Burien City Council Postpones Shoreline Master Program Hearing To Aug. 30

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by Ralph Nichols

When the Burien City Council convenes again, lawmakers will get a chance at last for an extended public discussion among themselves of the city’s Shoreline Master Program.

During their exchange of views on Aug. 16, council members are expected to vote on four key elements of the draft plan that deal with shoreline buffers and public waterfront access.

They scheduled this discussion of proposed revisions to the Shoreline Master Program (SMP) – and underlying issues of science and property – when on Aug. 2 they postponed a public hearing that was scheduled for Aug. 16.

Faced with the reality of too much detail to process in just two weeks, the council members agreed to move the SMP public hearing to Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

Final council discussion of the revised SMP – followed by its likely adoption – may take place on Sept. 13. It will then go to the state Department of Ecology for final review and approval.

The Aug. 16 council discussion, also scheduled for 7 p.m., will for the first time not include public comment on the SMP. Citizen testimony will again be part of the process during the Aug. 30 hearing.

But council members, who have had only limited opportunities to discuss together the proposed revisions, agreed they need additional time to do this on Aug. 16. On Aug. 2, public comment took about 55 minutes of a three hour meeting with a packed agenda.

City Manager Mike Martin has since advised The B-Town Blog that any or all of these meetings – including a special meeting on Aug. 23 if needed – could be rescheduled to begin at 6 p.m., in which case the public will be notified in advance.

Shoreline homeowners along Puget Sound and around Lake Burien long have urged council members to slow down the review process – a request that was repeated during public comment at the beginning of the meeting.

The city’s SMP “doesn’t need to go to [the state Department of] Ecology until December 31,” said Greg Anderson, who asked lawmakers to “slow the process down.”

Noting that “one of the reasons we’re doing this is to avoid unnecessary regulatory activity,” he suggested that by taking more time the city can get it right without impacting shoreline property owners.

John Upthegrove said he is “troubled by the process … by an atmosphere that we have to do something by a certain date…. There’s no rush … please take time to listen to the folks, to find out what they have to say.”

Before the meeting ended almost three hours later, however, Mayor Joan McGilton voiced frustration over listening to so many comments – some quite similar – from city residents.

The council has heard citizen comments for five months, McGilton said. “I think we’re fairly clear on what the public is saying.” This has slowed down their review process and now, she added, “we need to step up as policy makers.”

Regardless of the stated reason for the delay, representatives of concerned shoreline homeowners are pleased with it.

“It is nice to see that the council agrees with us where the schedule is concerned,” said Don Warren, president of the Lake Burien Shore Club. “Promoting diligent thoughtfulness over speed should help to assure a more reasoned result on many points.”

And Julie Dow, secretary of the Burien Marine Homeowners Association, added, “I’m relieved that the city council will now take the time to address the SMP comprehensively and not packed into full meetings of other city business.”

Council members did act on one revision in the SMP update, voting 4-3 to limit each house on Lake Burien to one dock or one float, but not both. This applies only to new development and not to existing overwater structures.

McGilton, Deputy Mayor Rose Clark, and Council members Brian Bennett and Kathy Keene voted for the change, while Council members Jack Block Jr., Lucy Krakowiak and Gordon Shaw voted against it.

City staff had recommended the revision to keep the Lake Burien shoreline from becoming cluttered with overwater structures, making it hard to navigate.

Shaw argued, however, that lakeside residents should have the freedom to decide for themselves how many overwater structures are reasonable. He noted one dock and one float per household have long been allowed on the lake, yet there have been no navigation problems.

Don later told the B-Town Blog that “after talking to some other Lake Burien folks … a number of observers felt that the tenor of the discussion by those in the majority on that 4-3 vote was actually helpful to our overall concerns for the ecology of Lake Burien.

“Certainly, we agree with the three vote minority that the few homeowners who might need an extra float or pier will not be harming the lake, and that the real impact would come from greater, heavier over-all use.”

He urged lawmakers now to be consistent in other actions involving Lake Burien.

“We can live with the 4-3 vote on overwater structures so long as the council members who went that way expressing concern for the lake’s ecology hold that thought and vote accordingly when a vote is taken on our proposed language adding to the SMP that, due to ecological concerns, [the city] will not seek physical public access on Lake Burien.”

He does think “things are moving in the right direction. My big hope is that the council will take whatever amount of time is required in order to create an SMP that is truly useful during the development permitting process towards properly protecting the environment and private property rights of single family home owners.

“Should they rush to completion, it will encumber the city and citizens with excessive costs adjudicating issues arising during the permitting process, based on a vaguely worded or unreasonable SMP.”

After some unease prior to the Aug. 2 meeting over the direction a majority of council members might take, representatives of the Burien Marine Homeowners Association also expressed cautious optimism.

“This is just one item,” said Michael Noakes, association president. “But I am concerned about the willingness of our city to impose new regulations without evidence that there is a problem that needs to be solved.”

But, Noakes added, “I remain pleased with the steps that have been taken and I continue to hope for decisive action to address the remaining concerns.”

And association secretary Julie Dow observed, “We have made some steps in the right direction. On the remaining issues we are optimistic that the council is listening to the public testimony, scientific data and legal issues being presented by the community.

“Ultimately, the city council has the discretion to develop a plan that reflects our city, the will of our citizens and preserves the conditions of shorelines in Burien.”

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