Critical Areas Ordinance moving toward completion

San Juan County’s update of its Critical Areas Ordinance is moving toward completion. The county council hopes to complete the update by this summer.

The council recently reviewed general provisions of the ordinance, and the planning commission has scheduled a hearing on updates to the wetlands section of the ordinance at the Grange in Friday Harbor on Tuesday, March 6, 8:30 a.m.

If adopted in its current form, the general provisions would:

– Expand exemptions to include the replacement of existing structures, development areas and uses, as long as critical areas are protected.

— Provide two options for reasonable use exceptions, granted where critical area regulations would deprive a land owner of all economic or beneficial use of a property. A “no mitigation option” would be available for small scale development, and a “mitigation option” could be used to enable a larger area for development projects.

— Enact new provisions for non-conforming structures, uses and activities, allowing them to remain in perpetuity, if they create are no additional adverse impacts to critical areas.

— Establish a review process for activities that meet the definition of “development.”

County officials said at least one additional adjustment to the general section is likely. During the initial council review, Councilmember Patty Miller expressed concern that the proposed review process for new development could be interpreted to require a review of even very small scale land development or land disturbance activities. At the Tuesday, Feb. 28, meeting, the council revisited that issue, and voted to direct staff to propose alternative language to eliminate unnecessarily burdensome requirements for development activities that do not otherwise require a permit.

The update of the regulations governing activities that affect areas and ecosystems essential to the safety, quality of life and environmental integrity of the county, is mandated by state law. The updating process began in 2003 with an original deadline for completion in 2005.

Over this past year, working with a team of scientific experts, the county adopted a synthesis of scientific research and principles to guide the effort; completed an analysis of the regulations; and moved the amendments associated with frequently flooded, geologically hazardous and general provisions — those applying to all types of critical areas — forward pending a final consistency review later this spring.

Critical areas, as defined by state law, include wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, frequently flooded areas, geologically hazardous areas, and critical aquifer recharge areas.



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