Two Themes Dominate Second Shoreline Management Program Forum
by Ralph Nichols
â€œSecond verse, same as the first.â€
So it went for more than three hours, during the second of two public forums on June 21, as city council members heard background presentations â€“ and questions from waterfront residents â€“ on proposed revisions to Burienâ€™s Shoreline Management Program.
Two common, recurring themes dominated most of the discussion:
- Are significantly wider shoreline buffers and setbacks, as proposed by the draft update of Burienâ€™s Shoreline Management Program, really needed on the Puget Sound waterfront?
- And, what impact will these buffers and setbacks have on property values along the residential shoreline, and what restrictions will property owners face if they have to replace their homes?
Mayor Joan McGilton, whose disagreement with one June 14 presentation on shoreline science was reserved at the time, left no doubt Monday evening about where she stands on buffers.
â€œThey serve a valuable ecological function,â€ McGilton declared. Directly addressing Carl Hadley, a marine biologist who questioned the need for them along developed Burien shorelines at last weekâ€™s forum, she said, â€œI severely object to your calling buffers â€˜stupid.â€™â€
McGilton also questioned claims that expanded buffers and setbacks, which would result in a non-conforming classification for most shoreline homes, would lower property values.
â€œThere is not much shoreline property availableâ€ in Burien, she said. This property is â€œjust going to increase in value â€¦ the discussion about buffers just makes no sense to me whatsoever.â€
But Councilman Gordon Shaw offered a different view. Lawmakers, he said, have received no â€œhard set of factsâ€ that establishes a need to expanded buffers and setbacks along the residential waterfront, or to define what constitutes â€œno net lossâ€ of shoreline ecological function.
â€œWe donâ€™t have that knowledge,â€ Shaw declared. Yet â€œthe bureaucratic answer would be, â€˜we think there is a net lossâ€™â€ â€“ a speculation the state could use to justify more stringent regulations. â€œTo me itâ€™s just unreasonable.â€
Meanwhile, Greg Duff summarized the bottom line for many in the audience that packed the city council chambers for this forum.
â€œI recognize that buffers are important,â€ said Duff, who was president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council until his North Burien home was annexed into the city in April. â€œBut Iâ€™m not convinced that the buffers we currently have are not doing the job.â€
He said solid scientific evidence needs to be presented to answer one question about the existing buffers: â€œIs it working?â€
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.
Most homeowners who spoke during the forum voiced that these changes would negatively impact property values and restrict what they can do on their own land.
At the outset of the forum, council members heard from four panelists who discussed ecological and property issues.
Bob Fritzen, a shoreline planner with the state Department of Ecology: â€œIf we error, we should error on the side of protecting the resource,â€ including â€œno net loss of ecological function.â€ But the shoreline planning process also takes into consideration property rights, which â€œare very important,â€ including the avoidance of â€œtakings.â€
David Johansen, senior planner with the city of Burien: Within the goal of no net loss, â€œwe do have some options â€¦ non-conformity [of existing buildings] may continue â€¦ this only means they are legally constructed but donâ€™t conform with the new buffers.â€ New construction in these areas must conform to standards that protect shoreline vegetation.
Gordon Buchan, president and CEO of the commercial real estate firm GVA Kidder Mathews, who owns a home on Three Tree Point: â€œIn my opinion, [a non-conforming] classification â€¦ would have a negative impactâ€ on the value and sale of a home. â€œIt creates concern and uncertaintyâ€ on the part of a buyerâ€ â€“ a material fact that could affect financing.
Derek House, vice president and manager, Wells Fargo Insurance Services: Non-conformance and strict regulations for heavily damaged structures would result in â€œincreased cost of [insurance] coverage for less coverage â€¦ significant non-conformity … could result in increased architectural feesâ€ at the time of rebuilding.
Asked by McGilton what Ecology thinks about Burienâ€™s proposed expanded buffer, Fritzen said â€œthe idea is that every jurisdiction tailors [buffers] to needâ€ to protect its shoreline vegetation.
â€œMy concern is that 52 percent of [waterfront] homes seem to be non-conforming homes that have been there for 80 to 100 years,â€ Block observed. â€œThe [existing] 20-foot setback has worked well for years. What will you gain ecologically from 65 feet?â€
Johansen replied that â€œthe test is no net lossâ€ of ecological function, and â€œnot to make it worse. Buffers help you not go backward.â€
Later, Block asked, â€œSo rebuilding can take place?â€ â€œCertainly,â€ Johansen answered.
â€œWho measures the â€˜no net lossâ€™ through this whole process?â€ Shaw pondered. â€œWhat bothers me is that you canâ€™t identify any of the seven shoreline functionsâ€ that expanded buffers would improve. â€œOutside of parks, I donâ€™t see what can be gained by having buffers behind bulkheads.â€
Fritzen said â€œthe best thing you get is [improved] habitat for animals living along the shoreline. With these regulations, you can get more habitat with no net loss. The city can make things better.â€
Proposed revisions to shoreline management regulations seem to be â€œall about buffers and setbacks and vegetation requirements,â€ Shaw noted.
â€œI donâ€™t hear a lot about science. I would like to see if there isnâ€™t some alternative solutions to this degradation that would be less burdensome and solve this problem â€¦ if people still donâ€™t like it, at least they could see where they are getting some benefit out of it.â€
Chestine Edgar, agreeing with McGilton, said â€œbuffers are not dumb â€¦ they do serve a purpose,â€ including being a filtering system for water along the shoreline.
And, said David Parker, â€œwe have a tremendous ecosystem there â€¦ so if there is not a real big problem, donâ€™t fix it.â€ Donâ€™t â€œforce homeowners into spending lots of money that really isnâ€™t necessary.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know that thereâ€™s a clear, simple definition for no net loss,â€ Fritzen said. â€œTo me itâ€™s a target â€¦ if youâ€™re not doing anything, thereâ€™s no impact.
â€œWhat affects property values is fear mongering and other people that put out statements â€¦ that make people afraid if youâ€™re non-conforming.â€
McGilton added that â€œno net loss is vague from the ecological perspective. There are areas along the shoreline that a truly degraded. I donâ€™t see how they can have any net gain.â€ In those areas, â€œit just doesnâ€™t seem that no net loss has any relevance.â€
The council will resume its discussion of the proposed revisions at their July 19 and Aug. 2 meetings. A public hearing will be held on Aug. 16. Final discussion and adoption of an updated Burien Shoreline Master Program is 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.