PORT ORCHARD — After three years of planning and debate, the Kitsap County commissioners Wednesday put the finishing touches on a plan to govern shoreline development for years to come. If approved by the Washington Department of Ecology, the plan will impose a variety of regulations and mitigation measures to ensure that future development does not cause a net loss of ecological functions.
The new Kitsap County Shoreline Master Program represents the first major overhaul of the county’s shoreline regulations in more than 30 years, according to shorelines planner David Greetham. The plan covers marine waters and shorelines up to 200 feet from the high-water mark, along lakes and major streams.
County planners, with help from a 20-member task force, spent months studying the shorelines to designate every property based on its ecological value and existing land use. Shorelines relatively free of human influence were designated “natural,” with a standard no-build buffer zone of at least 200 feet. That buffer can be reduced to 150 feet with relatively easy mitigation steps, such as planting vegetation or building a “rain garden,” Greetham said. The designation “shoreline residential” covers much of the shorelines where people live. About half the total shoreline parcels fall into this designation, which calls for 85-foot buffers, which can be reduced to 50 feet with mitigation. “High-intensity” areas, dominated by urban commercial uses, would have 50-foot buffers unless the developer seeks a variance through a public hearing process.
“We went with a flexible buffer option instead of one-size-fits-all,” Greetham said. “If somebody needs to develop within the buffer, we can flesh out a list of options.” The commissioners also approved a voluntary restoration plan to help counterbalance the unavoidable effects of development.
Bob Benze, a member of the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners who served on the task force, said the final document is a mix of good and bad elements.
On the positive side, the county commissioners were quick to decide that existing residences should be considered “legally conforming,” which will protect existing uses no matter what happens. He also was pleased that the county accepted his suggestion for a “shoreline residential” designation to recognize the importance of single-family homes on the shoreline.
On the other hand, Benze claims that the task force and county planners never fully examined scientific studies regarding the need for buffers. Instead, they relied on information provided by the Department of Ecology. Greetham compiled a list of studies with ecological justification for various-sized buffers, but Benze continues to insist that much of that information is not relevant to Kitsap’s shorelines.
Benze also contends that the county moved too many private properties into the more-protective designations of “natural” and “rural conservancy.”
The approval by the county commissioners moves the plan into the realm of Ecology, which will take further public comments and propose its own amendments. Some may be suggestions, but others may be required for final approval. Joe Burcar, of Ecology, has been following the county’s planning carefully over the past three years. Despite his suggestions along the way, he expects his agency will have some issues to resolve.
Meanwhile, all four cities in Kitsap County are in various stages of developing their own plans:
- Port Orchard is at the end of Ecology’s review and has been given a list of required changes for final approval.
- Poulsbo has completed its plan and is in the final stretch of review by Ecology.
- Bremerton City Council has approved its plan, but the city has not yet submitted the documents to Ecology.
- Bainbridge Island City Council is still holding hearings on its proposed plan.