The Board of County Commissioners is reconsidering requirements for shoreline buffers after county staff provided new information about state guidelines during a meeting on Wednesday, August 30.
The board is now looking to see if 250 feet of buffer is enough for areas designated as “urban and rural conservancy” and “natural” under guidelines provided by the state for the Shoreline Master Program.
The board had previously agreed to 250 feet of buffer for areas designated as “urban and rural conservancy” and 200 feet of buffer for areas designated as “natural” during work sessions in June and July.
According to WAC 173-26-211, these classifications seek to protect the ecological functions of shorelines while allowing certain uses according to the designation.
Urban conservancy is used for areas with developed settings, rural conservancy is used for areas with agricultural activities or low-density residences, while natural is for shorelines that are relatively free of human influence.
Senior Planner Andrew Deffobis from the Community Planning & Economic Development Department told the board that the widest buffers are generally reserved for the most pristine shorelines, which was not the case with the board’s previous guidance as shorelines for urban and rural conservancies had wider buffers than natural shorelines.
Commissioner Tye Menser told county staff that this issue was addressed when the Planning Commission reviewed buffer requirements. Menser said the commission decided on 200 feet for natural shorelines as they were informed that it was the limit.
Deffobis responded saying that he received new guidance from the Department of Ecology which informed him that 200 feet was just the minimum for natural shorelines.
The majority of the board eventually agreed to 250 feet of buffer for the designated areas, but Commissioner Gary Edwards expressed concern about the political disadvantage of going beyond the minimum set by the state.
“Don't you generate the potential for more appeals in the future which might end up ruling against the county?” Edwards asked. He added that it would be better if the Planning Commission revisits these requirements in light of the new information Deffobis provided.
The commission did not revise previous recommendations for buffer requirements for other areas. For areas designated as “shoreline residential,” the buffer needs to be at least 85 feet.
Buffer requirements differ for lake shorelines. Residential lake shorelines need a buffer of 50 feet, while lake shorelines for areas under urban and rural conservancies require 100 to 125 feet. Natural lake shorelines require 200 feet of buffer.
For streams, the required buffer is 250 feet for all designations.
The board is reviewing buffer requirements as part of the county’s update to its Shoreline Master Program, which is a collection of policies and protection for shorelines as required by the Shoreline Management Act. The county’s current program was adopted all the way back in 1990.
The board is currently reviewing public comments on the proposed updates before adopting the new program in late fall of this year.
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