Burien City Council Likely To Approve Updated Shoreline Plan Sept. 27

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by Ralph Nichols

Burien City Council members agreed on Monday night (Sept. 13) to place adoption of an updated and revised Shoreline Master Program (SMP) on the consent calendar for their next regular meeting on Monday, Sept. 27.

Councilman Gordon Shaw said he wanted “to see a draft of the final document,” with changes made on Sept. 13, before a final vote – a request supported by council members Brian Bennett and Lucy Krakowiak.

The absence of Councilman Jack Block Jr. was another reason they should wait, Shaw noted. “Jack’s not here and we should all be involved. This has been a horrendous process.”

Three council members must agree to pull a resolution from the consent calendar and put it on the regular business agenda, which increases the likelihood that the SMP will receive final approval on Sept. 27.

Michael Noakes, president of the Burien Marine Homeowners Association, which has actively guarded private property rights, said following the meeting, “At the end of the day, we are pleased with the progress that’s been made.

“We stand ready to help the council support this document with the [state Department of Ecology].” Burien’s new SMP will go to Ecology for review, including another public hearing, and final approval.

“I believe we’ve done our research to demonstrate that conditions of the marine shoreline support no net loss, and on that basis I think [Ecology] will approve it.”

Noakes did express disappointment that changes to language regulating bulkheads and shoreline vegetation, recommended by the association, “were not accepted or even discussed. But we are still generally satisfied with the outcome tonight.

“Certainly we thank the city council and staff for all their hard work,” he added.

At the outset of their discussion, City Manager Mike Martin told lawmakers, “To the best of my knowledge, this [review] should wrap it up.”

Revisions made to the draft by council members, following brief discussions on several recommendations, included:

  • Changing wording to clarify that a prohibition on invasive botanical species applies to all uses and not just to public access.
  • Providing for public access “as close as possible to the water’s edge with no net loss of shoreline ecological function that cannot be mitigated.”
  • Re-establishing both a 30-foot buffer and 15-foot setback around Lake Burien, and a 50-foot buffer and 16 foot setback in the Urban Conservancy zone, primarily Seahurst Park.
  • Allowing waterfront homeowners to replace all or part of their existing lawns if they are removed for some reason.

They also modified paragraphs outlining provisions for bulkhead and shoreline vegetation regulations so both conform to wording in the Washington Administrative Code.

During their discussion, Mayor Joan McGilton said a science experiment conducted for the council during public comment by Chestine Edgar shows “that buffers do work.” And she noted again that “not all my fellow council members agree with me.”

But, countered Shaw, Edgar’s experiment “supported my point of view. Why do we need native species? Why do we need 50 feet of buffer when small areas will do” as filters to protect water?”

He restated his criticism of “regulating people’s uses of their property on very arguable science … we ought to be more certain about what we’re doing before we ask people to give up the use of their property.”

Buffers have been a major point of concern for city residents living along Puget Sound, who organized the Burien Marine Homeowners Association to represent their interests.

Included in the original SMP update received by the council was a proposed expansion of the existing 20-foot setback from the ordinary high-water mark to a 50-foot buffer plus an additional 15-foot buffer for any new development.

Council members opted to retain the 20-foot setback and rejected the expanded buffer by a 4-3 vote on Aug. 16.

The city’s lengthy process to revise its SMP falls under the Washington Shoreline Management Act, which voters statewide approved in 1972. It required local governments to develop comprehensive programs to regulate development and other activities along both marine and freshwater shorelines.

In 2003, the Legislature mandated the updating of local SMPs by 2014 – a process involving more than 260 cities, counties and other jurisdiction. To date, only about 30 updated plans have been completed, and reviewed and approved by Ecology.

The Burien Shoreline Advisory Committee spent more than a year developing proposed changes to the city’s SMP, then sent it to the planning commission in January. After three months of review and taking public comment, the commission forwarded its version of the document to the city council.

Recognizing problems in applying the “best available science” to shoreline management – the criteria required by the state’s Growth Management Act for regulating critical areas – the 2010 Legislature changed the criteria for shorelines to “no net loss of ecological function.”

The determination of when “net loss” is calculated was a question raised earlier by council members.

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