Cities asked to restrict shoreline development

May 18, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

The federal government has called for stricter environmental standards along Lake Sammamish, prompting protests from officials in Issaquah and other cities along the lake.

The standards — outlined in a March e-mail from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — aim to limit development within 250 feet of the Lake Sammamish shoreline. But municipal officials said the proposed change could limit public agencies and homeowners alike from building along the scenic lake. Even road construction — such as widening East Lake Sammamish Parkway, for instance — might be impacted by the proposal.

Under the proposal, landowners within 250 feet of the lake could not increase a building in size by more than 10 percent. The measure also aims to limit property owners from adding more than 10 percent of paved roads or roofing within the buffer.

The e-mail originated at the FEMA office in Bothell.

Citing a 2008 National Marine Fisheries Service report, the FEMA message recommended broad standards to restrict new development within 250 feet of fish-bearing lakes and tributaries within floodplains across the Puget Sound region.

FEMA prepared the proposed regulations in response to the report. The report said the National Flood Insurance Program influences development along lake shorelines and therefore has a direct impact on shoreline habitat.

The report said several species — including salmon and orca varieties, and a steelhead species — could be jeopardized or impacted if officials did not adopt the shoreline standards.

But the report did not include Lake Sammamish kokanee salmon among the species in trouble, although environmentalists and scientists said development along Lake Sammamish and tributary creeks has pushed the fish to the brink of extinction.

Issaquah and Sammamish officials, alarmed at the possible implications for private and civic development along the lake, pushed back against the proposal.

Issaquah Surface Water Manager Kerry Ritland coordinated the response to FEMA. He described the proposed regulations as “vaguely written” and unnecessarily burdensome to the city permitting center.

Issaquah officials recommended FEMA work with local agencies to tailor existing city codes to meet the goals proposed in the regulation.

Under the proposal, city permitting staff would become responsible for verifying whether projects met federal Endangered Species Act standards — something traditionally left to federal agencies, Ritland said in a separate interview.

The change could add up to new training and a larger workload for city staffers, he added.

“The proposed ordinance that came out from FEMA does not seem very cognizant of what local jurisdictions do and how they address permitting and development,” Ritland continued.

Overlapping regulations

Issaquah already limits development within 200 feet of the lake, Issaquah Creek and the East Fork of Issaquah Creek under the Shoreline Management Program.

Issaquah Environmental Planner Peter Rosen, the force behind the city Shoreline Management Program, said layoffs last year slowed the ongoing update of the regulations in order to comply with state rules.

The city held a public hearing on the proposal in October, and Rosen said he had been unable to work on the project since then. He plans to resume work on the regulations within the next several weeks.

The document has not been updated since officials adopted the standards in 1990.

Sammamish City Manager Ben Yazici shot off a quick reply to the FEMA message.

Yazici said the proposed regulations appeared to prohibit both private citizens and public agencies from building or redeveloping property along Lake Sammamish.

The regulations could also impact plans for the Sammamish Landing and Evans Creek parks.

Yazici said the proposed regulations called for “far more restrictive” limits than the municipal critical areas ordinance or the proposed Shoreline Master Plan.

Sammamish City Council members spent most of last year hashing out policies and code in order to comply with state restrictions meant to protect shoreline habitats.

Yazici also said city code on shoreline building made more sense than broad federal regulations, and should be the accepted alternative.

John Graves, a FEMA senior specialist in the Puget Sound region, said the agency plans to respond to Issaquah, Sammamish and other shoreline cities in early June.

Graves said the proposed regulations would not impact existing structures along Lake Sammamish. The regulations seek to curb additional development, he said.

In a response to FEMA, state Department of Ecology officials said the proposed regulations had been based on a tenuous relationship between areas in danger of flooding and shorelines with endangered aquatic life.

“Except in rare instances, development along marine and lake shorelines occurs entirely out of the flood hazard area,” the Department of Ecology letter states.

The state agency also said the regulations would mean unnecessary flood permits for building along lake shorelines. The new regulations would be “disruptive rather than supportive, of our region’s long-standing commitment to protect habitat,” the letter continues.

J.B. Wogan: 392-6434, ext. 247, or Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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