Burien Council To Review City Manager’s Revised Shoreline Document Tonight

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by Ralph Nichols

First the Shoreline Advisory Committee proposed significant changes to Burien’s Shoreline Management Program. Then came revisions made by the Planning Commission during a three-month review.

That draft document updating Burien’s shoreline program, required by the state Department of Ecology, was then sent to the City Council for review and final approval.

Concerned by potential impacts on their property rights and values, shoreline residents organized the Burien Marine Homeowners Association, which submitted to the city an alternative draft plan.

And when council members resume their discussion of the draft Shoreline Master Program at tonight’s meeting (Monday, July 19), they will have yet another draft document before them. The meeting begins at 6:15 p.m., with the shoreline plan the final item on a lengthy agenda.

Last week City Manager Mike Martin issued a new Shoreline Management Program draft – which he wrote with input from staff, including Community Development Director Scott Greenberg and Senior Planner David Johansen – that incorporates a number of shoreline homeowners’ concerns.

“Staff sat down together and thought conceptually,” Martin told The B-Town Blog. “What staff wanted ended up in this document.”

Key provisions of the revision written by Martin include:

  • Conformance/non-conformance – All structures in the defined shoreline area legally existing on the date the Shoreline Management Plan becomes effective will continue to be legal (conforming); they will not be classified as non-conforming for being within an expanded buffer.
  • Ability to rebuild – If a structure is rebuilt on an existing footprint for any reason, it will not have to meet new requirements in the plan. If a structure that did not exist before is built, or if an existing structure is expanded, the new requirements must be met.
  • Public access – Public access may be required in subdivisions of five parcels or more.
  • Bulkhead replacement – Existing bulkheads can be repaired or replaced with similarly built bulkheads, including rock and concrete.

“It’s an indication that the city’s heading in the right direction,” Ronald Franz, a member of the marine homeowners association, said in an interview. “It will be interesting to see what the City Council says about it. That would be an important change if indeed it comes to pass.”

But while Martin’s draft document goes a long way, more can be done, according to Franz and fellow association member Michael Noakes, both residents of the Three Tree Point community.

A proposed 45-foot buffer – beyond the existing 20-foot setback from the ordinary high-water mark – remains in play. Franz cautioned, however, that “a buffer is a false solution” for most of Burien’s shoreline because about 90 percent of it is developed already.

In addition, they want the city to define no net loss in the final shoreline document, especially because neither Ecology nor other agencies or jurisdictions have set forth a definition of what constitutes net loss.

“The big issue was non-conformance,” Greenberg said. Under this draft, “what you’ve got is what you get. If you have an existing legal structure, there is no compliance that you have to meet … no new regulations. That’s pretty much the way it is in the rest of the city.”

Johansen added, “We took the term ‘non-conformance’ out of the document … we eliminated all conditions” on existing structures. We tried to improve the clarity of the document.”

“Certainly if that’s what the document says, then we applaud it,” Noakes said. “But we feel it’s not as clear and concise as it could be. We feel [Martin’s] waiting for direction from the council before making it more transparent.”

And provisions for public access remain a concern because, “in my opinion, this seems to be targeting residents of SW 172nd St.” in its application to the Three Tree Point area.

Under state law, Franz noted, the city can only use 172nd as a right-of-way for transportation and pedestrians, “and can’t open up the end of the street for public access to Puget Sound.

“We appreciate that the city has removed what were some pretty severe restrictions on our ability to repair and rebuild bulkheads,” he continued. “Once again, the indication is that the city is moving in the right direction … it will be very interesting to see the City Council’s reaction to [Martin’s] proposals.”

While the City Council still has to accept these proposals, Martin’s draft document “leaves in place a 65-foot no-touch area as if to protect a pristine buffer that is not, in fact, present for most of the [Burien] shoreline,” Noakes observed.

“It clearly applies to the remaining vacant properties and on existing homes it restricts or prohibits the construction of new structures of any kind.”

Franz said this section “needs clarification that will make application easier in years ahead.”

Asked earlier about the concept of “no net loss of shoreline ecological function,” Greenberg said “replacing existing structures is not a net loss. It’s simply replacing them.”

Burien should be “in pretty good shape” where no net loss is concerned “because of all the restoration work at Seahurst Park” and volunteer efforts “that show a commitment to higher environmental standards help us achieve no net loss,” Johansen noted.

Franz suggested, however, that the city “needs to understand what’s there and to develop solutions” that don’t include the application of an unworkable “generic buffer. And that decision can’t be made “until you know what you have.”

Although there are “portions of our shoreline with some natural coverage,” buffers to protect these areas are not appropriate for application to the developed residential waterfront,” Noakes said.

With help from other shoreline residents, Noakes has spent hundreds of hours surveying the Burien marine shoreline and will submit these findings to the City Council at Monday’s meeting.

NOTE: Tonight’s City Council meeting starts earlier than usual – 6:15 p.m. – and from what we understand, public comments will be accepted near the beginning of the session; so if you’re interested in observing or participating, be sure to get to city hall on time.

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