It’s long past time to finish up shoreline program

Comparing the 466,400-square-foot Vancouver, B.C., convention center with the Budd Bay Café seems ridiculous on any level. But it illustrates the silliness of Olympia City Council’s endless deliberations over its Shoreline Master Program.

The city’s SMP is already more than two years overdue for submission to the state Department of Ecology. The council’s inability to move ahead follows nearly three years of internal conflict and generally misinterpreting the primary intent of the Shoreline Management Act of 1971 at the city planning commission level.

When the city reined in the planning commission a year ago, it appeared the SMP was finally on the road to adoption. Sadly, the City Council seems equally incapable of finding agreement.

At this week’s meeting, Councilman Nathaniel Jones showed photographs of the Vancouver convention center and compared it with Olympia businesses, such as the Budd Bay Café, that enjoy a zero setback or overhang the waterfront. He showed pictures from Boca Raton, Fla., and other places that were out-of-scale to Olympia’s waterfront.

When other council members tried to curtail such unproductive discussion, Councilwoman Jeannine Roe joined Jones in voting to continue debate over what amounts to fighting state Department of Ecology policy at the local level.

Worse, it appears Jones has joined the forces previously at work on the planning commission trying to insert land use decisions into a policy document meant to take a broader view.

The draconian restrictions that some want included in the city’s SMP would render nonconforming most of the downtown and residential areas along East Bay. This would include the Port of Olympia, the Olympia Yacht Club, Anthony’s Hearthfire restaurant, the Bayview Thriftway, the new Hands On Children’s Museum and even the city’s own recently renovated Percival Landing.

The Shoreline Management Act directs Olympia to use today’s existing waterfront conditions as a baseline for the city’s program, not as a vehicle to restore the shoreline to pre-existing conditions.

In 1970, the Washington Environmental Council collected enough signatures to send Initiative 43 — a measure to protect the environmental resources of state shorelines — to the Legislature. Lawmakers responded with the Shoreline Management Act (SMA) in 1971, which was based on the initiative and required cities and counties to create shoreline management programs consistent with the intent of the SMA.

Council should be working with private businesses and landowners to create waterfront enhancements in exchange for more flexible setbacks. That kind of cooperation will create value for all South Sound residents.

It appears that a council majority views the most recent SMP draft as a version they can support, and more importantly, one the DOE will likely approve. The council has given all interests a fair hearing, and balanced competing interests.

This process should not be allowed to go on forever.