Flawed Olympia shoreline plan process nearing an end

It’s seems almost unbelievable, but the Olympia City Council appears poised to bring its Shoreline Management Program process to close, possibly by October. It took a six-hour council meeting last week to set this stage, but what else could the public expect from a planning process that has now stretched over five years?

The City Council and the city’s planning commission deserve blame for making the SMP process longer and more divisive than necessary. A little self-examination about what went wrong with the SMP could pay dividends in the future.

Despite the flawed process, City Council appears to have arrived at an agreeable document to submit for approval by the state Department of Ecology.

Given the history of the SMP process, we hesitate to ascribe any finality to the directions given to staff last week regarding the final wording of the roughly 100-page document. When it comes to the SMP, anything could happen between now and the scheduled Oct. 1 vote.

Last week’s meeting was, after all, the 29th City Council meeting on the topic, by our count, which doesn’t include planning commission or other meetings.

City Council’s changes to the last version of the plan should satisfy the concerns of the Thurston County Chamber, yacht clubs and marinas and affected downtown property owners. The Port of Olympia seems generally pleased, too, pending its full review of the final document.

It also should appease those, such as the Friends of the Waterfront, who pressed council not to allow zero setbacks.

Commercial interests and some council members had argued for setback flexibility, which was removed with most of the council agreeing that the revised setbacks and relaxed vegetation requirements are consistent with best available science and the existing developed condition of most of Olympia’s Budd Inlet waterfront.

The latest revision also should allow existing homes and businesses to be repaired, restored and remodeled without shoreline permitting, even in the event of catastrophic destruction. Earlier versions of the plan didn’t allow this, but the recent Oyster House fire shows the importance of that provision.

This provides certainty for iconic over-water structures — such as Tugboat Annies, Anthony’s, Budd Bay and the Olympia Yacht Club. It also means covered moorage at the yacht club can remain and be rebuilt, if necessary.

It’s a reasonable and fair provision, which also benefits the city at large. Without the guarantee of restoration, nonconforming structures are likely to fall into disrepair and become community eyesores, because obtaining permits to maintain would have been made difficult.

Of course, it’s not over until it’s over. There’s a final City Council review of its final changes Sept. 17. Then the plan goes to the Department of Ecology for formal acceptance, which could take up to another year.