Shoreline development plans draw concern from waterfront homeowners

As the City of Bremerton moves closer and closer to finalizing it’s updated Shoreline Master Program, regulating the use and development of waterfront property, one of the more contentious issues has to do with classifying shoreline residences as conforming or non-conforming.

Non-conforming properties generally are ones that were developed in compliance under old rules, but no longer meet today’s standards. Such properties are often referred to as being “grandfathered” in. As such, certain properties that are non-conforming are considered to be perfectly legal, but after a year of being empty would have to meet modern standards and be brought into what is known as “eventual compliance.”

“Since Bremerton is old, I would guess that 50 percent of the structures in Bremerton are non-conforming in some way,” said city planner Nicole Floyd.

When it comes to shoreline residences, though, the way that a property is labelled has led to growing concern over what terminology is used. Folks opposed to calling a home non-conforming say that such a move will impact re-sales, the ability to get a home loan and restrict the ability to do maintenance.

Floyd said that studies show that non-conforming homes are, indeed, sellable and that the country’s leading lenders, Freddie Mac and Fannie May, regularly approve loans for grandfathered residences. Floyd said when lenders talk about “non-conforming,” they are more likely to be talking about people, not properties. Those “non-conforming” people are ones that have bad credit, a history of foreclosure or those who apply for more money than lenders allow.

“In general, what I’ve found is, lenders won’t lend to a non-conforming person and require additional paperwork for a non-conforming property,” Floyd said.

But, several current waterfront homeowners are still leery of the language and spoke up during a hearing last week.

“The only time that these restrictions really kick in is when people want to improve their property,” said Bremerton waterfront resident Alan Beam. “I don’t think the intent of this board is to restrict people wanting to improve their property. I would think you’d want to encourage them to make improvements.”

William Palmer, a land-use planning consultant and president of the Kitsap Alliance of Property Owners (KAPO), also spoke out against using non-conforming language in the Shoreline Master Program.

“If you designate something nonconforming, it’s supposed to go away,” Palmer said. “It may not go away right away, but it’s supposed to go away eventually. How long that eventually is, depends on what people can do to preserve their existing non-conforming status.”

Palmer also urged the city council to take a closer look at existing zoning regulations before adopting non-conforming language when it comes to shorelines.

“I think that you ought to look seriously at changing the regulations in your zoning ordinance so you don’t have to say we’ve gotta be consistent with zoning in our shoreline master program when maybe the real problem is in your zoning ordinance.”

Jackie Rossworn, a county resident who has owned shoreline property for 34 years and serves as the executive director of KAPO, also testified against using non-conforming language in the city’s Shoreline Master Program.

“I think the worst thing that could happen is to have your home considered non-conforming and that is why the Kitsap Alliance went to the effort of having more than 1,000 people sign a petition to our county commissioners to make our homes conforming and they did that,” Rossworn said.

Teresa Osinski, an executive vice president of the Homebuilders Association of Kitsap County, also spoke against using non-conforming language in the city’s Shoreline Master Program and urged the city council to get hard data before making any decision one way or the other.

“If you have not been presented with the data, if you do not know exactly how many properties are now going to become non-conforming in some form — whether you change the name or don’t change the name or make them legal or whatever you’re going to do — I really believe you’re not doing your due diligence as individually elected representatives of the city,” Osinski said. “It’s just very, very important that you fully appreciate how many citizens in the City of Bremerton could be negatively affected.”

The city planned a pair of study sessions on the Shoreline Master Program with one on Sept. 12 and the next on the 19. A final public hearing is slated for October 3.


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