After one and a half hours of debate last night, Renton City Council voted 5 to 2 to send the Shoreline Master Plan to the Department of Ecology for their review and approval.
While we spent some time discussing parks impacts and public access provisions, the main topic of debate was the way we manage existing bulkheads on the shoreline. The epicenter of the argument was the interpretation of section 173-26-231 (click here to read it) of the Washington Administrative Code, and whether it says that existing bulkheads need to be removed from the lake or river if they are still serviceable and not being proposed for alteration by the property owner. I argued that as written this section pertains only to shoreline “Modifications” not to shoreline pre-existing conditions. City staff and a Department of Ecology Official insisted that this section of the WAC also applied to existing bulkheads that are not being modified, and required that shoreline bulkheads be considered for possible removal whenever there is a change of use, or a significant expansion of an existing use, in the upland areas of a property.
This distinction was a big deal, because the required evaluation can be expensive for individual homeowners, the results of these studies can be unpredictable, and if the review says that the shoreline must be revised then the process to actually alter the shoreline can take years (federal and state permitting is complex). Furthermore, the bulkheads give peace-of-mind to property owners and their lenders as they protect primary structures and utilities from damage in storms.
The Council Committee of the Whole ultimately voted five-to-two to adopt a committee report recommending that the SMP be forwarded to the Department of Ecology for review and approval. (It is widely understood that once this DOE review is complete, the city would have a difficult time changing the words, which is why last night’s decision was so important.)
Marcie Palmer and I offered a “Committee of the Whole Minority Report” which had almost all the same language as the page-and-a-half long Majority Report, but included four additional provisions. (1) Tables should be clarified to be specific that they only apply within the shoreline buffer for each site, (2) Language should be changed so that existing shoreline stabilization that is still serviceable and is not being proposed to be revised by the property owner can be retained, (3) Typos in the document should be identified and fixed, (4) Council will evaluate providing credit against the Parks Mitigation Fee to projects that provide public access to the water.
At the council meeting a half hour later, the majority report was formally adopted in lieu of ours, which did not surprise me or Marcie given the 5-to-2 Committee of the Whole decision. (It’s the same people voting in Committee of the Whole and on Council). So, the majority report essentially only serves as a record of where our differences of opinion were. (Following the vote, Council President Don Persson asked city staff to try to scrub the remaining typos from the document before it is sent to Department of Ecology. Most of the typos had come about from negotiated changes to the document– we were on the seventh draft)
While I obviously wish the council had come over to Marcie’s and my point of view, I am highly appreciative of the entire council for the time they afforded for debate on this topic. Everyone was gracious, even while I (and to a smaller extent Marcie) kept the debate going a long time as we sparred over the complex technical issues involved. Our council works very well together, even when we hold such disparate opinions, and this makes it a sincere pleasure to serve.
The Renton Reporter covered last night’s events in this article today.