About 60 people attended a public meeting on Clallam County’s Shoreline Master Program update April 25 at Pioneer Memorial Park.
County planning staff and consultants with Environmental Science Associates are more than a year into an effort to update the program, which deals with county lake, river and marine shorelines.
Under state law the program must be updated periodically to address environmental and property use issues within 200 feet of the ordinary high-water mark.
Margaret Clancy, a consultant with Environmental Science Associates, said the three goals of the program are to accommodate and promote water-dependent development, protect natural resources and promote public access to water.
The county adopted its first SMP in 1976, with the most recent changes occurring in 1992. Since then, the county’s population has nearly doubled and scientists know more about flooding, erosion and other natural hazards, Clancy said.
To help with the update process, 30 people, including county staff, shoreline property owners, business interests and tribal members, formed a committee to discuss issues surrounding the program. The committee’s nine meetings included discussion about environmental designations, building in hazardous areas, buffers and setbacks, and public access.
Proposed changes to the program include a new system for designating and managing areas of shoreline, changing buffers for new development, and fully integrating critical area requirements so there is less confusion, Clancy said.
The proposed buffers received the most public comment, with several audience members objecting to them.
Buffers, areas of land between the water line and development, would be wider than existing setbacks, Clancy said.
Existing buffers on marine bluff lots are 50-150 feet from the water mark or 50 feet from the bluff in landslide hazard areas. On low-bank shore marine lots, current setbacks are 50-150 feet from the high water mark, she said.
Proposed buffers would be 50 feet for lowland marine shore lots, 100 feet for bay marine lots and 150 feet from the top of the bluff for marine bluff lots, she said.
For critical areas, there may be additional setbacks, she said.
A study showed a Sequim-area bluff retreating 48 feet from 1956-1976 and another 50 feet by 2010, she said.
For river and lake shores, setbacks are currently at 35-150 feet from the ordinary high water mark. While they propose the setback remain at 35 feet for Lake Sutherland properties, other setbacks could be increased to 50-175 feet.
Much of the Dungeness River would have 175-foot setbacks, Clancy said, whereas creeks like McDonald Creek would have 50-foot setbacks.
Clancy said flooding, bank erosion and channel migration hazards along rivers are the reasons for increasing the buffers.
Clancy gave an example of a long lot on a bluff in Dungeness where even with the buffer there is ample room to build a 5,000-square-foot home. For short lots, there will be a special provision to have the setback align with adjacent lots, she said.
In some cases, a geotechnical study would be required to determine what an appropriate setback would be.
The program update also might include rules on re-vegetating part of the buffers, though it would allow for view and access corridors to be maintained.
County Planning Manager Steve Gray said existing homes currently in the buffer zone would be grandfathered in and won’t be stamped “non-conforming.”
Should the setbacks change, if a house is damaged more than 50 percent and needs to be rebuilt, the new construction must conform to the new rules, Clancy said.
Gray said site-specific information would be helpful to those working on the program to develop a plan that allows for different situations.
Attendees of the forum were given a survey to provide feedback on the plan, in addition to a question and answer segment.
According to a tally of the surveys, six people expect to develop along lake, river or marine shorelines in the next five years and 42 do not.
When asked if it was an appropriate balance to limit the clearing of vegetation on private property but allowing property owners to remove some for a view and private access, 32 thought it was appropriate, six did not think it was appropriate and 10 weren’t sure.
Six people weren’t sure if the new marine bluff setbacks were reasonable for new development, whereas 26 thought it was reasonable and 20 thought it went too far.
Regarding the river setbacks, 28 people thought they were reasonable, 15 thought they went too far and six people weren’t sure.
The program update is still in the works and public comment is sought. To learn more or give input on the program update, go to www.clallam.net/realestate/html/shoreline_management.htm.
Reach Amanda Winters at firstname.lastname@example.org.