Major changes in regulating Mercer Island’s roughly 800 waterfront properties are proposed in the form of mostly tighter shoreline restrictions for building along Lake Washington.
The ’s Planning Commission set a second public hearing for 7:30 p.m., March 16 at City Hall to update to the City’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP), which guides regulations on the location and size of docks and other development close to the shoreline. The hearing is part of an ongoing process that began in 2009 and over the course of 27 Planning Commission meetings, an open house and public hearing last year has developed a Draft Shoreline Master Program. The draft SMP can be found here.
The primary changes to existing SMP rules include a reduction on the permitted size of a newly constructed dock from 600 to 480 square feet (alternative sizes for docks can be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife); restrictions on new or expanded bulkheads; and increased shoreline vegetation standards for new development. On the other hand, the city is also proposing loosening restrictions on the spacing of docks and covered moorage from a minimum of 35 feet down to 20 feet; and allowances given to docks and waterfront structures in need of maintenance and repair to remain legally non-conforming — effectively retaining their “grandfathered” status.
The update also recognizes the City’s wealth of public access to the shoreline via its SMP Policies and Restoration Plan, which identifies and recommends future shoreline ecological restoration opportunities along publicly owned shoreline, including Luther Burbank Park, Groveland Beach Park, Clark Beach Park, and public street ends. It is through these future public opportunities and updated development standards that the City is poised to meet the new State law, and provide balance to private property rights, the shoreline’s ecological functions, and public access.
Mercer Island’s current SMP has been in effect since the early 1970s, following the State Legislature passing and voters adopting the State’s Shoreline Management Act of 1971, which requires all cities and counties to develop regulations for properties within 200 feet of the shoreline. The update is the result of a change in State law, which requires all master programs to be updated with consideration given to shoreline ecological functions. Mercer Island’s update seeks to addresses the new state law requirements through revised policies and development standards for items such as allowed shoreline uses, docks, bulkheads, shoreline vegetation, and building setback requirements.
City officials hope to bring the SMP to City Council for approval in April, and final review and approval of the City’s SMP will be by the Washington State Department of Ecology.