Some on Sammamish City Council don’t like proposed environmental regs

March 13, 2013

By Ari Cetron

New: March 13, 11:16 a.m.

A year of work may not have been enough. The Sammamish Planning Commission just presented the City Council with a package of updated environmental regulations, but at least one councilmember opposed many of the proposals wholesale.

“I think the process was fatally flawed,” said Councilwoman Nancy Whitten.

The regulations, known as the Environmentally Critical Areas update, govern how development can take place in sensitive areas, such as steep slopes or near streams and wetlands.

About three-fourths of the city falls under one part of the regulations or another. For most homeowners, however, there is little or no direct impact to their properties. They might come into play if a person wants to enlarge their home or build a large shed, but generally, the rules will apply to new construction.

The Planning Commission has been studying the package of proposed regulations for more than a year. They developed regulations that often allow “flexibility” when building.

The “flexibility” can take many forms but generally will allow the property owners ways around a strict interpretation of environmental regulations.

Whitten blasted the very concept. The ordinance, she said, exists to protect the environment.

She said that the city needed to be sure the regulations weren’t so restrictive that they amounted to taking a person’s property, but that would not be difficult.

The proposals, she said went too far to protect property rights over the environment.

“All the controversial issues are pro-property rights. They’re not pro-environment,” Whitten said.

Councilman Tom Vance echoed Whitten’s comments.

“We don’t want to see, through this process, a lowering of standards,” Vance said.

Councilman Don Gerend rejected Whitten’s argument. He said that some of the existing regulations may not actually help the environment in the way they are designed to, anyway. He also said regulations should find ways to allow development without harming the environment.

Deputy Mayor Ramiro Valderrama and Councilman John Curley agreed more with Gerend’s take.

Both said that it is important to protect the environment, but that flexibility is important to balance that protection with property rights.

Mayor Tom Odell said he sees aspects to the proposed ordinan-ces he likes and others he doesn’t like. In the end, however, he said he is more likely to come down on the side of the environment.

“We’re supposed to make this place better,” he said.


Pay for the problem

The City Council dove into the specifics of the regulations with a discussion of so-called “fee in lieu mitigation.”

In some situations, a person may want to build a home on a property that is covered by, for example, stream buffers. When that happens, they must first find the place on the property where the new construction would have the least impact. Still, they must find a way to reduce the impact they are having on the nearby stream.

In some cases, the would-be homeowner may not be able to sufficiently reduce that impact enough to meet environmental standards. In these cases, the property owner may be permitted to pay a fee to make up for the work they can’t do.

Evan Maxim, senior planner for Sammamish, estimated this situation would be rare. Even in those cases, he predicted the city would require a fee in the tens of thousands of dollars.

“This is not cheap and easy,” Maxim said.

Whitten was not enamored of the idea. She noted that the commission predicted it would have a negative environmental impact. She was particularly concerned that large developments might be able to make use of the program to build on lots they normally couldn’t.

She asked that the regulations specify they could only be used on single developments, not to subdivisions.

Even if it is just single houses, Whitten fears the cumulative impacts of many of these would end up being high.

She said the city should study if there might be areas so sensitive that they would not allow program there.


Wetland ratios

In the final, noncontroversial item of discussion, the council heard about a proposal for wetland ratios.

In cases where a development disturbs a wetland, the proposal lays out exactly how much a developer would be expected to restore.

The new plan makes clearer what is expected.

The council will continue to study the ordinance in study sessions over the next few months before it holds a public hearing.


Reach Editor Ari Cetron at 392-6434, ext. 233, or

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5 Responses to “Some on Sammamish City Council don’t like proposed environmental regs”

  1. John Galvin, Ph.D. on March 13th, 2013 2:30 pm

    Council members Whitten and Vance are concerned about water quality but seemingly little else. Council woman Whitten lives on Pine lake. All the homes around the lake are still on septic tanks, a big source of pollution. Over 50% of Sammamish homes are still on septic tanks. This is the outcome of low density, rural sprawl.

    I never hear these two and other city leaders address pollution from cars. Nothing is said about the impact of low density, single family development that has an accumulative impact on the environment that is devastating. Decentralized bedroom communities require constant driving and are completely dependent on food and other daily necessities that are shipped from distant places. More negative impact on the environment. How about argo business that is a huge polluter. Never hear them speak up about this.

    Have any of our city council members spoken up against the XL pipe line? Have they talked about fracking and tar sand oil? Have they exhibit concerns about coal trains and dirty coal exports through our ports.

