Mercer Island’s review of critical areas wraps up

The city is also updating its shoreline master program.

Ellis Pond is one of Mercer Island’s critical areas. The city’s critical areas code and shoreline master program are due for a review. Photo courtesy of the city of Mercer Island

Ellis Pond is one of Mercer Island’s critical areas. The city’s critical areas code and shoreline master program are due for a review. Photo courtesy of the city of Mercer Island

Mercer Island’s Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the draft Critical Areas Code and Shoreline Master Program (SMP) at 6 p.m. on March 6 at City Hall.

In February 2018, the Mercer Island City Council approved the proposed scope of work for both updates. The critical areas code was last reviewed in 2005, while the shoreline plan was last adopted in 2015. Both plans are mandated by state law — by the Growth Management Act (GMA) and Washington State Shoreline Management Act — and required to be updated periodically, at least every eight years to consider the latest science.

Critical areas are “essential to preserving our natural environment and protecting the public’s health and safety,” as identified in the GMA. They include geologically hazardous areas, such as landslide, erosion and seismic hazards, along with watercourses, wildlife habitat conservation areas, wetlands and critical aquifer recharge areas (CARAs).

The city’s SMP contains regulations pertaining to the shoreline jurisdiction, which on Mercer Island encompasses lands within 200 feet of the shoreline of Lake Washington. Changes are likely to be limited to: Updates needed to be consistent with state law, a provision for public piers, and clarification of code language to more accurately explain the existing code standard.

The draft CAO code regulates standards like wetland and watercourse buffer widths (e.g. how far buildings must be set back from those features), requirements for study when building within landslide hazard areas is proposed and other standards involving environmentally critical areas.

The Planning Commission has been studying the latest scientific information and reviewing the existing critical areas code for much of 2018 and has now drafted a public hearing draft, available for public review and comment on the city’s engagement platform Let’s Talk Mercer Island. The Let’s Talk page also includes an FAQ section, reference documents and a short video explaining the code update process.

The council also is expected to review the draft code in March, with second reading and adoption scheduled for April.

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