In a meeting lasting more than six hours Tuesday night, the Olympia City Council mostly eliminated the possibility to erect buildings next to the Budd Inlet shoreline, a move billed as the council’s final direction on its Shoreline Master Program.
The direction taken was a significant change from even the latest draft of the plan that the council spent more than a year developing before the meeting. Here are some of the changes:
• On the Budd Inlet side of the isthmus and Percival Landing, the council agreed to get rid of incentives for developers, including shoreline restoration in return for the ability to build right on the water. Instead, the council decreed that no buildings would be allowed within 30 feet of the water, known as a building setback. The previous draft put setbacks at 50 feet, but with incentives to allow developers to build right on the shore under certain conditions, such as accommodating a walking path, allowing physical access to the shoreline, shoreline restoration and bulkhead removal.
• On the south part of the west shore of East Bay, the council changed the building setback to 100 feet from the ordinary high water mark, a change from its earlier proposal of zero feet.
• “Water related” uses, which could include boat storage, would be allowed only if a developer gets conditional approval from the city in the Marine Recreation zone, which is the Port Peninsula side facing East Bay, including Swantown Marina. Non-water-oriented industrial uses wouldn’t be allowed.
• Restaurants with waterfront seating would not be allowed as a result of the council eliminating the allowance for “water-oriented” businesses, which could have operated right on the water if they met the incentives outlined in the previous program draft. City planning manager Keith Stahley confirmed that is the case.
“Water-dependent uses would be the only thing that would qualify for a zero setback,” Stahley said, but only in certain areas. Existing operations would be grandfathered.
The proposed changes aren’t final. City staff will incorporate the changes in a new draft, which the council will consider on Sept. 17, Stahley said. Once the council is satisfied, staff could bring a final ordinance or resolution for a council vote on Oct. 1. The city would then submit the plan to the state Department of Ecology for approval, a process that could take another year.
Most of the proposed changes were made at the prompting of Councilman Nathaniel Jones, who had a number of concerns with the previous draft, particularly the incentives for zero setbacks.
“So the concept is that there is a firm setback, that it’s not negotiable,” he said.
Council members generally assented to Jones’ suggestions, with the exception of Councilman Jim Cooper, who favored the incentives.
“My concern is that we spent a year and a half talking about flexibility and incentives for reducing setbacks and somewhere before we sat down … the votes were there and I’m out of the loop,” he said.
The city has mulled over the shoreline plan for more than three years. The state Department of Ecology is mandating the plan, which regulates development on major shorelines with the goal of “no net loss” of ecological function.
By far, the most controversial part of the plan has been how to regulate development along Budd Inlet, in particular how far buildings should be set back from the shoreline. Proponents of larger setbacks 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.
In particular, the controversy has surrounded an earlier 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.
The state Department of Ecology also has expressed concerns about using “offsite mitigation,” or providing environmental restoration to a place other than where development is occurring in order to meet mitigation requirements.
Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor