More than a year’s worth of scientific research, evaluations by the Planning Commission and often heated debate between landowners and environmentalists reached a conclusion Tuesday night in Sammamish.
In its sixth session of discussing and amending rules and regulations, the City Council finalized a new Environmental Critical Areas ordinance with five of the seven members in favor.
“Call it a compromise rather than a consensus to help citizens both that own property and those concerned about the environment,” said councilmember John James, one of the five who reluctantly voted in favor. “I can live with the fact that it’s better than it was before and if we go back to what we have today … it will all be for not.”
The exact wording and code still needs to get the final stamp of approval at Sammamish’s July 15 City Council meeting, but it is essentially a done deal.
A hot topic in the ECA revolved around pilot programs that would allow landowners to build in areas previously off limits because of environmental concerns — areas like streams, wetlands and terrain prone to erosion, like hillsides.
Landowners and potential developers wanted looser regulations, while environmentalists wanted to deny the programs all together.
The council decided to fall in the middle, allowing restricted No Disturbance Area pilot programs.
“We are moving forward with pilots that did not exist previously here, we are going to be limited in scale, but we will still be able to test them, measure them and have some best available science we can hang our hat on,” Deputy Mayor Ramiro Valderrama said.
Under the regulations, the number of proposed programs is limited to four projects. Two of those projects will be tested using two different methods of stormwater disposal and when they’ve proven there’s no environmental failures, two more would be allowed.
Mayor Tom Odell admits he wasn’t fond of the pilot programs and several other aspects of the ECA, but conceded it will be a good opportunity to test previously banned projects.
“I hope we don’t find out some number of months or years down the road we made a horrible mistake here,” he said.
Councilmembers Don Gerend and Nancy Whitten opposed the approval of the ECA for separate reasons.
“I put the sunset clause in so we would address certain issues and what we’ve done is skipped over those issues and zeroed in on some other issues,” Gerend said. “I’m really disappointed in the product.”
Whitten was frustrated with the process of the ECA.
“I have a lot of angst around this,” she said. “I think the process is flawed when they decided to weigh property rights against the environment, I don’t think that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”
When officially approved, the new ECA ordinance will be good for 10 years.