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Washington Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance (13-WA-h)

Information current as of 2019
In Washington, a person (developer) may need a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and/or a Shoreline Variance Permit for certain developments within a shoreline of the state.


Shoreline Conditional Use Permit

A developer needs a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit if a proposed use is listed as a conditional use in a local government’s Shoreline Master Plan (“SMP”) environmental designation, or if the SMP does not address the use. Each local government SMP defines “conditional uses,” (i.e., uses that are not preferred or allowed outright but may be permitted when specified conditions are met). Shoreline Conditional Use Permits are issued by local governments (approved and denied), then sent to the Department of Ecology for further review and approval or disapproval. Washington State – Governor’s Office Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit Webpage.

Shoreline Variance Permit

A developer may also need a Shoreline Variance Permit to deviate from an SMP’s dimensional standards (e.g., setback, height, or lot coverage requirements). Each SMP contains numerical development standards (e.g., heights, setback distances, etc.) A developer may request a variance from those numerical standards for their proposed development. Variances are issued by local governments, and then sent to the Department of Ecology for further review and approval or disapproval. Washington State – Governor’s Office Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Variance Permit Webpage.

The local government shoreline planning and permitting office (herein “local government”) develops a SMP, consistent with rules adopted by the Washington Department of Ecology (“Department of Ecology”), for the administration and enforcement of Shoreline Conditional Use and Shoreline Variance Permits. R.C.W. § 90.58.140 (3); W.A.C. § 173-27-020.

The local government helps the developer determine whether a Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and/or a Shoreline Variance Permit is required. Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.



Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Process

13-WA-h.1 – Hold Pre-Application Meeting

Most jurisdictions hold a pre-application meeting with the local planning staff, the applicant (developer), and with other agencies with jurisdiction over the proposed development. This meeting provides an opportunity for an informal exchange of information about the proposal. The meetings also allows for agency staff to request specific application information or suggest modifications or mitigation measures for the proposal. Washington Shoreline Master Program – Pre-Application Meeting Webpage. At the meeting the local shoreline planning staff may:

  • “Explain the process that the Shoreline Substantial Development Permit Application will undergo with expected timelines;
  • Identify the applicable policies and regulations;
  • Identify the type and extent of information that is necessary to properly and expeditiously process the Application;
  • Discuss modifications or mitigation measures that improves the chance that the Application moves smoothly through the review process.”

Washington Shoreline Master Program – Pre-Application Meeting Webpage.

13-WA-h.2 – Shoreline Permit Application

The developer must submit a complete Shoreline Conditional Use Permit Application and/or a Shoreline Variance Permit Application (“Application”) and fees to the local government shoreline permitting and planning office. Local governments have their own Application form and requirements. However, an Application must include, at minimum, the following:

  • “The name, address and phone number of the applicant (developer). The applicant (developer) should be the owner of the property or the primary proponent of the project and not the representative of the owner or primary proponent;
  • The name, address and phone number of the applicant (developer)'s representative if other than the applicant (developer);
  • The name, address and phone number of the property owner, if other than the applicant (developer);
  • Location of the property. The property location description must include, at a minimum, the property address and identification of the section, township and range to the nearest quarter, quarter section or latitude and longitude to the nearest minute;
  • Identification of the name of the shoreline (water body) that the site of the proposal is associated with. This should be the water body from which jurisdiction of the act over the project is derived;
  • A general description of the proposed project that includes the proposed use or uses and the activities necessary to accomplish the project;
  • A general description of the property as it now exists including its physical characteristics and improvements and structures;
  • A general description of the vicinity of the proposed project including identification of the adjacent uses, structures and improvements, intensity of development and physical characteristics;
  • A site development plan consisting of maps and elevation drawings, drawn to an appropriate scale to depict clearly all required information, photographs and text which shall include:
    • The boundary of the parcel(s) of land upon which the development is proposed;
    • The ordinary high water mark of all water bodies located adjacent to or within the boundary of the project. This may be an approximate location provided, that for any development where a determination of consistency with the applicable regulations requires a precise location of the ordinary high water mark the mark shall be located precisely and the biological and hydrological basis for the location as indicated on the plans must be included in the development plan. Where the ordinary high water mark is neither adjacent to or within the boundary of the project, the plan must indicate the distance and direction to the nearest ordinary high water mark of a shoreline;
    • Existing and proposed land contours. The contours must be at intervals sufficient to accurately determine the existing character of the property and the extent of proposed change to the land that is necessary for the development. Areas within the boundary that will not be altered by the development may be indicated as such and contours approximated for that area;
    • A delineation of all wetland areas that will be altered or used as a part of the development;
    • A general indication of the character of vegetation found on the site.
    • The dimensions and locations of all existing and proposed structures and improvements including but not limited to; buildings, paved or graveled areas, roads, utilities, septic tanks and drainfields, material stockpiles or surcharge, and stormwater management facilities;
    • Where applicable, a landscaping plan for the project.
    • Where applicable, plans for development of areas on or off the site as mitigation for impacts associated with the proposed project shall be included and contain information consistent with the requirements of W.A.C. §173-27-180.
    • Quantity, source and composition of any fill material that is placed on the site whether temporary or permanent;
    • Quantity, composition and destination of any excavated or dredged material;
    • A vicinity map showing the relationship of the property and proposed development or use to roads, utilities, existing developments and uses on adjacent properties;
    • Where applicable, a depiction of the impacts to views from existing residential uses and public areas.

W.A.C. §173-27-180(1)-(9).

