County council adopts Shoreline Master Plan

by Mandi Johnson

After years of public hearings, council deliberations, meetings with stakeholders, a citizen planning commission and a multitude of public comments, alterations to the Shoreline Master Plan have finally been approved by the county council. At the end of the San Juan County Council regular meeting at the Eastsound Fire Hall on Tuesday, April 5, council approved final grammatical and organization revisions before signing the ordinance.

The SMP is a required document under the state Shoreline Management Act, adopted in Washington in 1972. It is required every seven years, and it had been 17 since the last update. Updates to the SMP are a state-defined process, and council had begun to discuss an update to the 1998 plan as early as 2008.

San Juan County created its first SMP in 1978. The SMP is particularly important to the San Juans’ 400 miles of coastline, as it dictates what sort of development is allowed, protects sensitive areas and promotes public access to the shore.

The SMP applies to land 200 feet inland from the ordinary high water mark and then seaward from the ordinary high water mark to the county line.

According to Director of Community Development Erika Shook during a January presentation on the update, the intention of the update was to simplify the SMP while adhering to the original goals and ensuring ecologically non-destructive shoreline regulations.

“[We are] working to make sure there aren’t too many regulations,” said Shook during the January meeting.

Some points of contention raised by citizens were the elimination of dual designation below the ordinary high water mark, the amount of time allowed for the final step in the public process, and changes to nonconforming use regulations.

Shook said during the January meeting that the dual designations were eliminated because they were complex and hard to understand, and that the staff found them difficult to administer. According to the presentation, aquatic uses will be consistent with uses allowed in adjacent upland designations.

“The dual designation is gone, but the protections are still there,” Shook said.

Now that the plan has been agreed upon, it will be forwarded to the state ecological department for review.