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Bellingham Herald   Oct. 22, 2008

Whatcom County will revisit shoreline rules

By John Stark

BELLINGHAM - The Whatcom County Council has agreed to consider a few modifications of new shoreline building regulations that came under fire from some property owners.

At a meeting Tuesday, Oct. 21, council members agreed to direct county planners to reexamine some of the language in the Shoreline Master Program that was approved in August by both the council and the state Department of Ecology.

Many existing seaside and lakeside homes are "nonconforming" under the new rules because they were built inside the deeper shoreline buffer zones in the new regulations. That includes buildings within 100 feet of the edge of Lake Whatcom and 150 feet from marine shorelines. Owners of nonconforming homes fear they could now face regulatory obstacles if they want to enlarge those homes - or even rebuild them if they burn.

County and state officials say nothing in the new shoreline regulations was meant to stop someone from rebuilding a fire-damaged home, but they have agreed to revisit the regulatory language to see if it can be clarified to ease property owners' fears.

The county will also take another look at a 2,500-square-foot limit for new homes on lots that are too small to accommodate the buffers otherwise required under the new regulations.

Council Chairman Carl Weimer said he expects the review of the shoreline rules to take about a month. Proposed changes in the rules would then be the subject of at least one public hearing, he added.

Any county-approved amendments to the shoreline rules would also need to be reviewed by the Department of Ecology, which could take several months.

Peter Buck, an attorney representing some local shoreline property owners, thanked the council for revisiting the issue.

"I'm obviously happy to hear that you're going to take another month," Buck said. "There's still some substantial misunderstanding about how the process works."