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Public access a hot topic in Island County shoreline plan
Property rights advocates may be pleased with several possible alternatives to controversial sections of Island County’s shoreline rules update, particularly those that address public beach access.
While some suggest cooperative approaches, such as incorporating financial incentive programs to encourage the creation of new beach accesses, others reduce requirements for small-scale new subdivisions.
One allows developers to dodge a public beach access requirement altogether by paying a fee while another would only require the creation of a community access, which would not be open to the public.
According to Karen Stewart, the county’s shoreline master program coordinator, no recommendations are being made to the Island County Commissioners. Rather, the board is being provided a list of possible solutions to some of the concerns discussed during a series of public meetings on Whidbey and Camano Islands held earlier this month.
“It’s sort of a menu if you will,” Stewart said.
The board and the public will have a chance to discuss the proposed shoreline rules and the alternatives at a hearing next month. The meeting begins at 10:20 a.m. Monday, Nov. 5, and will be held in the Island County Commissioners Hearing Room in Coupeville.
The shoreline master program is a long-range planning document that guides new and existing development within 200 feet of the ordinary high water mark over the next 20 years.
The county has been working on its update for the past two years and beach access has become one of several controversial topics. Many have demanded more aggressive policies toward the recovery, preservation and identification of such accesses while others say the proposed policies infringe on personal property rights.
Along with proposing financial incentives for new accesses by allowing property owners through the Public Benefit Rating System, one of the alternative outlines a clear direction to identify beach accesses in an ongoing inventory.
Funding for the effort isn’t specified, but Stewart said this would be strong policy statement memorialized in the county’s work program.
“You have to start somewhere,” she said.
On the other side, draft rules that generally required new developments of five homes to include a public access could be softened by implementing an in-lieu fee program.
The money would be spent on securing shoreline access elsewhere.
The same alternative could also be tailored so a public access is not required at all — only an access for the housing community. Any development with 10 homes or more would require public access, however.
Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who is chairwoman of the board, said Tuesday she hadn’t yet seen all the alternatives but that an in-lieu fee program might make sense.
This process has made it clear the community places a high value on public beach access, but a bunch of road-ends where people only have a few feet of shoreline to enjoy may not be the best solution, she said.
“I don’t think that serves the greater purpose,” Price Johnson said.
Other sticky issues include non-conforming structures. Many during the public meeting process said the definition has been problematic, hindering lending possibilities and making it harder to make changes to older homes.
According to Stewart, a state law does allow flexibility with buildings constructed before existing development standards and the adoption of similar provisions would essentially allow structures to become conforming.
Bulkheads, overwater structures and other shoreline modifications would be exempt.
While the board could adopt the update at the Nov. 5 public hearing, this is a complex planning document that addresses a number of complicated issues, Price Johnson said.
“I expect it will take more than one meeting to get through it,” she said.
Another meeting is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m., Monday, Nov. 19, at the Commissioners Hearing Room in Coupeville.