a negative impact on the targeted environments and pre-existing property rights and value of those who pay the most in property taxes.

      More small town stuff…

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  5. Lee Moyer says:

    I agree, opinions abound and simple repetition of them accomplishes little that is positive. But it is sure seems hard to come up with an actual case where property rights are significantly and unreasonably affected by the SMP.

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