City ordered to revise critical areas ordinance

Published on Thu, Jun 3, 2010 by By Tara Nelson

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Following a hearing by the state growth management hearings board, the city of Blaine will be required to make several revisions to its critical areas ordinance.

The decision comes after an October appeal by Bellingham-based environmental advocacy group RE Sources, which challenged the city’s use of best available science in determining its regulations for wetland buffers.
While the board approved the ordinance overall last March, it later called for several revisions to the code related to accessory dwelling units and remodels, stormwater facilities, exemptions and the requirement for “best available science” as a standard for developing buffers.

RE Sources lead scientist Wendy Steffensen said the decision was a step in the right direction in preserving important wetland areas, as she believed the previous regulations didn’t rely heavily enough on best available science.

Washington state requires cities and counties to review their development regulations every seven years as part of the GMA. That includes the revision of critical areas regulations and the requirement that counties and cities use the best available science in developing policies to protect environmentally sensitive areas.

Steffensen added that Blaine’s wetland buffers were “already small” compared to other municipalities in the county and that reducing them more would “basically do away with them.”

“On the whole, we’re very happy,” she said. “Blaine staff made five changes based on the growth management hearings board decision and, on the whole, we’re very happy with those changes.”

Blaine planning director Michael Jones said those changes include:
• Reducing an allowance for remodels or accessory structures to be built within wetland buffers and requiring a critical areas study according to best available science.
• Eliminating a “reasonable use exception” because it was found to be non-compliant because of the use of certain language such as “to the maximum extent practicable” and replacing it with a state model code.
• Reducing allowances for buffer reductions of 40 and 60 percent to 25 percent recommended by the Washington state Department of Ecology.
• Clarifying requirements for regulations to reference best available science for mitigation for buffer reduction.
• Changes in allowances for stormwater management.

Jones said planning commissioners have submitted a revised ordinance to Blaine City Council based on the new directives. The council is scheduled to make a decision on the revisions during their next meeting June 14.
If the council votes no, Steffensen said they could face more legal challenges.

“If the city council doesn’t approve this, that would mean they wouldn’t be compliant with state law,” she said.