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North Bend introduces sensitive areas law

NORTH BEND - The city of North Bend is working on its own set of development regulations following a critical and heated atmosphere that accompanied a similar move by the county last year.

The county's Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) ignited passions all over the county's unincorporated rural areas where some property owners claimed their land is now all but worthless thanks to the ordinance's new set of stringent guidelines.

Like the county, North Bend is saying it has to update its development regulations to comply with the state's Growth Management Act (GMA), a piece of state legislation passed in 1995 that required a long list of growth issues cities in Washington had to take into consideration and plan for. Part of those requirements include planning that will protect sensitive environmental areas.

North Bend staff and the city's Planning Commission drafted a set of ordinances called the Sensitive Areas Ordinance (SAO) that deals with seven sensitive areas: wetlands, streams, channel migrations zones (CMZ), frequently-flooded areas, fish and wildlife conservation areas, geological hazardous areas and critical aquifer recharge areas.

For the wetland and stream categories, North Bend will be adopting the system for classification recommended by the state Department of Ecology, a move the county made last year. Wetlands will be categorized from I-IV, depending on the size and characteristics of the wetland. Streams will be either a C, Ns, Np, F or S type. A type F stream (e.g. Ribary Creek, Gardiner Creek, etc.) has fish and a type S stream (e.g. Snoqualmie River) has not only fish, but salmonoids. Type Np is a steadily-flowing stream with no fish and a Ns is an intermittent stream with no fish. The lowest classification, Type C, is a low-grade intermittent stream, such as a storm water conveyance.

Unlike the county, however, many of the buffers in the city of North Bend would not be increased under the new ordinances. The wetland buffers will not change and range from 35 feet for light-use by a category IV wetland, to 200 feet for a high-intensity use near a category I wetland.

Stream buffers, however, will be increased by 15 feet for those that contain fish (to 65 feet from the old 50) and salmonoids (to 115 feet from the old 100). Type Ns buffers will remain the same (25 feet) and Type C buffers will remain at 0.

New homes in frequently flooded areas will be required to be raised an additional foot in the future. Presently, new homes in the city's most flood-susceptible areas must have their bases one foot above the predicted flood levels of a 100-year flood. New regulations would have that raised to two feet. New homes outside of those areas that have not been required to be elevated will have to have their homes raised to one foot above the base elevation of a 100-year flood event. The mapping for homes in North Bend is taken from a proposed FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) map that the city already uses for planning.

Most of the changes will come in the form of more concise guidelines, descriptions and mapping. Fish and wildlife habitat conservation definitions will include all of the state and federal species that are endangered and have a primary association with an area, as well as habitats of local importance such as fish-bearing streams and the Tollgate Farm and Meadowbrook Farm properties.

For the CMZ, the city will continue to have two levels of channel migration: severe and moderate. Development in severe areas will be limited to repairs to existing structures, and only if the footprint remains the same. Moderate areas will allow development, but only if the footprint does not encroach on a severe area. Additionally, the city's Silver Creek neighborhood will be taken out of the CMZ.

Most of the Valley floor, and therefore most of North Bend, is an aquifer recharge area and the new regulations specify what high-impact uses (e.g. strip mining) can't take place in the city.

Another more defined set of regulations will be the geologically hazardous areas in the city where shifting rock and soil may cause a landslide. The new maps for the city show such areas south of the Forster Woods neighborhood and at the base of Mount Si. Development in those areas will be limited and require protective measures.

Larry Stockton, North Bend community services director, said that while the city has mapped certain geological features of the area, the maps will need constant updating.

"Geology is working all the time," Stockton said.

Also unlike the county, the public's response to the new development regulations has been docile. The first public hearing for the regulations, which was held Jan. 26, drew three people.

John Day, owner of the North Bend-based home development company John Day Homes, said some of the lessor categories of wetlands don't warrant protection. He said that a category IV wetland, for example, could be caused by something like a car being left out on a lawn for too long. Pressure applied to the ground, when combined with moisture, can cause a wetland to appear where no natural one has ever been, Day said. The city's staff and Planning Commission said they were taking such man-made areas into account.

Also absent in the city's SAO is a new clearing and grading provision. The clearing and grading ordinance for the county's CAO, which required anywhere from 50-65 percent of a land's native vegetation be left alone, was one of the most contentious parts for King County to get approved.

Although there is no new clearing and grading provision, that does not mean someone can just clear land, Stockton said. In order to clear land, a plan must be submitted to the city and approved before any clearing can take place. Stockton said this regulation is in place to minimize runoff.

Stockton also stressed that any maps the city has will only give an idea of what sensitive areas are on a property and that someone would have to submit a development plan for review to be absolutely certain of what they can do. For example, the location of certain protected endangered species is confidential under state law and may only be revealed once a development plan is submitted to the city.

The current proposals are only a draft and could go through further revisions before being sent to the City Council for approval.

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