A stream is a stream is a creek?

"I'VE NEVER seen an issue galvanize the community like this," said Brian Doennebrink, the city of Shoreline's planning commission chair.

He's talking about the city's efforts to reclassify Thornton Creek, which drains the largest watershed in the Seattle area, and remove the stream from the city's list of critical environmental areas. In the Pacific Northwest, "stream" is synonymous with "salmon" and entitles a waterway to protection from development. Thornton Creek borders a site where retirement home developer Aegis Assisted Living wants to place a massive facility (see "Battle Creek," Jan. 31). Shoreline first attempted to accommodate Aegis by waiving its own regulations meant to prevent encroachment on salmon streams. The city has been sued twice for giving Aegis the go-ahead; the city has lost twice in King County Superior Court.

Thursday, the city held its first public hearing on proposed amendments to the Shoreline development code that would create a new definition for salmonid streams—one that Thornton Creek wouldn't meet. Timothy Stewart, the city's planning and development director, explained that the changes were meant to shore up "uncertainties" in the code that created "potential conflict" with state law.

The city's position is, to say the least, unique. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife says Thornton Creek is a stream. So has a county judge. The threatened chinook, along with coho and sockeye salmon, spawn in the creek. Seattle Public Utilities has invested millions restoring the waterway (SPU sent a letter to Shoreline reminding the city of this detail last week).

Whereas the city had mostly to contend with one litigious couple, Tim and Patty Crawford, when it tossed aside its development code for Aegis' permit, the attempt to erase Thornton Creek entirely sparked a tougher game of red rover. Neighborhood leaders, environmentalists, state officials, and even former Shoreline commissioners linked arms Thursday night in a full chamber to tell the city: Don't do it. "Don't embarrass yourselves. You're going to look pretty silly," Pat Sumption of the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club said.

The reaction has given the city pause. Stewart has since announced an extended hearing schedule, and planning commission chair Doennebrink said he needs more information before approving any code changes.

Kevin Fullerton


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