On March 20, we delivered a letter to the Kitsap County Planning Commission regarding the Shoreline Master Program (SMP) Update. You may view a PDF copy of the entire letter here, or simply continue reading here.
The purpose of this letter is to provide you with Kitsap Alliance comments and concerns regarding the County’s Shoreline Master Program update. These are briefly summarized below, but are covered in detail in the attachments to this correspondence.
Our objective in these comments is twofold: First to ensure the Kitsap County SMP update is accomplished in strict accordance with the law – Chapter 90.58 RCW and WAC 173-26 and, second, to ensure that where science is used to support decision- making that the science is defensible. Unfortunately, as our letters show, the County has failed in both.
These failures in many cases appear to be the result of political decisions driven by environmental activist pressures, rather than science-based decisions driven by the most current, accurate, and complete scientific and technical information available, as required by the law.
Our comments are not limited to, but generally fall into the following general categories:
Buffers: The County wrongly intends to require shoreline homeowners to dedicate in perpetuity up to 200-feet of their property as a natural vegetation buffer as a condition for obtaining a permit to improve their property – when there is no underlying legal or scientific justification requiring them to do so. Per the WAC SMP guidelines, shoreline buffers are not required, but may be used to separate incompatible uses from critical saltwater habitats. No science has been provided showing that single-family residences are incompatible with the nearshore saltwater environment. Indeed, the published data shows quite the opposite. It is noted that the County originally supported 35-foot setbacks as being protective in its critical areas ordinance and then changed their position to 100-foot buffers under activist pressure. Now they want more.
Non-conformance: The County intends to incorporate language that would allow existing structures to be considered legally conforming. The county’s proposed wording would allow rebuilding in case of fire, but would not provide grandfathering of the use of the property – so permits for remodeling or other property modifications would still trigger the new SMP controls, potentially requiring replanting lawns with native vegetation, establishing view corridors, and other unwanted property restrictions and controls.
Restoration: The County wrongly identifies the majority of the shoreline as needing restoration to its “natural” condition. This is not the purpose of the Shoreline Management Act or the WAC guidelines that clearly state the baseline for ensuring “no net loss of ecological function” is the date of SMP approval, not some earlier date where the property was in an undeveloped condition. The thousands of people that own shoreline property that is colored red on the Inventory and Characterization maps should question why they received such a designation in the first place under a law that has no such intention; and they should be very concerned about the long term implications of their property being listed for restoration – asking whether the government’s long term goal is actually to “eliminate” non-conforming structures and uses (i.e. those that are in buffer zones) as stated in an October 2007 presentation by Betty Rencor of the Department of Ecology.
Shoreline Designation: The county wrongly proposes to increase the number of parcels designated “Natural” from 94 to 500, and the number of parcels designated “Conservancy” from 1,238 to 3,789, even though there is virtually no change in their definitions or management policies. The result is that about 1/3 of shoreline owners will find themselves subject to far more stringent property restrictions (including larger buffer requirements) – for no apparent reason. Most of the county’s shoreline is already developed and trying to classify land that is already built or platted as “Residential” into a more restrictive designation is clearly inappropriate.
Cumulative Impacts: The County proposes a non-scientific method of determining cumulative environmental impacts. Department of Ecology guidelines require that future development impacts on water quality, water quantity, and habitat function must be avoided or mitigated to ensure no “cumulative” net loss of ecological function. But the county’s approach will not measure habitat function directly, but will instead use “proxies” such as the area that docks occupy as a proxy for eelgrass or other habitat loss. This approach is simply wrong. No clear scientific rationale for this use of proxies is presented. Indeed, the data from three major studies shows no clear relationship between proposed environmental “stressors” such as docks or bulkheads and harmful impacts to the nearshore environment. Such an approach appears intended primarily to thwart homeowners from making any improvements to their property – another attempt to return it to its “natural” condition.
Public Participation: The County has failed to adequately inform and involve the public in its SMP update process as required by the law. Our correspondence shows that the County’s approach has been to develop its “preferred” position behind closed doors, and then, at the end, let the public comment on its fait accompli. By then, the County has expended its allocated time and budget and is not in a position to make significant changes. Even within the SMP Task Force, efforts to get the County to provide detailed information rather than superficial overviews on program elements have been frustrated. For example, requests asking the Department of Community
Development to explain the details of how they developed the Shoreline Inventory and Characterization Report, including a request to show an example of how actual data from the various sources was processed to achieve the final results, went unanswered. The County originally posted the public comments they received on their SMP website, but discontinued doing so a year ago. Their explanation was that there was a decrease in Ecology funding for the SMP update since mid-2011. The project manager said he anticipates the County will incorporate a “comments matrix” for each public comment period associated with Planning Commission and Board of Commissioner public hearings. It is noted that the developers of such comment matrices are not unbiased and generally have a lot of difficulty accurately posting those comments and facts that undercut their established positions – such as the attached Kitsap Alliance letters.
Conclusion and request for action:
Under the law, except to meet consistency requirements, there is no reason to change an existing Shoreline Master Program unless there is new information or changing conditions that show the existing program is not accomplishing its objectives – specifically the accommodation of all “reasonable and appropriate uses” consistent with “protecting against adverse impacts to the public health, the land and its vegetation and wildlife, and the waters of the state and their aquatic life” and consistent with “public rights of navigation”.
The County cannot demonstrate that the existing program is not meeting these objectives. Indeed, by all measures, it appears to be achieving or exceeding what it was intended to do. Yet the County’s update significantly increases the controls and restrictions to be imposed on the thousands of parcels of county shoreline private property.
To further take away the Constitutional rights of people to possess, to control, to exclude others, to enjoy, and to dispose of their property without any credible justification is not only wrong, it is illegal.
Your action to uphold the actual requirements of the law in this SMP update is hereby requested.
Jackie Rossworn, Executive Director, Kitsap Alliance