Two Themes Dominate Second Shoreline Management Program Forum

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by Ralph Nichols

“Second verse, same as the first.”

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 – and questions from waterfront residents – on proposed revisions to Burien’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 Burien’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.

“They serve a valuable ecological function,” McGilton declared. Directly addressing Carl Hadley, a marine biologist who questioned the need for them along developed Burien shorelines at last week’s forum, she said, “I severely object to your calling buffers ‘stupid.’”

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.

Councilmember Gordon Shaw: Lawmakers have received no “hard set of facts” that establishes a need to expanded buffers and setbacks along the residential waterfront, or to define what constitutes “no net loss” of shoreline ecological function.

“There is not much shoreline property available” in Burien, she said. This property is “just going to increase in value … the discussion about buffers just makes no sense to me whatsoever.”

But Councilman Gordon Shaw offered a different view. Lawmakers, he said, have received no “hard set of facts” that establishes a need to expanded buffers and setbacks along the residential waterfront, or to define what constitutes “no net loss” of shoreline ecological function.

“We don’t have that knowledge,” Shaw declared. Yet “the bureaucratic answer would be, ‘we think there is a net loss’” – a speculation the state could use to justify more stringent regulations. “To me it’s just unreasonable.”

Meanwhile, Greg Duff summarized the bottom line for many in the audience that packed the city council chambers for this forum.

“I recognize that buffers are important,” said Duff, who was president of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council until his North Burien home was annexed into the city in April. “But I’m not convinced that the buffers we currently have are not doing the job.”

He said solid scientific evidence needs to be presented to answer one question about the existing buffers: “Is it working?”

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: “If we error, we should error on the side of protecting the resource,” including “no net loss of ecological function.” But the shoreline planning process also takes into consideration property rights, which “are very important,” including the avoidance of “takings.”

David Johansen, senior planner with the city of Burien: Within the goal of no net loss, “we do have some options … non-conformity [of existing buildings] may continue … this only means they are legally constructed but don’t conform with the new buffers.” 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: “In my opinion, [a non-conforming] classification … would have a negative impact” on the value and sale of a home. “It creates concern and uncertainty” on the part of a buyer” – 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 “increased cost of [insurance] coverage for less coverage … significant non-conformity … could result in increased architectural fees” at the time of rebuilding.

Asked by McGilton what Ecology thinks about Burien’s proposed expanded buffer, Fritzen said “the idea is that every jurisdiction tailors [buffers] to need” to protect its shoreline vegetation.

“My concern is that 52 percent of [waterfront] homes seem to be non-conforming homes that have been there for 80 to 100 years,” Block observed. “The [existing] 20-foot setback has worked well for years. What will you gain ecologically from 65 feet?”

Johansen replied that “the test is no net loss” of ecological function, and “not to make it worse. Buffers help you not go backward.”

Later, Block asked, “So rebuilding can take place?” “Certainly,” Johansen answered.

“Who measures the ‘no net loss’ through this whole process?” Shaw pondered. “What bothers me is that you can’t identify any of the seven shoreline functions” that expanded buffers would improve. “Outside of parks, I don’t see what can be gained by having buffers behind bulkheads.”

Fritzen said “the 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.”

Proposed revisions to shoreline management regulations seem to be “all about buffers and setbacks and vegetation requirements,” Shaw noted.

“Buffers are not dumb … they do serve a purpose” – Chestine Edgar.

“I don’t hear a lot about science. I would like to see if there isn’t some alternative solutions to this degradation that would be less burdensome and solve this problem … if people still don’t like it, at least they could see where they are getting some benefit out of it.”

Chestine Edgar, agreeing with McGilton, said “buffers are not dumb … they do serve a purpose,” including being a filtering system for water along the shoreline.

And, said David Parker, “we have a tremendous ecosystem there … so if there is not a real big problem, don’t fix it.” Don’t “force homeowners into spending lots of money that really isn’t necessary.”

“I don’t know that there’s a clear, simple definition for no net loss,” Fritzen said. “To me it’s a target … if you’re not doing anything, there’s no impact.

“What affects property values is fear mongering and other people that put out statements … that make people afraid if you’re non-conforming.”

McGilton added that “no net loss is vague from the ecological perspective. There are areas along the shoreline that a truly degraded. I don’t see how they can have any net gain.” In those areas, “it just doesn’t seem that no net loss has any relevance.”

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 city’s plan is adopted, it will be submitted to Ecology for its review and final approval.

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One Response to “Two Themes Dominate Second Shoreline Management Program Forum”
  1. KaiJ says:

    T.I.B…”This is Burien”

    I’m still trying to figure out how the shoreline, water, sea life, or vegetation is going to be affected in front of my massive granite bulkhead regardless if my house is 20 or 60 feet back? Go ahead and protect what is left and screw the values of those unimproved lots in the name of preservation, but my house was here before the council or Burien for that matter. Much like the street repair fee on my car tabs, the non-waterfront owning council members will do as their legacy driven egos wish and we’ll have to wait and see what the state Eco dept. Says…. Then Burien’s in–house attorney can burn up their time defending it.

    Three tree point, where the tax values are dropping, but the bill keeps getting more and more expensive…. Go figure?

    Happy I still have a home.

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