City Council Rejects Shoreline Buffer/Setback Requested by Dept. of Ecology

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by Ralph Nichols

Burien City Council members drew a line in the sand Monday night (May 9).

They won’t adopt four amendments to the updated Burien Shoreline Master Program (SMP), as requested recently by the state Department of Ecology.

The most controversial amendment wanted by Ecology would have imposed a 50-foot buffer plus an additional 15-foot setback along the developed residential marine shoreline. The city’s new SMP retained an existing 20-foot marine buffer with no additional setback.

City Manager Mike Martin said that without additional direction from council members, staff was ready “to tell Ecology that the city has received no additional information on which to base a decision so we’re sticking to our guns.”

Following a brief discussion, council members by consensus gave staff a green light. A formal response to the state agency’s proposed amendments and other changes to the local SMP will be submitted to the council for a final OK on May 23.

Burien Planning Director Scott Greenberg told council members that 37 changes requested by Ecology “are consistent with city’s policy direction” when it adopted the updated SMP last September and should be approved.

Another seven requested changes to the SMP can be accepted “with minor modifications,” he continued.

But, Greenberg said, four of the changes wanted by Ecology “are inconsistent” with city policy, and staff “recommends rejecting them.”

“I am disturbed by the Department of Ecology document,” said Councilman Gordon Shaw. “It bothers me greatly that Ecology had representatives at all three stages of our process, and yet they just go into a back room in Olympia … and stuff things down our throat….

“‘OK, you did all that but that doesn’t matter’” seems to be Ecology’s attitude toward the local SMP process,” Shaw suggested.

“Who are these people who can take this process we’ve been through and just throw it out?” said Councilman Gerald Robison. “I support staying with what’s been done already.”

Noting that she voted for a 50-foot buffer last year, Councilwoman Rose Clark said, “I’m not continuing with that [buffer]. I’m not in favor of it now.” She also expressed disappointment that Ecology failed to give the city “some recognition of our effort.”

But Mayor Joan McGilton demurred, saying she “found the work Ecology did was reasonable.” Yet “even though I agree with Ecology, I will support the city’s plan.”

The other amendments to the SMP requested by Ecology but rejected by the council would have curtailed a homeowner’s ability to rebuild if the home was destroyed, removed an outright ban on watercraft on Lake Burien if public access occurs in the future, and imposed an additional step for a shoreline variance in geologically hazardous areas and wetland buffers.

Earlier in the meeting, Three Tree Point resident Ron Franz said while “the city was pretty darned responsive to public opinion … I’m profoundly disappointed by Ecology’s response. The [width of the] buffer is just a number Ecology pulled out of a hat.”

After thanking the city for its efforts in responding to Ecology, Michael Noakes, president of the Burien Marine Homeowners Association, said he was “surprised and disappointed by Ecology’s response” to the SMP “with its focus on ‘development creep’ as the rationale for buffers.”

The agency made “a blatant attack on homeowners’ ability to rebuild their homes in the existing footprint,” Noakes added.

And while pleased that the Department of Ecology recognized the validity of a homeowners association study of Burien’s Puget Sound shoreline, “I find it curious that they ignored our findings,” he noted.

Three Tree Point resident Andy Ryan said Ecology “seems to have this unfounded fear that we [marine] homeowners want to move our homes to the water’s edge.”

Ryan also voiced disappointment with restrictions on bulkhead heights and planting non-native vegetation in the absence of scientific evidence to support them.

Every city and county in Washington is required by a 2003 legislative action to review and update their local SMPs, which were mandated by the 1972 voter-approved Shoreline Management Act, with direction and review by Ecology.

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