Two Views Of Council Decision To Retain 20-Foot Buffer For Shoreline Homes

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by Ralph Nichols

Burien shoreline residents living along Puget Sound are pleased with the city council’s Aug. 16 decision to keep the existing 20-foot setback for homes and other structures.

But not everyone is happy with the 4-3 vote that rejected a proposed 50-foot marine shoreline buffer beyond the ordinary high-water mark and an additional 15-foot setback.

The expanded buffer and setback was recommended by staff and included earlier by the Burien Planning Commission in a draft revision of city’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP).

Cities and counties throughout Washington are required by the state Department of Ecology to update their SMPs. To date only 30 of some 260 jurisdictions have completed this lengthy process.

The Burien council will hold a public hearing on the city’s draft SMP on Monday, Aug. 30.

“It was gratifying to see our city council and staff work together to arrive at a conclusion that accurately reflects the no-net-loss requirement in the context of Burien’s fully developed shoreline,” Michael Noakes told The B-Town Blog following the Aug. 16 meeting.

Noakes is president of the Burien Marine Homeowners Association, which was organized to represent the interests of Puget Sound waterfront residents while the city updates its SMP.

Asked how significant the council’s action was in protecting the interests of the homeowners, he replied:

“This was just one ingredient of developing an SMP that is intended to strike an appropriate balance between the need to protect the environment, to provide public access to publicly owned areas of the shorelines, and to recognize and protect private property rights.”

Joan McGilton said, however, “I’m disappointed and wish the outcome had been different. This is the program that was put in place in 1972 and I see no change, even though there’s been a lot of science done since then that says change is necessary.”

McGilton, an environmental engineer, stressed to The B-Town Blog that she was speaking as an individual city council member and neither as mayor nor for the rest of the council.

Most disappointing was “the fact that I could never get the council to understand that the buffer I was most supportive of – the one that was in the draft document – would only affect the 11 vacant properties as delineated by the marine homeowners association and anyone who was looking to develop [their property] waterward.

“My argument was that this would affect just a small portion of those living on the shore and not everyone as the association insisted it would be,” she said.”

Council members Jack Block Jr., Kathy Keene, Lucy Krakowiak and Gordon Shaw voted to keep the 20-foot buffer – with no additional setback.

They also vetoed a proposed requirement for a marine riparian buffer behind bulkheads with the inclusion of low-impact development features.

McGilton, Deputy Mayor Rose Clark and Councilman Brian Bennett supported the 50-foot buffer and additional 15-foot setback along with a staff revision to accommodate existing shoreline homes and other structures.

The council unanimously agreed to adopt a 150-foot buffer for the city’s undeveloped Puget Sound shoreline, which includes Seahurst Park.

“I applaud the hard work by the city council and staff to refine the SMP update and I agree that the document is materially improved from the one that was approved by the Planning Commission,” Noakes added.

“However, a comparison of this resulting draft and the redline [document] that was submitted by the BMHA reflects the significant work that remains to be done if the resources could be provided.”

McGilton found it unusual “that the Burien community agreed for a 30-foot buffer plus a 15-foot setback on Lake Burien and only a 20-foot buffer with no setback on the marine shoreline. Doesn’t that raise a question in anyone’s mind?

“The Burien process did not hear at all from the environmental community,” she continued. “Where was that voice?”

McGilton and Noakes, with opposing positions on the question of bulkheads, both expressed frustration with existing SMP language for their repair and replacement.

City Manager Mike Martin said “staff is working to incorporate council’s policy direction from [Aug. 16]. I hope to have a [revised] document prepared early [this] week in time for a thorough review before the public hearing.

“We will make it available to public as quickly as possible. Accessing it on the web at is the best place.

At the Aug. 30 public hearing,” he said, “council will listen to comments, take them under consideration and perhaps give staff final direction.

“Then we’ll wrap it [the SMP] up, tie a bow and it and send it down to the Department of Ecology for their approval.”

Martin has had informal conversations with Ecology “to keep them in the loop about what we doing. I believe they think we’re giving this in good faith effort…. They’re interested in what Burien is doing, in how we arrived at our conclusions. That will be important.”

At the public hearing, McGilton said, the council will “listen to the community, agree or disagree with the language in the latest proposed draft, and then approve or disapprove the document. And I suspect we will approve the document.”

Will Ecology, after the agency’s review of the final Burien SMP, approve it?

“I have not a clue what Ecology will do and that’s something that I’m going to ask around with folks in the environmental world just to see what they think. I want to know for sure what other marine communities are doing” with their plans and what is in them.

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5 Responses to “Two Views Of Council Decision To Retain 20-Foot Buffer For Shoreline Homes”
  1. Coverofnight says:

    Joan McGilton said, “I’m disappointed and wish the outcome had been different…. change is necessary.”

    The only necessary change is with our Council – time to get rid of Joan, Rose and Brian and their desire for incredibly restrictive setbacks and buffers!

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    • Steve says:


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    • KaiJ says:

      Any council in any town takes heat and make unpopular decisions half the time. They don’t do the job for the money, maybe the health care so vote all you like but it is easier to whine than it is to do. Don’t like things at city hall, then you should run on your tea party platform and who knows. They are good people and good citizens who care enough to make the effort.

      Disagree all you want with them but until you are ready and qualified to do their job…

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      • Coverofnight says:

        Now wait a minute, KaiJ……..I’m pushing for property owners to be free of restrictive regulations and you jump all over me, but then when Lee Moyer wants public access to Lake Burien, you jump all over him insisting private waterfront property owners shouldn’t have to deal with those intrusions.

        Flip-flopping? I thought I’d seen the end of it with John Kerry….readers, you decide.

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  2. Ed Dacy says:

    I was there and listened to the scientists, no one gave any scientific reason as to why the larger setbacks were needed.

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