Planning Commission stamp of approval expected on SMP update, June 21

Another major part of San Juan County's update of its comprehensive plan and the 1971 Shoreline Management Act is winding its way toward completion.

The county originally enacted the Shoreline Management Program in 1998 and is required by state law to update that program to bring it into compliance with the 2003 amendments to the state Shoreline Management Act.

In addition, the county is required to incorporate applicable critical areas protections such as those included in the Critical Areas Ordinances enacted by the council in 2012 and now being contested by several legal appeals.

County land-use planners and the appointed Planning Commission have been preparing the update, which is paid for by the state, since 2010.

Because the budget allocation for the county plan ends with the expiration of the current budget, the deadline is June 30, 2013, Planning Coordinator Shirene Hale has said that deadline will not be met. Funds to finish the SMP have been included in the budget now under consideration in the special session of the legislature.

County Planner Colin Maycock said the overall goal of the update is to simplify and make the county plan consistent with itself and with the amended state law, including standardizing terms and amending specific regulatory provisions.

The planning commission has proposed amendments to residential development regulations, including standards for subdivisions and for permits for both conforming and non-conforming uses. Land division criteria are being changed, including making the former "common area" mandate for new subdivision optional. The maximum height limits are being revised, as are provisions dealing with bulkheads, docks and "ports and marine transport areas."

The county plan does not affect shorelines within Friday Harbor; the town has completed its own plan, which is scheduled for final action in the coming weeks.

On May 30 and 31, the planning commission completed a final section-by-section review of draft regulations. The commission will now draft a set of "findings," and a final meeting has been scheduled for June 21 to approve the findings and transmit the package to the County Council for its review and approval.

Consideration and action of the package by the council, including public hearings and testimony, is expected later this summer, but final action may be delayed until after the Growth Management Hearings Board issues its decision, expected in September, on appeals contesting the critical areas ordinances enacted by the council late last year.

The state Department of Ecology has the final say on the SMP, and may require the plan to be amended so that it conforms to the shoreline management act and to the critical areas ordinances.

Because the CAO is being appealed to the Growth Management Hearings Board, final action on the SMP may have to await completion of those appeals and any court cases that may follow.

The SMP as finally enacted by the Council can also be appealed to the growth board and the courts.

— Steve Wehrly


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