Shoreline Master Program | Does it remove uncertainty or increase it?

  • Thu Jan 4th, 2018 12:35pm
  • Life

By Merri Ann Simonson

As you may or may not be aware, the County Council has recently adopted updates to the Shoreline Master Program (SMP), with the new regulations effective on October 30, 2017. Although the new regulations apply to all shoreline development, the focus of this article will be on regulations related to residential development in the County.

I recently had the pleasure of processing a waterfront transaction where my clients had numerous questions about what they could change on the property to make the home suitable to them. We were able to process a Residential Pre Application (RPA) at the County and obtain the answers to my client’s questions. It was a very positive experience if you don’t take into consideration the added expense. Some of the questions and issues that we had and what I learned are listed below:


If the development (typically a single-family residence and/or associated accessory buildings) on the property are closer to the top of bank or ordinary high water mark than allowed by current regulations, the structure(s) are considered “non-conforming.” Generally the current regulation is 100 feet. Another common condition that creates non-conformity is if the width of the structure(s) occupies more than 50 percent of the lot width at the seaward face of the structure(s). Setbacks and lot width coverage regulations have enough variation depending on the individual parcel that assessment is needed on a case-by-case basis. There are additional conditions that can relegate structure(s) and/or use(s) to a non-conforming status, but the 2 listed above are the most common.

If the property has structures that are non-conforming, then proposed new development, expansion and/or repairs, the following steps are necessary:

The structure may be moved, replaced, redeveloped, expanded or otherwise modified on the same parcel provided this work is consistent with the provisions listed below:

The application must demonstrate that the proposed action will not:

1. Result in a net loss of shoreline ecological functions;

2. Increase adverse impacts on the shoreline critical areas;

3. Create a new non-conformance or increase the degree of inconsistency with provisions of this SMP; or

4. Results in hazard to people or property.

In order to demonstrate no net loss of shoreline ecological functions, the application must provide an analysis that addresses any:

A. Increase in the quantity of pollutants from the site;

B. Increase in the quantity of surface runoff from the site;

C. Decrease in trees and other vegetation within buffers and tree protection zones;

D. Decrease in the stability of the site and other properties; and

E. Changes to the transport of sediment to and within nearshore areas.

I confirmed that each analysis report prepared to demonstrate compliance would have a validity period of around 5 years unless regulations change. As my clients plan to make the improvements to the property within the next 3 years, the studies and reporting they had done when contemplating their purchase will carry over to their permit application.

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