Large Buffers Likely Not Needed For Developed Burien Shorelines
Burien residents on the Puget Sound waterfront â€“ concerned about impacts revised shoreline regulations, if adopted, would have on their property â€“ heard encouraging words at a June 14 forum on the science behind these proposals.
Shoreline buffers â€œare not entirely applicableâ€ along Burienâ€™s developed Puget Sound shoreline because they â€œpresume natural forested conditions without urban constraints,â€ said fisheries biologist Carl Hadley of Cedarock Consultants Inc.
â€œExisting buffer science contrasts with existing conditions in Burien,â€ Hadley told lawmakers at the forum, which was held to give them background information as they began a summer-long review of proposed updates to the cityâ€™s Shoreline Management Program.
The recommend changes to the shoreline plan were approved by the Burien Planning Commission in late March and forwarded to the city council for final action.
These include a proposal to increase setbacks from the ordinary high water mark, which limit where waterfront property owners on Puget Sound can build homes and other structures, from a current 20 feet to 65 feet. The greater restriction would combine buffers and setbacks.
Homeowners are concerned that such a change would negatively impact property values and restrict what they can do on their own land.
â€œAdding buffers to protect large trees [in residential reaches] just does not make sense,â€ Hadley continued. â€œTrying to improve habitat quality on developed lots using buffers just doesnâ€™t work.â€
Instead, he suggested, development and redevelopment of property can be regulated to protect shoreline ecological functions just as effectively through the use of applicable city codes.
â€œLarge buffers work great if you have an intact forest,â€ Hadley said. And they will work well at Seahurst Park, â€œwhich is definitely unique and should be treated separately.â€
In developed residential reaches, â€œgo in and handpick the functions you want. That will do better than dropping a buffer over an entire shoreline. You donâ€™t need a 150-foot buffer to do that. You donâ€™t even need 50 feet.
â€œRather than pissing everybody off in the shoreline, develop something specific,â€ advised Hadley, who has been retained as a consultant by the Burien Marine Homeowners Association.
Dr. Kathy Taylor of the state Department of Ecology told council members â€“ and the audience that packed city council chambers for this first of two forums on shoreline issues â€“ that buffers from 25 to 91 meters inland from the ordinary high water mark are 80 percent effective.
The function of buffers is to maintain natural erosion as part of the process of protecting water quality and retaining, restoring or enhancing shoreline vegetation, Taylor said.
Cassandra Moore, a biologist with Grette Associates, a subcontractor for the cityâ€™s Shoreline Management Program update, said data she collected, guided by the Washington Administrative Code, provide a â€œbaseline snapshotâ€ of Burienâ€™s shorelines for the review process.
â€œModified shorelines are most prevalentâ€ locally,â€ Moore observed, a fact that makes restoration of shoreline habitat rather than no net loss a factor to for council members to consider as they consider proposed revisions to the management plan.
â€œNo net loss is designed to stop new impacts to shoreline ecological functions,â€ said Hadley. Yet along almost five miles of Puget Sound shoreline in Burien, there are 309 private lots, 282 of which have been developed with private residences.
This makes most of the Burien shoreline, where most of the information has been collected, â€œquite a bit differentâ€ than other areas where no net loss is an issue because â€œthe shoreline here is densely developed.â€
Hadley urged the city â€œto be sure of the science applicable to the shoreline involved hereâ€ and, in reviewing recommendations for buffers, to consider â€œthe best way to deal with no net loss.â€
Councilman Gordon Shaw said, â€œI get confused when people talk about the best available science, and then no one can pinpoint it. Iâ€™m concerned about asking our shoreline property owners to sacrifice for the common good â€¦ but weâ€™re unable to pinpoint that.â€
Shaw added â€œthe whole process weâ€™ve talked about tonight is something we need to proceed very slowly with, because we donâ€™t know if itâ€™s going to do what itâ€™s intended to so.â€
Councilwoman Rose Clark inquired, â€œWe have done here over time a lot of good things â€¦ do those things count [in complying with no net loss] or will it all fall on the shoulders of those living along the shoreline?â€
The â€œrestoration componentâ€ of the Shoreline Management Plan â€œincludes good things you have already done â€¦ completely,â€ replied Moore.
Hadley said Seahurst Park is the best location for the city to achieve no net loss and make other shoreline improvements.
Mayor Joan McGilton encouraged waterfront property owners to become â€œcitizen scientistsâ€ and collect their own shoreline ecological data because â€œyou know your own beach better than anyone elseâ€ â€“ and because â€œwe canâ€™t always be looking to the federal and state governments.â€
The second public forum will be held by the city council meeting next Monday, June 21, at 7 p.m., where proposed Shoreline Master Program revisions that would impact waterfront property owners will be discussed.
Topics will include shoreline buffers and setbacks, non-conforming structures, bulkheads, vegetation, and public access, as well as what is required by the state Shoreline Management Plan and state shoreline guidelines,
Major concerns of these property owners â€“ their ability to resell homes, resale values and insurance â€“ will also be addressed.
Once again, the audience will be invited to participate in a facilitated question-and-answer session with panelists and council members following prepared presentations.
The council will continue discussing the proposed revisions at their July 19 and Aug. 2 meetings. A public hearing will be held on Aug. 16, with final discussion and adoption of an updated Burien Shoreline Master Program scheduled for a special meeting on Aug. 30.
Once the cityâ€™s plan is adopted, it will be submitted to Ecology for its review and final approval.