Key discussion on shoreline plan this week

Olympia City Council could issue recommendation for Shoreline Master Program after Tuesday’s meeting

Staff writerAugust 26, 2013 

The Olympia City Council is gearing up for a marathon session Tuesday, when it is scheduled to give final deliberations on the Shoreline Master Program.

Council members will meet beginning at 5:30 p.m. instead of the regular 7 p.m. start time. Council meetings already often last more than three hours, so a four- or five-hour meeting wouldn’t be out of the question.

By the end of Tuesday, the council could give its final recommendations to staff for the plan. The matter would hopefully come back to the council on Sept. 17, city planning director Keith Stahley said. After the council adopts a final ordinance, perhaps in October, staff would transmit it to the state Department of Ecology for final approval. That process could take up to a year.

Stahley said he’s not expecting a huge crowd Tuesday, like those in the past that were accommodated in The Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

“I’m not anticipating a Washington Center, overcapacity type event,” he said. “I’m anticipating our normal 20 to 30 people who have maintained their interest throughout the process.”

In any event, it’s the culmination of more than three years the city has spent considering the state-mandated shoreline plan, which regulates development on major shorelines with the goal of “no net loss” of ecological function. The council has spent more than a year discussing it, often for several hours per meeting.

The process has been controversial, particularly the idea of how far buildings should be set back from the shoreline along Budd Inlet. Proponents of larger setbacks, some of whom envision a continuous public trail along Budd Inlet, say it will help restore the shoreline, set aside more area to combat sea level rise, and improve public access.

Advocates of smaller setbacks say they promote economic development along the shoreline, and larger setbacks amount to the government taking land.

Lately, controversy has surrounded a provision in the draft plan that would allow zero building setbacks on certain areas for water-oriented buildings, including restaurants or marinas, as well as industrial marine uses such as log booming. The group Friends of the Waterfront has opposed the move, and brought a crowd to a public hearing last month to speak against it.

To be allowed to build right on the water in the draft plan, developers would have to meet certain conditions, such as accommodating a walking path, physical access to the shoreline, shoreline restoration and bulkhead removal. Otherwise, a building would be required to be 30-150 feet from the water, depending on its location along Budd Inlet, the building’s use and other factors.

The shoreline plan has generated a pile of public comment.

Bonnie Jacobs, a member of Friends of the Waterfront, stated her opposition in an email to the city.

“As we sat in the Council Chambers we were indeed shocked to hear that zero setbacks had been inserted in to the draft at the last minute…” she wrote. “Yes, this could mean buildings right up to water’s edge with all sorts of non-water-dependent uses.”

In his letter, Port of Olympia Executive Director Ed Galligan said he generally supported the draft shoreline plan, but remains concerned about how it affects the port’s ability to maintain operations at and expand Swantown Marina.

Sarah Smyth McIntosh, a West Bay landowner, stated concerns that the incentives for shoreline restoration are too complicated and could lead developers not to bother, which would leave the city’s plan for a West Bay trail unrealized.

Heather Burgess, an attorney representing landowners including Bayview Market and West Bay Marina, suggested a “middle ground between the greater setbacks being pursued by some members of the community and the ‘zero-foot’ setbacks represented in the current draft.”

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

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