Island County commissioners to address community concerns over shoreline plan

Island County commissioners now have the community feedback on a proposed Shoreline Master Plan.

The comments were gathered during a public hearing in May and presented to the commissioners last week by the state Department of Ecology.

The commissioners must address any concerns and submit solutions to the state Department of Ecology by a deadline of Sept. 23.

Island County Planner Brad Johnson, who presented the documents to the commissioners this week, said the Department of Ecology gathered 339 comments from 79 individuals and 16 organizations.

In keeping with previously reported feedback, Ecology officials said they received comments expressing concerns that primarily involved four issues: non-conforming structures, net-pen aquaculture, shellfish grower requirements and public access.

While there was little discussion about the feedback during the commissioners’ work session, the Planning Department briefly addressed the non-conforming structure issue.

The commissioners reviewed the comments and continued the discussion during their Wednesday, Aug. 21, work session that took place after the Whidbey Examiner went to press. County staff are expected to make offer recommendations for responding to concerns.

According to state Ecology’s feedback, Johnson said, there seems to be widespread concern that the new Shoreline Master Plan is more restrictive than the old one with respect to non-conforming structures on shorelines.

However, he said, this is not the case.

In fact, Johnson said, the new master plan is less restrictive in a number of respects.

For example, he said, the old master plan stated that, if a non-conforming structure is damaged or destroyed, it must be brought into compliance if the damage exceeds 75 percent of the structure’s value.

Under the proposed master plan, all legally existing residences are allowable and the 75 percent rule applies only to commercial structures, not single family homes.

With regard to net pen aquaculture, Johnson said, the majority of those who provided feedback supported the county’s strict regulations on fish farms. However, the commission will need to address the concerns of local shellfish growers on some of the new provisions.

Lastly, Johnson said, the public comment was split down the middle on the issue of public access to shorelines. Some want to ensure public access throughout Whidbey Island and the county. Others want to protect their residential properties from public access.

Adopted by the state Legislature in 1972, the Shorelines Act requires municipalities to adopt master programs that guide development on and around the waterfront, including lakes and rivers.

The legislation’s aim is to reduce the impact of development on shorelines.

A new draft of the shoreline management guidelines was adopted in 2003 which required all 39 counties to update their Shoreline Master Plans, all of which must be completed by 2014.

Once the board of commissioners compile and sumbit its response, the Department of Ecology has 30 days to issue a decision letter in which it can approve the plan as-is, approve with changes or deny the plan.


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