Kirkland continues Shoreline Master Program update discussions

An update to the program is required every eight years.

The Kirkland City Council at its Feb. 4 meeting continued discussions around potential amendments to the Shoreline Master Program (SMP).

Final considerations will be made at council’s March 3 meeting.

The SMP is responsible for establishing regulations for new properties sitting within 200 feet of the ordinary high water mark of Lake Washington. It also affects lake-adjacent wetlands such as Juanita Bay, Forbes Valley and Yarrow Bay. The program intends to regulate preferred use, ecological protections and public access.

Every eight years, it is mandated by the state’s Shoreline Management Act that the city have a periodic review of the program to ensure that it is up to date. Washington’s Department of Ecology (DOE) ultimately has final approval authority over Kirkland’s SMP and its amendments, according to meeting documents.

At the Feb. 4 meeting, the council went over nine proposed amendments to the SMP, termed items in the presentation by planning supervisor Christian Geitz. Geitz led the discussion and highlighted recommended actions from the city’s planning commission (PC) and the Houghton Community Council (HCC).

Council was then given the option to adopt the recommendations from the PC/HCC, stick with the current code or make adjustments to the PC/HCC recommendations based on city staff opinion.

While making updates, staff depends on, according to Geitz, the “best available science” via data from agencies including the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, DOE, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Water Resource Inventory Area 8.

Geitz said the city is reliant on supplemental studies as Kirkland doesn’t have biologists on staff.

“We do the same thing with other codes that we establish…We rely on those,” Geitz said. “We rely on those white papers and reports.”

Amendment areas addressed during the meeting’s SMP discussion included pier length, ell depth, moorage buoy options, administrative approval changes, boat lift allowance increases, non-conforming over-water structure rules, boat ramp regulations, a potential new code addition of pier bumpers and an amendment to possibly provide an added incentive to remove bulkheads.

Before the council discussion, three representatives from the newly formed Kirkland Sensible Shorelines Coalition (KSSC) — a group that is challenging some of the proposed changes — spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

KSSC board member Bryan Loveless, who lives on Lake Washington, shared that the group recently made a petition available for community members to show their support of the KSSC’s efforts. As of the Feb. 4 meeting, it had garnered more than 120 signatures.

Loveless expressed concern about peer approval permitting processes, dock-size restrictions and boathouses. He also voiced a desire for councilmembers to consider changes down the road based on “actual, applicable science.” Loveless noted that the KSSC has engaged biologist Brad Thiele, who owns Northwest Environmental Consulting, and land-use attorney Charles Klinge, to look further into the group’s concerns. Both Thiele and Klinge have expressed concerns with the city.

“Ultimately, this is about fairness,” Loveless said. “Many of the current regulations were implemented with little — if any — public input, and now there are more changes being proposed, which represent further restrictions of property rights using, at best, suspect science. What are being characterized by city staff as minor changes are anything but minor. These changes are too impactful for too many residents for the council to make a decision on without proper consideration of applicable science.”

KSSC president Dick Sandaas also spoke. He too invoked concerns about the scientific data being used to support the potential changes, noting that a lot of what is on the current SMP website, for instance, is not relevant to the ecology of the Kirkland shoreline.

“The bottom line: rather than using an array of titles that seem relevant but are not, use data that is applicable to Kirkland’s shoreline for this SMP update,” Sandaas said.

KSSC co-president Ken Davidson said during his testimony that the SMP update should include ideas for amendments in collaboration with stakeholders, too.

When it was time for council discussion, Councilmember Toby Nixon highlighted some concerns during talks on item No. 1 (pier length).

“I believe the city should only consider infringing on people’s property rights when there are objectively negative impacts on others — and others can be public property, can be the commons,” Nixon said, adding, “I’m not convinced on this issue, or any of the issues, that we have enough information to demonstrate that those negative impacts existed and need to be remedied. That’s not only with the currently proposed changes but with a number of things that are in the 2011 code. I therefore agree with the shoreline stakeholders that more work is needed.”

Nixon noted that rather than go through potential amendments one by one, he would prefer that the city reopens the public process and listens to what shoreline stakeholders have to say, expanding on concerns that have been heard via petitions and letters.

“I would just take the time to get it right,” he said.

The first item discussed revolved around single-family pier length. Currently, the code requires that a pier be 150 feet at maximum, and that it not harm navigation. The PC/HCC recommend a continuation of the 150-foot rule but that language be included to clarify when a variance is needed. A motion was ultimately unanimously passed that directs staff to make the language clearer in the update.

The second item concerns ell depth and location. An ell is a perpendicular piece of decking or dock that projects off a walkway. In Kirkland, it currently cannot be more than six feet wide and 26 feet long.

This means that as it stands, a pier owner isn’t allowed to have an ell unless they meet these depth requirements. Councilmembers voted unanimously to adopt the PC/HCC recommendation — to eliminate the depth standard and embed the depth standard within a proposed pier length instead.

“The primary benefit of the amendment eliminates the confusion between length and depth standards, providing clear direction to applicants on the submittal of a permit and city staff on the administration of the code,” meeting documents state. “The amendment does not change the allowed length, width, or maximum area standards.”

No changes are being recommended or proposed in regard to item No. 3, which concerns moorage buoy regulations.

Item No. 4 (which concerns administrative control) was voted 5-2 by the council to be discussed at a future meeting.

The PC/HCC recommended, for item No. 5, that the number of allowable boat lifts in single-family shoreline properties be increased from one to two, which the council moved forward with.

Item No. 6, which concerns non-conforming over-water structures, resulted in a wide-ranging discussion. In the existing code, it is required that citywide, non-conforming structures in the shoreline setback be removed. The PC/HCC recommend that the removal requirements remain, there be more clarity in the language about accessory structure removal and a removal requirement of one non-conforming pier if more than one exists.

Councilmember Kelli Curtis proposed a modification that would make boathouses (due to their historical significance) exempt from removal rules. The motion passed unanimously. Nixon subsequently made a motion, which unanimously passed, to modify language allowing boat launches or buoys to be retained if owners provided photographic and/or permitting evidence.

The PC/HCC recommended, regarding non-motorized boat ramp regulations (item No. 7), a soft shoreline stabilization project be installed and maintained to handle a launch development, rather than a substantial development permit. It also would keep the prohibition of structures in the shoreline setback. The entirety of the council agreed with this recommendation.

Language regarding the allowance of pier bumpers will be codified in the update (item No. 8), as recommended by the PC/HCC. Item No. 9, which concerns bulkhead removal, also saw the council go with the PC/HCC recommendation, which was to add another increment to bulkhead removal options for shoreline property owners.

Council is aiming to take final action on the program update by the March 3 council meeting.

To watch the full council meeting, go to the recording For more background on the update, go to

This article has been updated to reflect when the council will be making final considerations.