Group Formed To Negotiate Changes In Burien’s Shoreline Plan With Ecology


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by Ralph Nichols

Burien’s five-member working group, which will negotiate changes to the city’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) required by the state Department of Ecology, has now been named.

Appointed by the city council Nov. 28 Burien Marine Homeowners Association president Michael Noakes, Lake Burien Shore Club president Don Warren, City Councilman Gerald Robison, Planning Commission Chairman Jim Clingan, and at-large member Lee Moyer.

Ecology informed Burien last May that the city must amend four key provisions in its SMP, which council members adopted in September 2010. The amendments are:

  • Establishing a 50-foot buffer plus an additional 15-foot setback along the developed residential marine shoreline. The city’s new SMP retains an existing 20-foot marine buffer with no additional setback.
  • Limiting a shoreline homeowner’s ability to rebuild if the home is destroyed.
  • Removing an outright ban on watercraft on Lake Burien in the event that the public gains access to the lake in the future.
  • Imposing an additional step in obtaining a shoreline variance in geologically hazardous areas and wetland buffers.

“The Burien Marine Homeowners Association (BMHA) has advocated that Burien continue to work with [Ecology] to complete the SMP rather than waiting for [Ecology] to formally deny the submission and take over the process,” Noakes said.

“We are grateful that the city council has agreed to appoint a small working group to assist in the completion of Burien’s SMP update rather than allowing [Ecology] to issue a denial and then complete the SMP on their terms.”

Noakes also thanked Ecology “and particularly Geoff Tallent” with the Shorelines and Environmental Assistance Program of Ecology’s Northwest Division in Bellevue.

Calling the negotiations “risky and challenging given the politics among various groups, Noakes said, “We appreciate [Ecology’s] willingness to consider a slightly unconventional solution for collaborating with Burien to finalize our SMP update.”

He added that informal conversations with Ecology suggest “an increasing recognition that protection of developed Shorelines around Greater Seattle requires more flexibility than can be achieved” simply by expanding setbacks and adding new buffers.”

The 2010 Legislature changed a major guideline for shoreline management from “best available science” to “no net loss of shoreline ecological function” – a criteria that has yet to be clearly defined.

Tallent told The B-Town Blog that Ecology is “glad for the opportunity to sit down and try to work through” these issues … “I feel very hopeful that this is something we can work out.”

Ecology believes “it will be very useful and helpful for the SMP, once it’s completed, to have provisions for how existing homes in or that straddle buffer zones will be managed. That was a piece that was missing” from Burien’s revised SMP.

But, Tallent noted, needed will be a balance to offset development that maintains no net loss.

Noakes said the BMHA does “not believe there is any conflict between the requirement for no net loss and for the private property owners to be certain of their right to enjoy and maintain their existing homes.”

By defining the guideline as “No Net Loss of Ecological Function from new development,” Noakes suggested “the no net loss standard can be achieved with simple language that provides the right to maintain existing structures.

“Further we believe it is in everyone’s interest to allow for limited new development and expansion of existing structures” along the Puget Sound shoreline “by reference to a well-defined matrix of mitigation options to achieve no net loss.”

Following a 20-month process, the city council approved in September 2010 Burien’s revised and updated Shoreline Master Program (SMP), then submitted it to Ecology for review.

Ecology held a public hearing on the SMP last December, and then conditionally approved the SMP – but notified the city that four major changes would be required.

On May 23, the city council authorized Mayor Joan McGilton to submit an alternative proposal to Ecology: the city would accept all but four of the required changes.

Ecology has not responded to McGilton’s letter. However, the BMHA began quiet discussions with Ecology and on Oct. 24 presented the city council with a proposal for negotiating the four required changed with Ecology.

The working group was subsequently created by the city council to negotiate with Ecology.

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