Council has more questions about shoreline plan

Bellevue councilmembers had more questions than answers by the end of Monday's third round of informational sessions provided by staff about the progress of creating a shoreline master plan the city hopes will pass state muster.

The City Council was updated Monday on the cumulative impact analysis and how Bellevue's plan will attempt to satisfy a requirement that no net loss of ecological functions occur during future development and redevelopment along the city's jurisdictional shorelines. This came ahead of a May 5 public hearing for the city's shoreline master plan, which will eventually go to the Washington Department of Ecology for final approval.

Sarah Sandstrom, fisheries biologist for the Watershed Company, told councilmembers "no net loss" goes further than just ecological functions of a shoreline, and includes also preserving shoreline views for residents and assessing the amount of reasonable development that could occur in the next 20 years along Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish.

With a majority of Bellevue's shorelines already developed, Sandstrom said residential redevelopment will likely be the most common occurrence and some new single-family development.

The plan involves taking a qualitative look at the issue of net loss, she said, as it's hard to quantify restoration when a dock, for example, requires a certain amount of native vegetation to offset its impact as part of an "ecological tradeoff."

"Shoreline residential development falls under an exemption," said Sandstrom of the no net loss requirement. "So, individual demonstration of no net loss is not required for shoreline residential development or for most permits that are issued as shoreline substantial development permits."

That does not mean the city will not need to ensure there is no net loss of ecological function, she told council, but that it will not need to be proven independently by the permit applicant. The project would be checked against current regulations that should result in no net loss.

Bulkheads — vertical concrete barriers along shorelines — will not be allowed to be replaced under the shoreline plan, which instead favors a rocky slope. Bulkheads, said Sandstrom, negatively affects wave reflection. Bulkheads would need to be determined the only feasible option to be used.

Sandstrom said another concern is that the plan proposes residential setbacks of 25 feet, which is less than the existing median setback of 50 feet for Lake Sammamish and Lake Washington.

"The potential for houses moving closer to the shoreline has potential impacts in terms of water quality, moving pollutant generating surfaces closer to the shoreline," she said.

Should redevelopment of properties occur using a 25-foot setback, Sandstrom said there is also the potential of obstructing the views from other properties than are 50 feet from the shoreline.

One option proposed to prevent this is a common line or streamline setback, which would require a new or redeveloped property to use the average setback of the two properties adjacent to it.

Whether all of the effort being put into the plan will satisfy how the DOE defines "no net loss" may only be known once the shoreline master plan is submitted. According to Richard Settle, an attorney specializing in environmental and land use law with Foster Pepper PLLC, "no net loss" is a new and ambiguous concept for Washington.

While the DOE requires no net loss of existing ecological functions, Settle said that implies a tradeoff of development and restoration. He said there's also an assumption that restoration doesn't have to be immediate, and could take as long as 20 years depending on the development.

He added there's also confusion as to how far back in time restoration is supposed to match up with shoreline conditions.

"It's definitely not pre-European discovery," he said.

Councilmember Kevin Wallace expressed his irritation that the council has been briefed three times on shoreline master plan development, however, confusion about meeting DOE standards remains. He added there also needs to be more done to address private property rights in the plan.

"That is not helpful in deciding how to regulate someone's private property, whether there is a net loss of ecological functions," he said. "So, I just want to lodge my personal frustration. I'm just stunned that every jurisdiction in the state has to go through this and do this and in 2014 the state of the law on this is so unclear. … What we're basically looking at is someone's opinion," he said.


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