Would Burien shoreline appeals turn into another third runway fight?
Ready for another lengthy legal battle like the one over the third runway?
That's what it might take if the city of Burien and its Puget Sound shoreline residents want to retain a 20-foot setback requirement.
The city of Burien and the state Department of Ecology (DOE) are at an impasse over the city's proposed Shoreline Master Plan.
The state DOE has rejected elements of the city's shore plan approved by the City Council that allow for a 20-foot building setback from the average high water mark. The state agency is insisting on a minimum 50-foot buffer and an additional 15-foot setback for new development along the Sound shoreline.
Burien's shoreline advisory committee and Planning Commission recommended the larger buffer and setback. The City Council approved a narrower requirement. The DOE has agreed that a smaller buffer would be OK in areas where neighboring houses are closer than the requirement.
Responding to comments by Councilman Gordon Shaw at the July 11 council meeting, Burien City Manager Mike Martin declared that "under no circumstances" would DOE accept the city's 20-foot setback requirement.
DOE also rejected Burien's ban on outside watercraft on Lake Burien if public access to the lake is approved.
Martin and city staff met with DOE's Geoff Talent and Tom Clingman on June 20 to discuss the city's May 23 letter rejecting changes required by DOE. According to Martin, they wanted to know if there were any changes in Burien's position. Martin reported there was no change.
DOE must approve the city's plan before it goes into effect. The state Growth Management Act requires that each city have a master plan in place.
DOE critics have suggested legislation or a court ruling could overturn DOE's requirements.
The appeals process is long and complicated.
According to Martin, when DOE rejects Burien's plan again, the decision can be appealed first to the state Growth Management Hearings Board and then through the courts. Third runway appeals went as far as the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. After exhausting any appeal processes for the shoreline plan, then DOE would begin a state rulemaking process to adopt an SMP for Burien, Martin noted.
At the council meeting, Shaw said his philosophical side says Burien should tell DOE "to pound sand."
But his businessman side tells him not to get involved in a legal battle if he doesn't have to.
Shaw said he hated to use the word "negotiate," but he wanted to know if it was possible to find common ground with DOE.
Martin replied that DOE would not accept a 20-foot setback.
"I'm not happy with the whole process," Shaw declared.
Councilman Jack Block labeled the higher setback supported by DOE as "an arbitrary number," not supported by scientific evidence.
Deputy Mayor Brian Bennett, who was on the planning commission during the review process, countered that a number of scientifically oriented people served on the advisory committee.
"You may disagree with them but you should acknowledge an appreciation of their work," Bennett concluded.