by Bob Benze, environmental engineer; Don Flora, PhD; Carl Shipley, PhD; and Karl Duff, DSc
In a recent My Turn column, William Matchett attacked a Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners’ postcard that alerted shoreline homeowners that their homes could become legally nonconforming when the county’s Shoreline Master Program implements new setback and native vegetation buffer requirements.
He is wrong. Shoreline homeowners have every reason to be concerned.
The county has not decided what language to adopt related to structures impacted by increased buffers. They are free to adopt virtually any language they choose. The state Legislature, recognizing the existing law was inadequate to protect existing structures, approved language in 2010 Senate Bill 5451, which gives local jurisdictions the option of declaring existing structures legally conforming. We encourage the commissioners to do that.
However, they may well defer to the Department of Ecology’s default language (WAC 173-27-080) which says: “If a nonconforming development is damaged to an extent not exceeding seventy-five percent of the replacement cost of the original development, it may be reconstructed to those configurations existing immediately prior to the time the development was damaged, provided that application is made for the permits necessary to restore the development within six months of the date the damage occurred, all permits are obtained and the restoration is completed within two years of permit issuance.” So, good luck if your house burns down, or is damaged in a fire or an earthquake and for some reason you can’t rebuild immediately!
And the Washington Administrative Code is clear about structures affected by buffers — that no improvements are permitted which would increase the extent of nonconformity. Good luck with that room addition, deck, garden shed, or playhouse for the kids!
Indeed, in an October 25, 2007 PowerPoint presentation, Betty Renkor of the Department of Ecology, stated that Ecology’s long-term goal is to “eliminate” nonconforming uses and structures. Doesn’t that sound like something homeowners should fear?
Mr. Matchett characterizes KAPO’s contention that there is no science to support big buffers as “nonsense.” We are not aware Mr. Matchett has credentials qualifying him to judge shoreline science, or that he has even researched it.
KAPO, working with competent Ph.D. scientists, has gone to great lengths to review the literature on shoreline homes and nearshore environmental health. Certainly, no one denies that huge structures like ferry terminals, yacht basins, or sea walls affect the nearshore — and these are the kinds of effects cited by environmentalists. However, several studies have found no evidence that single-family shoreline residences, like those throughout Kitsap County, are harmful to saltwater habitats.
Indeed, the County’s own studies, carried out by Battelle Laboratories, indicate saltwater habitats are not harmed by the presence of private shoreline homes, their landscaping, or well-constructed bulkheads.
Mr. Matchett says homeowners would not be asked to replant lawns with native vegetation as part of obtaining permits for remodeling or other changes. Again he is wrong. Some jurisdictions, including Bainbridge Island, have already implemented and enforced such requirements — as reported by KING-5 on February 19, 2010.
Mr. Matchett asserts that nonconforming status won’t affect financing of shoreline homes — citing the opinion of an unidentified lender. However, lenders and mortgage brokers we have contacted tell a different story — that big buffers really do have the potential of decreasing home values.
One issue Mr. Machett doesn’t mention is the effect devaluing shoreline property will have on the tax base — as shoreline property taxes decline, inland taxes will inevitably go up. Research done by KAPO shows shoreline tax assessments in many areas of the county are now falling sharply — and inland tax rates in these areas are increasing. Part of the reason for this trend is undoubtedly the uncertainty a potential nonconforming label places on shoreline property values.
Everyone wants the environment to be preserved for their children and grandchildren. However, our county commissioners need to be less concerned with opinions like Mr. Matchett’s and more concerned with factual information obtained from reputable sources before they take more of our property rights by making thousands of existing, lawfully-built homes nonconforming.
This letter was published by the Kitsap Sun.