Large Buffers Likely Not Needed For Developed Burien Shorelines

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by Ralph Nichols

Burien residents on the Puget Sound waterfront – concerned about impacts revised shoreline regulations, if adopted, would have on their property – heard encouraging words at a June 14 forum on the science behind these proposals.

Shoreline buffers “are not entirely applicable” along Burien’s developed Puget Sound shoreline because they “presume natural forested conditions without urban constraints,” said fisheries biologist Carl Hadley of Cedarock Consultants Inc.

“Existing buffer science contrasts with existing conditions in Burien,” 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 city’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.

“Adding buffers to protect large trees [in residential reaches] just does not make sense,” Hadley continued. “Trying to improve habitat quality on developed lots using buffers just doesn’t work.”

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.

“Large buffers work great if you have an intact forest,” Hadley said. And they will work well at Seahurst Park, “which is definitely unique and should be treated separately.”

In developed residential reaches, “go in and handpick the functions you want. That will do better than dropping a buffer over an entire shoreline. You don’t need a 150-foot buffer to do that. You don’t even need 50 feet.

“Rather than pissing everybody off in the shoreline, develop something specific,” 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 – and the audience that packed city council chambers for this first of two forums on shoreline issues – 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 city’s Shoreline Management Program update, said data she collected, guided by the Washington Administrative Code, provide a “baseline snapshot” of Burien’s shorelines for the review process.

“Modified shorelines are most prevalent” locally,” 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.

“No net loss is designed to stop new impacts to shoreline ecological functions,” 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, “quite a bit different” than other areas where no net loss is an issue because “the shoreline here is densely developed.”

Hadley urged the city “to be sure of the science applicable to the shoreline involved here” and, in reviewing recommendations for buffers, to consider “the best way to deal with no net loss.”

Councilman Gordon Shaw said, “I get confused when people talk about the best available science, and then no one can pinpoint it. I’m concerned about asking our shoreline property owners to sacrifice for the common good … but we’re unable to pinpoint that.”

Shaw added “the whole process we’ve talked about tonight is something we need to proceed very slowly with, because we don’t know if it’s going to do what it’s intended to so.”

Councilwoman Rose Clark inquired, “We have done here over time a lot of good things … do those things count [in complying with no net loss] or will it all fall on the shoulders of those living along the shoreline?”

The “restoration component” of the Shoreline Management Plan “includes good things you have already done … completely,” 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 “citizen scientists” and collect their own shoreline ecological data because “you know your own beach better than anyone else” – and because “we can’t always be looking to the federal and state governments.”

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 – their ability to resell homes, resale values and insurance – 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 city’s plan is adopted, it will be submitted to Ecology for its review and final approval.

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15 Responses to “Large Buffers Likely Not Needed For Developed Burien Shorelines”
  1. SD says:

    This process seems backwards. Why didn’t the Planning Commission seek out these experts’ guidance prior to making their recommendations to the Council?

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  2. Amazed says:

    I am amazed. Do the city officials understand there will be lawsuits? No property owner is going to sit by idly and allow everything they have worked for to be put aside by bureaucrats. If reason does not supersede this way of thinking soon, I see fat lawyer bills, angry citizens, and a mass exodus out of a what could have been a flourishing seaside utopia.

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  3. fish says:

    It seems to me like one of the people brought to speak on the 14th doesn’t think buffers are necessary (who’s paying him, by the way?) and one (who works for the Department of Ecology and doesn’t have a financial incentive to oppose buffers) thinks that the buffers will do quite a lot of good. So why does the headline only cite the panelist with whom the author clearly already agrees?

    This citizen is not inclined to trust the words of a hired hand on the payroll of the shoreline residents who will viciously fight any regulation that in any way limits what can be done on their land.

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    • Lee Moyer says:

      Your scepticism is justified. I’ve read a couple reports submitted to the council by consultants on behaf of opponenets of the SMP. They have impresive credentials, good science on field research, inventories, etc. and then strain hard to make that information match the desired conclusion.

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  4. Coverofnight says:

    Congrats to Ralph Nichols for what seems to be a “fair and balanced” reporting of the positions related to this issue. That being said, my sense from reading this article is, unfortunately, that the homeowners are still going to get hosed. The Council will probably play it safe and give the “granola bars” what they want – requirements that will work toward full restoration of the shorelines as they might have appeared to Lewis and Clark if they had ventured to our shorelines.

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  5. Homeowner says:

    Fish, if you were at the meeting you might think differently. Three scientists were there, and they each reviewed the science “used”. Each made their arguments concerning applicablity of buffers in an urban area vs. the SMP requirments of No-Net-Loss-of-Ecolgocial Function. Not ivory tower, but for real, what does that mean for exisiting shoreline of Burien.

    “Hired Hands”? – Department of Ecology – they are everyone’s hired hand! (They work for the government which by and of the people).The Consultant from Reid Middleton which was hired by they city was another hired hand, to the tune of $100,000! . Neither of these “experts” had even walked the shoreline.

