BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — Three-and-a-half years of work on Bainbridge Island’s shoreline plan update will not end in consensus. But it won’t be for lack of discussion. Nearly 50 people gave sharply divided testimony on the draft Shoreline Master Program during a final public hearing Wednesday night. And that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The state-mandated update has been on the agendas of more than 100 public meetings since planning began in late 2009. City staff estimate close to 700 comments have been received so far, not counting petitions submitted. The flood of input only intensified this spring. “We’ve each received literally hundreds of emails in last week or so,” City Councilman Steve Bonkowski said before testimony began Wednesday.
The council is scheduled to make final revisions to the draft at its May 15 study session, and left the door open to voting on the draft at that time. Otherwise, the council will consider approving the draft June 12.
The plan will then be reviewed by the state Department of Ecology, which will take more comments. Bainbridge will be the last jurisdiction in Kitsap County — by a matter of months — to forward a shoreline plan to the state.
Roughly half of the commenters Wednesday urged the council to adopt the draft. Former Planning Commission member Martha Drodge called the update process “robust” and said the same issues have been debated for three years. “The public has had an opportunity early, often, and in depth, to have commentary and help craft the SMP draft,” she said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”
Several supporters of finalizing the plan said they were unhappy with the concessions made for shoreline development and want to see environmental safeguards maintained in the draft.
Wednesday marked the first time proponents of the shoreline plan turned out to a meeting in force. Critics of the shoreline plan have been more outspoken in recent months. About 200 people marched to City Hall to protest the plan in March. Shoreline debate dominated a series of ward meetings held in April.
Few of their concerns have been addressed, opponents of the plan said Wednesday. Expanded vegetation buffers and restrictions on overwater structures remain points of contention. Many shoreline property owners want existing buildings to be termed “conforming” structures instead than “nonconforming” in the plan. The council recently opted to use the phrase “existing development” as a compromise. Several commenters advocated for building footprints to be fully “grandfathered in.”
Other critiques were more general. Some said shoreline property owners weren’t given fair representation on planning committees and questioned the scientific studies referenced in the plan. The document itself was ridiculed as overly complicated, poorly written and vulnerable to lawsuits. Alice Tawresey asked the council to take as much time as it needed to address problems areas in the draft. “The argument that ‘we’ve spent enough time — send it on,’ seems to me to be quite compelling but a little bit shallow,” Tawresey said. “ it’s very important to us property owners who have to live by these rules.”
Council members said they were pleased with the turnout for the hearing and tried to assure attendees that all input would be considered. “We are all trying our best to take care of property owners and the environment,” Councilwoman Kirsten Hytopoulos said.
The draft plan and other materials can be found on the Shoreline Master Program project page at www.bainbridgewa.gov