Council delays critical areas ordinance

Published on Wed, Jun 10, 2009 by Tara Nelson

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Following heated testimony from landowners, developers and environmental groups on Monday, Blaine City Council voted down a critical areas ordinance (CAO) 4-3 that would increase buffer zones around wetlands, and scheduled a work session to amend the ordinance in what some councilors called an attempt to balance environmental protections with property rights.

The work session is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 15 at council chambers. The hearing is open to the public but public comment will not be allowed at that time.

Council members Jason Overstreet, Scott Dodd, John Liebert and Bonnie Onyon voted no on the ordinance, citing that the new regulations were overly cumbersome for current landowners who might wish to subdivide their property compared to the rules in place when they purchased it.

Council members Charlie Hawkins, Paul Greenough and Harry Robinson voted in favor of the ordinance as is and expressed concerns over a letter from the Department of Ecology that warned that key provisions within the CAO were inconsistent with the city’s shoreline master plan, and not sufficient to protect wetlands.

The June 8 letter went on to read that the ordinance would allow too  high of intensity land uses adjacent to wetlands, inadequate buffer widths and inadequate protection. In addition, the buffer reductions allowed would further the risk of degradation to the city’s remaining wetland resources.

“[The DOE] cannot support this high-risk approach as it is not consistent with the best available science.”
Blaine mayor Bonnie Onyon said she understands the concerns of property owners whose future development plans could be impacted by the new regulations but that failure to pass an ordinance will put Blaine in violation of the state’s Growth Management Act.

“There is a misconception out there among some individuals that this is something the city thought up,” she said. “However, this is mandated by the growth management act. If we don’t have an ordinance, we will be subject to severe penalties by the state and potential lawsuits by environmental groups.”

About 15 individuals spoke on the subject. Some, such as Blaine realtor Ron Freeman, were visibly angry about the ordinance, calling it an “anti-property rights ordinance” and urged the council not to give into pressure from the state.

Others, such as Wendy Steffenson, of the environmental group RE Sources, said the numbers put forth in the ordinance were already insufficient to protect the value and fuction of wetlands.

“It’s alarming,” she said. “I hope you relook at these provisions and consider the importance of wetlands in your deliberations. It’s not easy to recreate what nature has put together.”

In the meantime, Onyon said the council is taking the ordinance “back to the drawing board” to see if there are ways the council can further protect individual property rights.

“We’re going to see if we can do more,” she said. “We need to find the best balance we can while staying within the law. Someone’s got to make a call sometimes, and it’s not always black and white.”