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Residents to city: ‘Slow down’ on shoreline plan
POULSBO — In the largest public participation yet for the city’s update of its shoreline rules, the majority of those who testified Wednesday asked the City Council to “slow down” and “step back.”
The council began reviewing the plan in January after nearly three years of work by planning staff and the Planning Commission. The state is requiring each city and county to update their Shoreline Master Program plans by December 2012; however, Poulsbo’s grant funding runs out in June. The plan was last updated in 1976.
Since the first City Council workshop in January, staff has made revisions based on comments and analysis from several parties: Port of Poulsbo, Department of Ecology, Suquamish Tribe, home and business owners within the shoreline buffer, and the general public. The council held another public hearing Wednesday, at which 14 people testified.
At the crux of many of the modifications is balancing Poulsbo’s historic downtown flavor — most of which is defined as nonconforming structures and uses — and Ecology’s mandate of “no net loss” of ecological function and value.
At a previous council meeting, Councilman David Musgrove asked city planner Keri Weaver if they could add a clause to the plan to protect Poulsbo’s “historically significant” downtown. Most of the downtown businesses are nonconforming, meaning the business and/or the building is not water-oriented or water-related, and those business owners are concerned about the restrictions.
“Short of deliberately tearing down your building,” Weaver said, there is nothing stopping a business owner from rebuilding, adding on or remodeling in case of a structural disaster. Homeowners, likewise, will be able to rebuild to their original footprint if the house suffers a disaster.
New development or significant additions to businesses would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Depending on its place in the buffer, a building would have to set aside 25 percent of its space for water-related or water enjoyment.
The city emphasized the plan’s purpose is to preserve the city’s shoreline as it exists today — forward looking, not retro acting, as Planning Director Barry Berezowsky said.
Many of the comments received altered the plan, adding to its flexibility. For example, the port was concerned the plan alluded to city jurisdiction over float planes. The Port of Poulsbo operates the Marina Moorage Seaplane Base, at the direction of the Federal Aviation Administration with the state Department of Transportation. That language had been taken out, according to Weaver. The port would need to apply for a permit with the city for a new dock or floats for a docking facility.
The most recent draft would also give home and business owners 12 months, rather than six, to apply for permits should their structure be significantly damaged.
However, some that spoke at the hearing said the plan’s policies were ambiguous. Jeremy Ecker, the attorney representing Liberty Bay Marina, asked if the plan’s policies encouraged water-dependent uses, single-family residences, or a “cross purpose.” He asked how the plan advances the city’s Comprehensive Plan goals for economic viability.
One Poulsbo resident said the plan is too development-centric.
“Development doesn’t really need protection. It occurs naturally,” Michael Maddox said. “On the flip side, natural resources do [need protection].”Maddox said it is to be expected population will increase, and with that, development.
“How much do we want to save for the future,” he asked. “If we’re not setting aside open spaces, green spaces, trails, etcetera, it gets built over.”
Ecology agrees. The purpose of a Shoreline Master Program is four-fold: to ensure no net loss of shoreline ecological functions; to protect the waters and the fish and wildlife that depend on those waters; to protect the public’s right to access the waters and the shorelines; and to encourage water-oriented and residential uses of the shoreline that are in the best interest of the public.
Despite previous requests by council members and port commissioners to weigh Poulsbo’s plan against other plans, such as Gig Harbor or Port Orchard — which have much less restrictive buffers — staff members and Ecology shoreline planner Joe Burcar urged the public not to see it that way.
Poulsbo has set the plan’s standards first against its own Critical Areas Ordinance, which is already tougher than many other communities. Burcar said it is not fair to qualify Poulsbo’s plan as too restrictive — the SMP follows the city’s current standards.
“We’re investing millions of dollars for jurisdiction-specific plans,” he said.
The council voted to continue the public hearing until its May 2 meeting, where its will vote to approve the plan or continue with revision. Mayor Becky Erickson said the city is at the end of a three-year process, during which there was low public participation. The port alone had been contacted more than 45 times since June 2009 for comment during the drafting process. She and the majority of the council did not think the process was being rushed.
Once the plan is approved by the council, it will be submitted to Ecology, which will have a 30-day public comment period. Poulsbo must concur with any changes Ecology makes to the plan before it is finally approved and made regulation.
A final draft will be available for review Monday at www.cityofpoulsbo.com/planning/planning_shoreline.htm under Draft SMP Regulations — PMC 16.08.