Summary of Special Planning Commission Meeting August 31, 2011

The Shoreline Master Program Subcommittee has been meeting at least two Wednesdays each month for much of the last two years with the objective of providing recommendations to the city council on the Olympia Shoreline Master Program. Think of the SMP as the comprehensive plan for the shoreline even though there are significant differences particularly in enforcement. The SMP jurisdiction (i.e. the definition of the shoreline) is only the first 200 feet from the ordinary high water mark of the water body next to the shoreline. The SMP is an extremely complicated document and has therefore required hundreds (I’m guessing) of staff hours and more hours from the planning commission than I care to count.

While I’ve always loved the mixing-mortar-building-a-cathedral analogy I don’t exactly know where last night’s meeting would fit in that allegory. I don’t know how much my summary will mean to anyone who hasn’t been following the process the SMP Subcommittee has undergone.  In furtherance of that effort, last night we examined the setbacks along several shorelines that we had previously and preliminarily recommended to be designated as Urban Conservancy. These geographic designations are called “reaches” in the SMP. We examined the reaches of Grass Lake, Chambers Lake, and Percival Creek and discussed appropriate setbacks given the zoning regulations and the SMP regulations.

As I’ve said elsewhere and often, this process has required many hours of careful deliberation from everyone involved including those who are not members of the commission or staff, but who studied these issues and submitted their share of the hundreds of pages submitted during the public hearing. I like to think this process will lead to more beautiful spaces like the new Percival Landing someday. While that may or may not be the outcome, it is still an example of the temporal disconnect between the action of planning and the perception of planning. There is a significant lag (often years) between subcommittee meetings on the shoreline like the one we held last night, and standing on a beautiful and an ecologically conscious space like our new Percival Landing. Great cities don’t happen in our age of massed capital and market power. Great cities require the care, attention, but most of all the thoughtful participation of the individuals who want to create or enjoy them.

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