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Shoreline plan updates could use a little logic

Sun., July 17, 2011

An older couple had finally decided to move. Their landmark lakefront home, the headquarters for family reunions, community events and Sunday religious services, would soon be offered for sale.

They’d retired there after decades in their city residence, where they raised their children. Now it was time to move closer to the city again for in-home care and the proximity to a hospital.

The couple’s two children had grown and moved away. As much as they wanted to keep their parents’ home in the family, the distance, maintenance and property taxes proved too much for them to handle. It’s difficult to justify a cross-country plane trip and two weeks’ vacation time every year just to visit the lake home, they said.

The family contacted a long-time Realtor friend to conduct a preliminary market evaluation in order to ascertain what amount of money the older couple could expect at sale. The lakefront home’s value comprised more than half of their assets.

The couple was surprised and confused when the Realtor told them, “It depends what happens under the shoreline master plan update.”

The original intent of shoreline master plans was to protect and manage a state’s vast and varied lakes, rivers, coastlines and wetlands. It was not a deliberate attempt to devalue the properly permitted structures built within the legal boundaries set by local codes. In some cases, homes built outside new buffer zones have been deemed “nonconforming” and have been difficult to rebuild, even after a fire.

“It just did not make sense to me,” one state legislator said. “But it was more than simply not being able to rebuild your house if it burned down. It was the negative perception of ‘nonconforming.’ ”

The legislator is a self-described “staunch environmentalist” not known for wanting to knock down trees or bulldoze buffers. However, he does get that some older homes were legally built outside present buffer guidelines and should not be penalized for that.

The lawmaker continued, “Let’s say a Realtor is showing a gorgeous piece of property to a client and is forced to say, ‘Well, it’s the nicest property I’m going to show you today, but it’s nonconforming. That would immediately throw up a red flag to any potential buyer and reduce interest in the home.”

In an attempt to resolve the problem, he helped draft a bill that allows local jurisdictions to include in their mandatory shoreline updates the ability for existing owners to replace their structures as long as there is no net loss of shoreline.

The nonconforming tag on homes could increase home insurance rates (a hardship, especially for retirees on a fixed income), possibly impose higher home-loan rates, and perhaps even reduce opportunity for future appreciation.

“It just makes sense for local jurisdictions to adopt because it protects homeowners who followed the rules when they originally built their homes,” the legislator said.

Tom Kelly is a former real estate editor for the Seattle Times. His book “Cashing In on a Second Home in Central America: How to Buy, Rent and Profit in the World’s Bargain Zone” was written with Mitch Creekmore, senior vice president of Houston-based Stewart International, and Jeff Hornberger, the National Association of Realtors’ international market development manager.

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