Council makes Shoreline Plan changes; settlement with Ecology anticipated
Carefully crafted changes to four key provisions of Burien’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP), approved by a 6-1 city council vote June 3, will now be reviewed by the state Department of Ecology.
If these revisions – negotiated by a Burien SMP “Working Group” and Ecology representatives – are approved by the agency, it will end at last an arduous, often contentious, process that started six years ago.
This, Mayor Brian Bennett declared following the council action, “is unprecedented in the state.” Burien “pushed back on the Department of Ecology and worked this out with them without [the agency] suing us.”
In September 2010 the council approved an updated SMP – required by the Legislature of all cities statewide – following a process that began six years ago when the city applied for a state grant to fund this work.
Studies and document revisions made their way from a Shoreline Advisory Committee to the Burien Planning Commission and on to the city council, which held two public hearings as members considered the draft SMP document throughout that summer before adopting it.
Ecology gave conditional approval to Burien’s updated shoreline plan in May 2011, pending city acceptance of changes mandated by the agency, most of which involved only minor wording changes.
But Ecology required major changes to four key provisions in the city’s SMP. The council balked at this demand and a line was drawn.
For the moment, Ecology held back, not yet imposing its own plan on Burien, which possibly would have resulted in either the city or the Burien Marine Homeowners Association challenging the agency in court.
During this period of inaction, Michael Noakes, president of the Marine Homeowners Association, privately approached Ecology officials. Would they be open to negotiating a possible resolution to this standoff?
Their eventual answer was yes, and the city council accepted Noakes’ proposal – but did so by opting not to participate in the process and appointing instead a five-member citizens’ working group to negotiate a compromise agreement on the four disputed SMP provisions.
Noakes updated council members at their April 29 study session on the result of these closed-door sessions, which focused exclusively on the four SMP provisions in question.
Lake Burien Restrictions
The council held a public hearing on the revised wording May 6, and Chestine Edgar, a Lake Burien resident, asked that tighter development restrictions be placed on waterfront properties around the lake – although this was not one of the four regulations negotiated.
The question of tighter restrictions, in turn, almost delayed yet again final adoption of the revised SMP at last Monday’s meeting.
Councilwoman Joan McGilton asked if buffers and setbacks were equitable for homeowners along the marine shoreline and around Lake Burien, noting, “I want to make sure it is absolutely consistent between Lake Burien and the marine properties.”
Eight properties on Lake Burien have homes that are impacted by the 45-foot setback requirement, she said.
Council members Jack Block Jr. and Rose Clark also expressed concern that the SMP wording granted greater flexibility for Puget Sound property owners than Lake Burien residents.
Burien Senior Planner David Johansen conceded there is a difference between what is allowed for marine and lake homeowners. Only “limited activity” is permitted between 30 and 45 feet around Lake Burien.
McGilton said while this clarification was important, it was also time to take at last what could be the final council vote on Burien’s SMP.
Concurring was Clark, who said much of the rest of the city had been neglected while the council deliberated and then revisited the SMP over the past three years.
And Bennett allowed said that, as with new zoning codes, staff will need to see how the new shoreline restrictions work when implemented. Adjustments could then be made if needed.
Bennett, Clark, Councilman Bob Edgar, Deputy Mayor Lucy Krakowiak, McGilton and Robison voted yes. Block cast the lone no vote.
Following the action, Bennett thanked Noakes on behalf of the council for “going above and beyond” in all he did to inform the council and resolve the earlier standoff with Ecology.
The compromises on the four key SMP provisions as approved by the council and forwarded to Ecology are:
Each marine shoreline property is divided into two zones to balance concerns of both homeowners and Ecology. (The agency had countered the city’s 20-foot setback with a requirement for a 50-foot buffer from the water line with an additional 15-foot setback.)
In the first zone, closest to the water, new developments with adverse impacts will be strictly prohibited. No new impervious surfaces will be allowed, and native vegetation must be left intact.
In the second, landward zone, some adverse development impacts may be allowed if offset by mitigation to restore the shoreline in the first zone.
Setbacks on Lake Burien, which earlier had not been controversial, will be 30 feet in the first zone and 15 feet in the second zone.
Lake Burien Access
The working group agreed with Ecology that no ban should be considered on lake shoreline access to launch non-motorized watercraft until public access points are identified. Currently there are none.
Rebuilding Destroyed Homes
A home in the marine shoreline area that is destroyed may be rebuilt on its previous footprint.
Damaged or destroyed bulkheads that protect shoreline homes may be rebuilt or restored to their previous configuration, but larger or different bulkheads will be prohibited.