Some organizations have spread fear about what you will be able to do with your property under the proposed Critical Areas Ordinance.
In reality, the proposed buffers will generally be the same or smaller than current wetland buffers.
For a parcel draining to a wetland with the highest sensitivity rating, you would only have the largest buffer if you paved your entire property, excluding the buffer, with asphalt or concrete.
Green development options and reduced buffer sizes in the Urban Growth Areas would make development more flexible.
To understand the impact of the proposed buffers, Councilor Rich Peterson arranged field trips to properties owned by concerned citizens. One property’s buffer would be the same size as the current wetland buffer.
The other property’s wetland buffer would be at least 10 feet less than the current buffer width of 75 feet. Along the shoreline, one property owner could build on their preferred site under the proposed regulations.
For a second shoreline parcel, the house could be sited closer to the water than the current setback of 50 feet. Pruning of trees in buffers for view enhancement and fire fuel reduction would be allowed under the proposed regulations.
Visiting real properties allayed the concerns of the property owners that the CAO Update would interfere with their plans.
Over time, buffer sizes have been shrinking as the CAO Update has progressed from the Planning Commission and through the County Council. The newest draft is filled with the phrases, “To allow property owners to maximize the use of their land…” and “To provide property owners with maximum flexibility in the use of their land…”
What follows are uses that will compromise the functions of wetlands and their buffers. For example, septic systems would be permitted in both wetlands and their buffers.
See page 55, part w of the August 21, 2012 draft wetlands ordinance 2012-8-6 at: www.sanjuanco.com/cao/documents.aspx
Along our shorelines many houses could be sited closer to the water under the proposed regulations. The current regulations are a 50-foot setback with screening by trees or a 100-foot setback without trees between the house and the shoreline.
Current shoreline setbacks measure from the "top of the bank," but the proposed regulations measure the buffer from the "Ordinary High Water Mark."
Because the “Ordinary High Water Mark” is closer to the water than the "top of the bank," houses could be sited closer to the water than currently permitted.
For parcels without trees to screen the house, our views of the shoreline from the water would become increasingly cluttered.
The proposed Critical Areas Ordinance Update would not result in buffers that are larger than our existing wetland buffers except in unusual cases, such as paving most of a parcel with asphalt or concrete. Buffers should be undisturbed areas with native vegetation.
But the numerous activities permitted in buffers by the proposed Critical Area Ordinance update interfere with buffer function and fail to protect our valuable Critical Areas.
Janet Alderton Orcas Island