Council Unanimously Adopts Shoreline Master Program
On January 22, 2013 Seattle City Council unanimously adopted Council Bill 117585 comprising the first comprehensive update of Seattle’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) since 1987.
The SMP is an important and complex set of regulations that govern development and uses on and adjacent to Seattle’s extensive shorelines. These include Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Lake Union and the Ship Canal, the Duwamish River, Green Lake, and wetlands and floodplains associated with these shorelines. The SMP affects land uses, structures and activities, including those occurring over water and on vessels, the location of structures including setbacks and allowed over water coverage, public access requirements and construction practices related to bulkheads, docks and piers.
Updating the SMP was mandated by the State Shoreline Management Act (SMA), created by citizen referendum in 1972, that established three major policy goals that all SMPs are required to achieve through the regulations:
- Preferred Shoreline Uses: The SMA establishes a preference for uses that are water-oriented and that are appropriate for the environmental context (such as port facilities, shoreline recreational uses, and water-dependent businesses). Single-family residences are also identified as a priority use under the Act when developed in a manner consistent with protection of the natural environment.
- Environmental Protection: The SMA requires protections for shoreline natural resources, including "… the land and its vegetation and wildlife, and the water of the state and their aquatic life …" to ensure no net loss of ecological function.
- Public Access: The SMA promotes public access to shorelines by mandating inclusion of a public access element in local SMPs and requiring provisions to ensure that new development maintains public access features.
The SMP update included broad public outreach and involvement including 75 meetings with interested organizations, agencies, and the public. DPD had extensive informal interactions with interested and affected constituencies, including people who living on the shorelines or on the water, recreational users of the shorelines, and water dependent businesses.
The key changes to the current regulations are summarized below:
- All development and uses in the shoreline are required to meet no net loss of Ecological functions , a primary state requirement.
- Environmentally critical areas located in the shoreline district are regulated by the SMP.
- A non-regulatory restoration plan that, when implemented, improves ecological functions of the shoreline.
- Non-water-oriented uses, when allowed on waterfront lots, are required to include ecological restoration to meet the goals of the SMA.
- Non-conforming uses and structures, when allowed to be replaced, are required to include ecological restoration to meet the goals of the SMA.
- Shoreline buffers are included for all shoreline environments based on the purpose of the shoreline environment and the ecological conditions of the shoreline as determined by the Shoreline Inventory and Characterization Report.
- Allowing 20 percent of a site to be used for uses that are not water-dependent or water-related but support water-dependent or water-related uses.
- A requirement for mitigation sequencing that requires a project to avoid impacts and mitigate remaining impacts to achieve no net loss.
- New protections for priority freshwater and saltwater habitat.
- Allowance for existing structures in the urban shoreline environments to be replaced if mitigation is provided.
- New floating homes and other over water residential uses, other than on a vessel, are prohibited.
Overwater Residential Use
A challenging aspect of the SMP update has to do with the issue of residential use over the water. State law specifies that residential uses over water are not preferred uses of the shoreline or water environment and should be prohibited. The state has granted exceptions to allow approximately 480 existing floating homes and 34 house barges to remain.
The proposed new SMP will not apply retroactively to residential structures over water. Living on a vessel that meets the state definition, since 1987, defined as "designed and used for navigation" is still permitted. To address the issue of existing residential use over water the City Council has formed a stakeholder group to develop and consider alternatives for providing certainty and an orderly process for people currently residing on the water whose status as a vessel is unclear. If you have questions regarding the stakeholder group please contact Lisa Herbold at firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 684-5331 or Jesse Gilliam at email@example.com or (206)684-8802.
The Department of Ecology will review the Seattle Shoreline Master Program regulations for compliance with WAC 173-26 Shoreline Master Program Guidelines. This review process is anticipated to take six to 12 months.
SMP update documents may be accessed on DPD’s website at www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/ShorelineMasterProgramUpdate.
To receive an electronic copy of the Shoreline Master Program or for additional information, please contact:
February 14, 2013