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Property owners concerned over shoreline buffer

Owning a home on the water can be a dream come true. However, land acquisition and use isn’t as cut and dry as one may think. For example, property development along the shore of Lake Tapps is partially restricted by a Shoreline Management Plan (SMP). State law requires SMPs to be reevaluated and updated every eight years. To comply with the Department of Ecology, Pierce County has proposed an updated SMP that has many property owners worried.

There was a Nov. 14 community meeting at Dieringer Heights Elementary School organized by Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, to discuss the issue and how it may affect property owners along the lake, as well as recreational visitors. Approximately 200 homeowners attended the meeting.

About 18 percent of the properties along the shore fall under the city of Bonney Lake’s SMP, which is utilizing a shoreline setback to provide an area of conservation from the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) along the shore. The 60 foot setback — including a 20 foot reduction allowance in some instances — will allow for minor landscaping and simple structures, such as a dock, to be built within its boundaries. Homes that were legally established before the new SMP adoption will not be required to meet the updated dimensions.

The City Council will evaluate the draft SMP at the council workshop Dec. 3 and the council meeting Dec. 10. After evaluation, it will be sent to the DOE for approval.

However, the remaining land — approximately 82 percent — is covered under Pierce County’s SMP which includes a less flexible buffer, as opposed to a setback. The current draft proposes a 50 foot buffer, with no provision for reduction. The current recommendation allows for 25 percent reduction in the buffer to accommodate shoreline access, landscaping and minor construction.

Many people, including members of the Lake Tapps Community Council (LTCC), worry that the DOE will continue to increase the restrictive regulations, impeding the rights of property owners along the lake.

"Counties and cities are being forced by state law and the Department of Ecology to adopt shoreline management plans that put severe restrictions on property owners" said Pierce County Councilman Dan Roach. "When a government takes away property rights and devalues land, it should be viewed as a 'taking', and property owners should be compensated.”

Land owners affected by the SMP may be eligible for a property tax reduction under tax relief programs such as the Open Space-Public Benefit Rating System, authorized by RCW 84.34, according to Bonney Lake Senior Planner Jason Sullivan.

The DOE was unable to be reached for comment but according to the city of Bonney Lake, shoreline management plans are put in place to protect and preserve the habitat in question. Essentially, the question comes down to this: At what point does the DOE’s responsibility to be stewards of the environment impede with the rights of property owners?

Best intentions aside, there are still some who don’t believe the DOE has any business dictating how privately owned land can be utilized. Allowing residents to do as they please will likely improve the land and not damage it, said LTCC President Chuck Romeo.

“First of all what is the benefit of what they are proposing? When I bought my lot in 1965 it was overgrown with brush, dead trees and the lakefront was full of debris consisting of garbage and leaves and much more. I had my lot bulldozed and cleared, planted grass, put in a waterfall and pulled the garbage out of the lake and it looks a hell of (a lot) better now than when it was natural. In the years that I have lived here the lake and lakefront has never looked better. Like they say if it ain’t broke, leave it alone. I cannot see anything positive to what they are proposing,” Romeo said.

Concerned residents can contact Councilman Dan Roach — droach@co.pierce.wa.us or 253-798-3635 — for more information on upcoming meetings, citizen groups and regular updates.

Contact Sen. Pam Roach at pam.roach@leg.wa.gov.

More information can also be found online at www.laketappsnews.org under the “Shoreline Management” category.

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