    How walkable is our city? How many more polluting trips on and off the plateau will be needed when Ace Hardware and other of our local business closes due inadequate city policies and regulations.

    How about Whitten and Vance calling for a demonstration outside city hall against our dependence on fossil fuels. They can invite other city council members to pass a city resolution in support of I attended the kick off in Seattle for the campaign to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Next time there is a demonstration I will call Whitten and Vance to join.

    I don’t want to be unfair and pick on them alone. We all are guilty. We need, however, to do more than relieve our sense of guilt with single issue, let the other guy pay policies.

  2. Richard Thomson on March 13th, 2013 11:26 pm

    These restrictions are just a way to steal property.

    If they wanted to put in a right-of-way for a sidewalk, they would have to buy the land.
    If they wanted to expand a park, same, but expanding a right of way for a stream, nope, only the property owner bears the burden that the entire city might benefit from.

    This goes far above and beyond the legal requirement which is to merely “protect” the existing functions and values of the actual critical area. If the critical area (excellent job on the doublespeak by calling it “critical”) is so degraded currently that the work being done on the property will have zero impact on the “critical” area, then, according to the law, no buffers or mitigation should be required. If someone does something that impacts the critical area, they should mitigate it. If they build a shed and the only impact is increased run-off, that can be corrected with the onsite detention or other methods. Buffers, plantings and forced private property set-asides are not required.

    The supreme court (yes, the Washington State Supreme court) put it best: “an individual charged with protecting his friend’s dilapidated automobile discharges that duty despite not refurbishing it. If the car is returned in its same condition, it was protected, but not enhanced”

    What many who want you to pay for their private open space and wildlife preserves do is take your property. They do this by getting enough people to pressure elected officials–mob rules–usually large property owners are outnumbered by those on smaller lots, living on what was once larger lots. If it is illegal for one person to steal your property, it is immoral for a community to steal your property.

    If you want private property set aside as wildlife preserves, buy it. Or tax yourselves to purchase it.

    It is not fair that a person has their property (that was sold to them by the government without restrictions) taken by the government in exchange to merely use the property that the gov. sold to them in the first place.

    Private property is the fundamental right of America.

  3. Concerned Citizen on March 14th, 2013 10:21 am

    The media always likes to stir controversy. Ms Whitten is good at getting the pot stirred. How about investigating the claims Ms. Whitten makes. If you do you will find they are prejudicial and unjustified by science and technology. As an example, the idea of comparing an isolated wetland at Pine Lake Park, where the city really blew the protection by failing to meet today’s standards, with Isolated wetlands where protections will be enforced is absurd. And to base you entire opinion on something like this demonstrates the extreme and unfounded bias Ms. Whitten has. She also told us she represents the environment. No, Ms Whitten, you represent the citizens, all of the citizens.

  4. Some on Sammamish City Council don't like proposed … | ydoturusyc on March 15th, 2013 12:16 am
  5. James Rushing on April 12th, 2013 12:17 am

    I can completely understand the need for protecting the environment. I drive an electric car, etc. Although when you chose to harm your own constituents to protect blackberry bushes, or nothing at all then it’s gone too far. I am so tired of these officials who blindly follow the current Politically Correct fads to make themselves feel superior (and get votes) while destroying innocent people’s lives.

    The real question here is a matter of harm. No one has bothered to ask the question, are these regulations causing more harm to the community than then perceived benefit to the environment. Blindly drawing lines on a map is ridiculous. Each application should be evaluated individually. If there is no impact to the wetland area then there should be no restriction.
    This arrogant council does not realize the harm that they are causing to the citizens of Sammamish when they make even a small change to the restrictions. People lose their retirement homes, people lose their life savings, just to prevent some “perceived” damage to the environment that does not have to be justified or validated. When you just blindly draw 75-150 foot lines around every wet area in WASHINGTON you are taking a lot of peoples land.

    Yet they continue this legalized robbery without proving it’s having any positive impact to the environment, wildlife or water quality. That’s the point.. they haven’t even DEFINED a goal. When your stated mission is to “Protect the environment over people” where does it end? How much of our resources should you take, how much of our land will you need, how many peoples lives will you destroy in the process?

    After all this, do you have ANY IDEA if these smothering intrusive policies have had any positive impact on the environment? Enough to justify the lives you’ve destroyed and the people you’ve bankrupted?

    If the council chooses to protect blackberry bushes over it’s own citizens rights, then we need to remember that these are elected officials and there will be another election… we need to make sure we remember who is on the side of the citizens and who is not.

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