December 14, 2010

Rank, rotten, and foul! Kitsap County’s prosecutor uses shoreline buffers to make sure his neighbor can’t build his home

By Rank, rotten, and foul! Kitsap County’s prosecutor uses shoreline buffers to make sure his neighbor can’t build his home

Author: Brian T. Hodges

To borrow from Shakespeare, something is rotten in the County of Kitsap.  The County’s elected prosecutor is living the American dream.  He has a fully developed waterfront property with a large home set back approximately 50 feet from his bulkheaded shoreline.  In other words, the prosecutor’s home breaks all of the modern shoreline rules that his office helped to write and defend.

You wouldn’t think that someone like that would begrudge his neighbor seeking to build his home with the same set back.  Well, you would be wrong.

The prosecutor appealed Kitsap County’s decision to issue the neighbor a buffer variance that allowed the neighbor build his home in line with all of the other houses in the area.  The prosecutor argued that the County should enforce its newly expanded marine shoreline buffer against this one property owner, forcing him – and him alone – to leave 100 feet of land above the shore an untouched buffer area.

Infuriating?  Yes.  But at the same time, the prosecutor’s actions provide valuable perspective on the buffer argument.  Local governments persist in the mistaken idea that the only way to protect environmentally sensitive areas is with big, area-wide buffers.  Here, County planners determined that the neighbor’s plans would not impact the ecological conditions on the shoreline.  Why then is the prosecutor trying to enforce an environmental restriction against his neighbor?  The answer is control and self-interest.  The County’s adoption of a mandatory, one-size-fits-all buffer for all shoreline property took the decision-making power away from property owners and gave it to the government, neighbors, and others who may want to elevate their own interests by stymying another person’s right to use and enjoy his or her land. 

Kitsap County’s buffer regulations envision buffers as an “undisturbed natural vegetation area,” but if the County prosecutor is permitted to hijack the rules to serve his own interests, then the buffers will be nothing more than an “unweeded garden” of “things rank and gross in nature.” 

PLF’s challenge to Kitsap County’s marine shoreline buffer is currently pending in Washington’s appellate courts.  For more information on the buffer challenge, visit PLF’s website.

The Kitsap Sun covered this story here.

What to read next