Shoreline Master Program “Fact and Fiction”

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.

Click image to enlarge.Mr. Matchett asserts there is nothing to be concerned about, saying “KAPO is  seeking to rouse you with false fears.”

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.

Let them know what you think:,

This letter was published by the Kitsap Sun.


One response to “Shoreline Master Program “Fact and Fiction”

  1. Kitsap County has posted an “official”, but unsigned, response to our postcard, shown above. You will find it on their SMP Update website ( You can access the response here…

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