State growth hearings board rejects Everett's shoreline plan
EVERETT, WA -- A state board handed down a decision Thursday that could require city officials to rewrite portions of their landmark shoreline master plan because it fails to protect enough fragile wetlands and wildlife habitat.
The Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board targeted three sections of the plan, saying they didn't go far enough to safeguard Everett's waterfront areas.
The city's plan, which was approved by the Everett City Council in April, governs the future use and development of the city's shoreline properties.
In July, a citizen's group, the Everett Shorelines Coalition, joined forces with the Tulalip Tribes and the Washington Environmental Council to file a complaint with the Growth Management Hearings Board challenging the shoreline plan.
Those three groups charged that the plan failed to adequately protect five environmentally sensitive areas: the Maulsby mud flats on the western waterfront; Smith and Spencer islands to the north; and the Marshland site and the former Simpson mill property along the Snohomish River to the east. Those areas are home to 500 acres of wetlands, chinook salmon habitat and osprey populations.
The board said the city's land-use designations for the Marshland area and Smith and north Spencer islands do not provide enough protection for wetlands and wildlife, said Tom Geiger, outreach director of the Washington Environmental Council.
Everett planning director Paul Roberts called it a "mixed decision."
The city's plan is a groundbreaking attempt to integrate two state statutes that don't always mesh -- the Growth Management Act and the Shoreline Management Act, Roberts said.
The growth act governs the development of urban and rural areas. The Shoreline Management Act governs the development of land located within 200 feet of the state's waters. Under state law, the city's plan had to comply with both statutes, Roberts said.
"The state board recognized that this was an extraordinary effort. Trying to combine the Growth Management Act and the Shoreline Act was a challenge. They understand it is new ground, and we understand that as well."
"Under the Shoreline Act, the board largely upheld the city's plan, in particular the designations regarding the Maulsby mud flats, the Simpson property and the main stem of the Snohomish River," Roberts said.
"As I read it, the board is asking us (the city) to take a more critical look at the wetland and habitat functions," he said.
The city has 60 days to appeal the board's decision in Superior Court. Roberts said it is too early to know whether the city will appeal the findings. "That decision is made by the City Council and the mayor," he said.
Board members called the Everett case unique because it was the first time they had to use both the Growth Management Act and the Shoreline Management Act to evaluate a single plan.
The city's shoreline plan, which had not been revised since 1976, received approval from the state Department of Ecology and the City Council.
Libby Johnson, Everett Shorelines Coalition chairwoman, said her group would be looking over the 90-page document in the next few days. Copies of the decision were issued at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Johnson said the coalition was pleased with the board's decision.
"We are pleased that certain shoreline areas in Everett, including the Marshland site and north Smith and Spencer islands, must be afforded more protective environmental designations," she said.
"The five areas that we challenged should have more protective designations. The city's plan is too permissive. It permits development that would impact critical areas."
The Marshland site is a case in point, she said.
"The city gave it a designation of conservancy recreation -- they were talking about locating a golf course and soccer fields there. Those types of activities would have a serious impact on the area's potential fish habitat," Johnson said.
"High-intensity recreation should not go there. It's a flood plain," she said. "We asked for preservation and restoration of fish habitat, and the board supported our appeal."
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