County relaxes shoreline development rules

Published on Thu, Apr 2, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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After hearing from several waterfront property owners in a packed hearing last fall that shoreline development regulations were too restrictive, the Whatcom County Council unanimously adopted changes to the Shoreline Management Program last week that relax some, but not all, of the regulations.

In the measure, the council voted to allow property owners to rebuild houses destroyed by fire or other natural disasters in their original location even if they do not conform to the new 150-foot setback requirements. They also allow owners of such non-conforming houses a one-time exemption to build additions up to 250 square feet without a variance or a conditional use permit.

But there are other issues that need to be addressed according to Seattle attorney Pete Buck of the locally-based Citizens for Rational Shoreline Planning. “This amendment package focuses on a few select issues and does not address all, or even most of, the concerns that the public raised at the September 9 hearing,” Buck said.

Of primary concern is what Buck’s group calls the “one size fits all” set-back limit of 150 feet, which he said renders nearly all shoreline properties non-conforming. He also said that the regulations make things difficult for owners of small lots, requiring in some cases that people combine two or more small parcels in order to build on them, something Buck sees as unrealistic. The limited amendments were approved last week but do not take effect until approved by the Washington State Department of Ecology, a process that will take several months.