Shoreline plan update is making headway

County, six cities strive to update development rules near waterways

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

 

A sprawling, coordinated planning effort that aims to reshape development rules around Clark County’s waterways is entering its final stages before going to state authorities for approval.

But more than two years into the process, the Shoreline Master Programs update is still generating plenty of feedback. Organizers are making sure of that.

“My phone’s been ringing off the hook,” said Gordy Euler, a county planner.

The shoreline plans affect close to 370 miles of land along Clark County lakes, rivers and streams. A total of seven jurisdictions — Clark County, plus six incorporated cities — are crafting separate plans with the goal of having them submitted to the state Department of Ecology by Dec. 1. The only jurisdiction not participating is Yacolt, which has no waterways large enough to fall under the planning effort.

To reach out, planners sent several mailings to the more than 5,000 shoreline properties in the county. They also held a long series of open house meetings, with the most recent wave wrapping up this week. At a gathering in Battle Ground on Tuesday, most attendees appeared more curious than concerned.

“I just want to be able to enjoy my property,” said Washougal resident Roger Bergman, who lives along the Washougal River. “I would never want to do anything to hurt the river, or the salmon, or anything else.”

The updated guidelines won’t change much for most residents, Euler said. Existing structures — even if they’re out of compliance under the new rules — are not affected, he said.

The updated plans revolve around three basic goals, Euler said: Putting emphasis on “water-dependent” uses for shoreline areas, promoting public access and protecting shorelines’ natural ecological functions. Most jurisdictions’ shoreline rules haven’t been updated since the 1970s, Euler said. Those were prompted by the state’s Shoreline Management Act of 1971.

Few actions are prohibited outright by the draft plans. Any development under $5,718 doesn’t require a permit, but would still have to follow shoreline rules laid out in the new plan. Other permit exemptions include normal maintenance, emergency construction to prevent property damage and certain watershed restoration projects.

The plans don’t change residential or any other zones, Euler said. Rather, they’ll change how they’re implemented — setting new structures farther back from waterways, for example. Home expansions or new sheds would still be allowed, but may have to be away from the shore, Euler said. The ultimate goal is “no net loss” to ecological function, he said.

Clark County’s jurisdictions worked from a common template plan to craft their own plans. They hoped to achieve more consistency as boundaries change in coming years and decades, Euler said.

“Water doesn’t care where it is,” Euler said. “It doesn’t care what political jurisdiction there is. It’s part of the landscape.”

There are some differences. Most cities’ plans would effectively ban new houseboats, Euler said. But the draft plan for Ridgefield, home of McCuddy’s Ridgefield Marina, will not.

Different cities also have varying rules around their “critical” natural areas, said Marian Lahav, a senior planner with the city of Vancouver. Vancouver also has proposed a larger height requirement for shoreline development than other cities in order to accommodate unique assets like the Port of Vancouver, she said.

Doug Staples owns property near Gee Creek in Ridgefield, which he plans to sell or develop, likely into one home. He said he felt comfortable with that plan after attending Tuesday’s meeting in Battle Ground, and commended planners for attempting to explain a dense set of documents that’s difficult for residents to understand. Vancouver’s draft plan is 271 pages long.

Each city’s planning commission and city council will consider its respective plan in the coming months. Once approved, the plans will be submitted to the state separately.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541 or eric.florip@columbian.com.