The city of Ocean Shores has begun the final steps toward adopting a complete updated overhaul to its Shoreline Master Plan under a lengthy process that has gone through the city’s Planning Commission with assistance from the state Department of Ecology, which must approve the final product.
The City Council late last month held a special study session on the Shoreline Master Plan (SMP) with members of the Planning Commission and city staff members Alicia Bridges and Linda Whitcher. The Planning Commission then was meeting Tuesday (March 14) to review the plan and final update before the council is expected to ratify it later this spring.
The update is tied to the Shoreline Management Act of 1971.
“This really doesn’t change what we have now because we have a Shoreline Master Plan in place, it’s just really old,” said Mayor Crystal Dingler.
The update, however, does include some new shoreline designations that have been likened to a zoning code that regulates future development along the city’s shorelines. The changes, however, are not retroactive and existing development is not affected.
Under the designations, shorelines within Ocean Shores are listed as shoreline residential, conservation or natural areas.
The SMP applies to the ocean and Harbor, as well as lakes, rivers, streams, and dry lands extending 200 feet landward from the high-water mark. It also includes floodways and associated wetlands.
The updated plan includes recommendations from the Department of Ecology and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, among other agencies. The city has to undergo the process of doing the updating, and then DOE must approve it before it goes into effect.
New to the plan is the concept that there be “no net loss” of shoreline habitat in any new project that is considered, as well as a plan for restoration that will be implemented.
The plan begins with an inventory and analysis to establish a baseline of shorelines and shoreline functions, along with existing conditions, uses and public access.
Council members had questions about the various setback regulations that would apply to future construction, with most setbacks tied to the distance from the regular high-water mark. Whitcher explained that measurements on housing setbacks are measured from the foundation of a home under the SMP.
“We want to get a feel for how this will work,” Dingler said.
Once the plan is adopted, someone wanting to add on to an existing structure or build along one of the designated shoreline areas would have to follow the new SMP and its restrictions on building too close to the water’s edge, Whitcher said.
“None of the other setbacks are going to change,” she said. “You still need your building permit, your water and sewer permits are still going to be the same.”
For ocean-front properties, the plan is intended to protect the dunes and “life and property by keeping people as far away from the ocean as we can,” Whitcher said. The Department of Ecology recommended no construction should be allowed within 200 feet of the ordinary high-water mark. That standard was set, she said, “because the erosion on the ocean is volatile.”
Variances can be granted, but they must be approved by a hearing examiner, who holds a hearing before reaching a decision, Whitcher added.
For existing homes and structures, maintenance and repair is always allowed under the updated SMP, she noted. For example, a dock can be repaired even if it exceeds size limits under the new regulations. If it were to be replaced entirely, the dock would have to conform to the new rules.
Bulkheads will still be allowed, but they must include an application with a shoreline permit, depending upon where the bulkhead is to be located, Bridges said.
Councilwoman Holly Plackett wanted reaffirmation that the SMP wouldn’t affect the city’s plans to build an outer dunes trail for public access as well as firefighting access.
In fact, the plan specifically allows for the construction of “environmentally sensitive trails and boardwalks,” and the policy is to “improve access of fire response in the dunes through construction of a trail or boardwalk.”
The Shoreline Master Plan is on the city of Ocean Shores’ website.