    Of course the homeowners hired expert. The SMP put forth by the planning commission would decimiate many people’s life savings and lead to a huge decline of the economic vitality of Burien. Are we really sure about the science it is based on? The answer was pretty clear at the meeting. Additionally, many of us truly are concerned with the enviroment to the degree that we did retain a marine fishiries biologist to advise us. Isn’t that a good thing?

    Fish, you did get one thing right, it is our land!

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  6. Julie Dow says:

    After this article came out, Carl Hadley was “univited” to be on the panel Monday, via phone call from the City of Burien’s Planning Department. Curiouser and curiouser.

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  7. KaiJ says:

    Burien small town drama….No Net Loss? Does that mean no more building alterations or developing those last few vacant lots? So why should that affect all the pre existing and grandfathered improvements? Appears Burien already has plenty of public and natural state linear waterfront. Can the city really afford to piss off ALL the top prop tax payers?
    Or even negatively impact those values and have the tax base drop even more…

    So many Questions and potential liabilities…what is the gain tomorrow or even 20 years from now?

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    • Pauline says:

      You do realize, don’t you, that the city gets only about 12 cents out of each tax dollar we pay? So the shoreline owners are not really financing the whole city government, much as it may feel like that to them. Have you ever looked at the tax breakdown? I got a postcard from the county earlier in the year showing where my property taxes go, and the bulk of them go to the school district and the fire department.

      My understanding is that “no net loss” means no further loss from what exists today, but vacant lots can be built on and existing buildings can be altered, but there may need to be some things done to the landscaping to make up for it — at least, that’s what I’m getting from watching the televised meetings…

      And I don’t for a minute believe it’s a giant conspiracy to drive homeowners off their shoreline land. I mean, seriously, can you imagine a city council (7 individuals of varying philosophies) — or an entire city government, for that matter — staying that focused and organized to pull off any conspiracy much less one as grandious as that? You give city government WAY too much credit when you think like that!

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      • Pauline says:

        I mean, the people who buy into the conspiracy theory, not particularly you KaiJ — I just realized I posted under your comment and not as a new comment to the main story.

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        • KaiJ says:

          Thank you for you take and I agree with most everything you said. I to read the tax breakdown and don’t forget the $600 I paid for the library where they don’t appear to actually read books, but rather surf endlessly on the net.

          Maplewild homeowner

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  8. Big Guy says:

    How would the SMP “decimate many people’s life savings”? If Homeowner and others would actually look at the rules, you’d see that no one is robbing your savings. Do you have a house on the water already? It can stay, be remodeled and expanded, and be rebuilt if destroyed by a fire or earthquake. Read it–don’t just listen to propaganda.

    By the way “no net loss” is a requirement of state law. If you don’t like it vote out the people who put it there and elect people who will take it out. The city didn’t make this stuff up. READ THE SMP!!

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    • Homeowner says:

      Hi Big Guy, you’re correct – no net loss is the standard. The city did not make that up, however most of the Burien SMP as proposed goes well beyond that. No-net-loss means “not making it any worse”. It does not mean mitigation or restoration. (Yes’, I’ve read the SMP and the BMHA redlines, and the law passed in March that assures no-net-loss is the standard. The proposed city plan was written before this law was passed and it does not meet state standards of no-net-loss in many places).

      Here’s the life savings scenario: there’s an earthquake or fire. A home needs to be rebuilt. If it is one of the over seventy-five percent of the homes declared non conforming by the SMP, then it would be required to fit in certain places on the lot and meet certain standards. For many (most) of these homes, this would make reconstruction impossible given the topography of the lots.

      Also even without a disaster, if the land use is restricted or lot sizes are effectively reduced due to onerous buffers, all lots becomes less valuable . If I am required to maintain my landscaping to a vegetation plan which is required to be submitted and monitored by experts my land it becomes less valuable. If I am required to fill out a form 17 when I sell my home, declaring to a purchaser that my home is designated non conforming, it becomes less valuable, if I can only get insurance at certain places my home becomes more expensive to operate and it becomes less valuable. If my neighbors are not allowed to rebuild in a fire or the like, and abandon their home which then becomes blighted and rat infested, my home becomes less valuable.

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  9. Robin says:

    Homeowner –

    Complete rebuild after 100% loss is permitted in the same exact footprint. For a loss more than 75%, there are more ‘standards’ to abide by – but they are mostly benign (such as – you can’t move your new house closer to the water than your old one). The only additional standard that is a little crazy is the vegetation management one, which could be a pain but will not make it impossible to re-build your home.

    I’m not crazy about the SMP as is, BUT, rebuild after 100% loss is permitted in the same footprint.

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    • Homeowner says:

      Hi Robin: You aren’t the only one who “isn’t crazy” about the new standards that compliance would be required of (in so much as anyone because they are poorly defined and not understandable) ….seems to be everyone.

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