In addition, the Application must accompany a demonstration of compliance with the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Some projects require an environmental impact statement (EIS); others a determination of nonsignificance (DNS) and environmental checklist, or a determination of categorical exemption. Compliance with SEPA, including all review or waiting periods, is required before a decision on a Application can be made. The Application and SEPA analysis should identify future uses intended for the site to avoid the possibility of piecemeal or inappropriate phasing of development. Washington Shoreline Master Program – State Environmental Policy Act Webpage.

The SEPA process interacts with the shoreline management process in several ways. Compliance with SEPA is required for issuance any Shoreline Permit. Conditioning and denial of any Shoreline Permit may be done under powers granted by SEPA rules. The SEPA checklist must identify all local, state, and/or federal permits or approvals that may be required. An EIS should include an evaluation of the project's consistency with existing plans and policies (e.g. the local SMP) and zoning regulations. For these reasons, it's important to remember that the "umbrella" of SEPA compliance extends over the whole shoreline administration process. Washington Shoreline Master Program – State Environmental Policy Act Webpage. For more information on the SEPA process, see:

State Environmental Review:
9-WA-a

Note: The applicant (developer) has the “…burden of proving that a proposed substantial development is consistent with the criteria that must be met before a permit is granted.” R.C.W. § 90.58.140(7).

13-WA-h.3 to 13-WA-h.4 – Review Application Materials for Completeness

The local government reviews the Application materials and SEPA compliance status for administrative and technical completeness. The local government notifies the developer that the Application is complete or incomplete. If the Application is incomplete the local government notifies the developer of the Application’s deficiencies. Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.

13-WA-h.5 to 13-WA-h.6 – Publish Notice of Application

The local government or applicant (developer) must provide notice of the Application to the public, the Department of Ecology and other agencies with jurisdiction in the manner prescribed pursuant to R.C.W. § 90.58.140(4) and W.A.C. § 173-27-110 (2) within fourteen (14) days after a completeness determination. W.A.C. § 173-27-110(1)-(2); R.C.W. § 90.58.140(4); Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.

The notice should include information regarding a thirty (30) day public comment period and how to receive notification of the final application decision. The public may submit written comments regarding the Application. The public may also request a public hearing regarding the Application from the local government. R.C.W. § 90.58.140(4); W.A.C. § 173-27-110(2)(e); Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.

13-WA-h.7 to 13-WA-h.9 – Publish Notice of Public Hearing (If Applicable)

The local government has discretion to hold a public hearing regarding the Application. The local government must publish notice of the public hearing. The notice must include a statement that any person may submit oral or written comments on the Application at the hearing. R.C.W. § 90.58.140(4)(c); W.A.C. § 173-27-110(2)(f); Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.

13-WA-h.10 to 13-WA-h.12 – Request Response to Public Comments (If Applicable)

The local government may require the applicant (developer) respond to the public comments, regarding the Application. The developer should submit a written response in the format and timeframe designated by the local government. Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.

The local government often sends copies of the developer’s written response to the public. Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.

13-WA-h.13 to 13-WA-h.15 – Make Permit Determination

After reviewing the Application in conjunction with the public comments and the developer’s response to the comments, the local government makes a decision on the Application. Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.

The local government sends a copy of the Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and/or Shoreline Variance Permit Notice of Decision to the Department of Ecology and the Attorney General using a return receipt request mail delivery. R.C.W. § 90.58.140(6); W.A.C. § 173-27-200. Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.

The local government should mail the Permit and documentation of the final local decision together with:

  • The complete Application;
  • A findings and conclusions letter;
  • A permit data form; and
  • Any applicable SEPA documents.

Washington Shoreline Master Program – Ecology Review of Permits Webpage; W.A.C. § 173-27-130.

An applicant (developer) or any interested party may request an appeal to the ruling from the local government. Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.

13-WA-h.16 to 13-WA-h.18 – Review Notice of Decision Materials Completeness

The Department of Ecology reviews the Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and/or Shoreline Variance Permit Notice of Decision materials for completeness pursuant to W.A.C. § 173-27-130; 200.

The Department of Ecology must notify the local government and the applicant (developer) in writing of any missing information within fourteen (14) days of initial receipt date. Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics; W.A.C. § 173-27-130(5). The local government must send the Department of Ecology the missing information within thirty (30) calendar days. Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.

13-WA-h.19 to 13-WA-h.21 – Does the Department of Ecology Approve the Permit?

After the local government makes a determination on the Shoreline Conditional Use and/or Variance Permit the Department of Ecology must make a determination on the Permit. The Department of Ecology makes the final decision approving, approving with conditions, or disapproving the Permit within thirty (30) days of the date of submittal by the local government pursuant to W.A.C. § 173-27-110. W.A.C. § 173-27-200.

The Department of Ecology reviews the complete file submitted by the local government on the Permit and any other information submitted or available that is relevant to the Application. The Department of Ecology must base its determination to approve, approve with conditions or deny a Permit with consistent with the policy and provisions of the Shoreline Management Act. W.A.C. § 173-27-200(2).

The Department of Ecology must provide timely notification of the final decision to those the local government and applicant (developer) pursuant to W.A.C. § 173-27-110. W.A.C. § 173-27-200.

13-WA-h.22 – Request Review of Decision (If Applicable)

The Department of Ecology, applicant (developer), or any person, organization or agency may file a request for review of the permit decision, within twenty-one (21) days from the decision date, with the Shorelines Hearing Board. R.C.W. § 90.58.140(6); Washington Governor’s Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance – Shoreline Conditional Use Permit and Variance Schematics.


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