Olympia City Council leans toward 50-foot shore setbacks

Council members debate regulations along Budd Inlet

Staff writerFebruary 28, 2013 

Development restrictions on the Budd Inlet shoreline should be lengthened to 50 feet from 30 feet in the draft Shoreline Master Program, a majority of Olympia City Council members said Tuesday night.

That was one of the directions the council gave city staff Tuesday after nearly four hours of deliberation on the state-mandated plan that regulates development on major city shorelines. The council made it through about half of the topics up for discussion and delayed the rest until its next meeting on March 5.

Council members had lengthy discussions on regulations for two areas – the southern half of West Bay and the isthmus shoreline fronting Budd Inlet. They also debated the merits of visioning software, which wasn’t ready for display Tuesday as had been hoped.

ISTHMUS

The council’s original recommendation in October was to set development regulations, known as setbacks, for the 30-foot area from the shoreline.

But Councilwoman Karen Rogers suggested lengthening the setback to 50 feet, with exceptions for recreational uses, and grandfathering current structures such as Bayview Thriftway. “What this is, is to address future development,” Rogers said.

Mayor Stephen Buxbaum opposed the move, saying it would discourage private investment.

“I want to promote investment from private owners there,” he said. “I don’t want to create disincentives to invest and part of the challenge in this area is that’s fill. It’s very hard to build on.”

Buxbaum didn’t take a vote, but most council members said they agreed with extending the setback to 50 feet.

Councilman Jim Cooper suggested a similar but different approach: Set setbacks at 50 feet but allow developers to build right next to the shoreline if they offer amenities such as a waterfront trail or shoreline restoration.

WEST BAY

The council also had a lengthy discussion about whether its proposed 150-foot setback on the southern half of West Bay was appropriate, because it impacts development of the city’s 17-acre West Bay Park. The city has just developed 4 acres of that, an area known as Rotary Point.

City planning director Keith Stahley said the new regulations would prevent “active park” features similar to those at Rotary Point.

“Clearly it impacts a large percentage of the overall property,” he said.

But Councilman Steve Langer said he sees the area as more of a passive park meant for shoreline recreation, not as a place for volleyball courts and soccer fields. Buxbaum agreed.

Councilman Nathaniel Jones said he didn’t want the shoreline plan to pre-empt planning for West Bay Park. “I don’t think we need to solve the park’s future tonight,” he said.

Jones also said he was concerned that the 150-foot setback would affect properties on the west side of West Bay Drive from Fourth Avenue and Jackson Avenue. The council agreed to leave those properties out of the setback.

VISIONING SOFTWARE

The full council was expecting to have its first look at a computer visualization of the shoreline, something for which the council earlier agreed to pay $16,250. But City Manager Steve Hall said the visualization, from Mithun, a Seattle architectural firm, was not ready and “we didn’t want to put something out there that was half-baked that might add to the controversy, add to the consternation about this whole process.” He said it can be ready as early as next week.

The council then had a long discussion about the merits of the visioning software.

On one hand, Councilwoman Jeannine Roe defended the computer program as something that will give a valuable, three-dimensional view of the area the shoreline regulations would cover rather than a two-dimensional overhead map.

Roe expressed disappointment with critics.

“I’m really disappointed and extremely so and I guess I’m tired of people, I guess, imagining worst-case scenario, because it certainly wasn’t that,” she said. “It was a real effort to have something that people could come together and look at and it was beautifully done and I am very disappointed.”

Buxbaum said the visualization tool will be valuable in the future. But, for the shoreline process, he continued to criticize the visualization as subjective, something that adds another layer of complexity.

“My fear is … that we will be debating over what might be, because unless we are loading into the visualization software things that are fully agreed to by all sides … what we are going to end up spending our time arguing about” might be irrelevant.

Councilwoman Julie Hankins criticized the council’s disagreement on the subject.

“We’re scared of new ideas,” she said. “We’re scared of any new tool that may help us in this dialogue.

“It doesn’t matter about Mithun. It matters about our attitude and how we move forward.”

Buxbaum said the council is going to have to open another public comment on the shoreline plan. “This is an open process until council determines otherwise,” he said.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor

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