Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Existing single-family homes ‘grandfathered’ under state shoreline laws

Under Whatcom County’s Shoreline Master Program, this existing single-family residence on Lummi Island was allowed to expand (to the right) through an administrative conditional use permit. Whatcom County required the existing vegetative buffer area at the top of the bluff be retained.

By Gordon White, Program Manager, Ecology Shorelands & Environmental Assistance Program

Thank you to those who replied to my December 17, 2009, blog titled “Truth about ‘non-conforming’ shoreline structures.” I deeply appreciate hearing your concerns and perspectives. Our coastal, marine, river and lake shorelines help unite Washington and touch everyone. We need a healthy dialogue in order to define a shared vision for managing one of our most precious resources.

It has been about 30 years – an entire generation – since most local governments have comprehensively modernized their shoreline regulations or “shoreline master programs” to meet the needs of today’s population, growth and development conditions, and state environmental protection requirements. It’s only natural for citizens to have questions and concerns about how changes to a local shoreline program may affect their home and future development in their community.

New shoreline regulations aren’t retroactive

My Dec. 17 blog spurred some questions about existing single-family homes and whether single-family homes might be limited under any new local shoreline regulations. I want to clearly state that any new local shoreline regulations that go into effect aren’t retroactive under the state Shorelines Management Act. This means existing single-family homes can be maintained and repaired — and in many cases enlarged or expanded because they are grandfathered under the law. The only exception would be if a family’s health and well-being is at risk because their current home is located in an unstable, unsafe and hazardous location.

Whatcom County experience

For instance, Whatcom County adopted their shoreline master program in 2008 using Ecology’s new shoreline guidelines. Since then, the county has received more than 20 applications to make improvements to an existing home, including making additions and building garages. Every homeowner’s permit request was approved and issued in a timely manner.

Get involved in local efforts

Right now, more than 100 Washington towns, cities, and counties are in the process of updating their local shoreline regulations. The state Shoreline Management Act requires that as part of revising their local shoreline master program, towns, cities and counties engage their citizens and address their concerns. I sincerely encourage everyone who has an interest in shaping the future of waterfront development, uses, and protection to get involved.

For more information, including a “Frequently Asked Questions” regarding Ecology’s role in shoreline management and helping local governments modernize their shoreline master programs, please visit our Shorelines Management Web site.

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