This page provides guidance on the required periodic updates to Washington city and county comprehensive plans and development regulations along with useful examples for various process steps. MRSC highly recommends consulting the Washington State Department of Commerce’s GMA Update Resources, particularly their publication, Keeping Your Comprehensive Plan and Development Regulations Current: A Guide to the Periodic Update Process.
Each Washington city and county must periodically review and, if needed, revise its comprehensive plan and development regulations every eight years to ensure that they comply with the GMA, as per the schedule provided in RCW 36.70A.130.
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Cities and counties planning under RCW 36.70A.040 (fully planning cities and counties) must complete such a periodic update for their entire comprehensive plan and development regulations. All counties and cities, including those not fully planning under the GMA, are required to review and, if necessary, amend their policies and development regulations regarding critical areas and natural resource lands. Critical areas ordinances must incorporate requirements for use of best available science and give special consideration to anadromous fisheries - see information on Critical Areas and Best Available Science.
An additional two years for meeting the review and revision requirements is granted to smaller and slow growing counties and cities that meet certain criteria. County reviews of designated urban growth areas (UGAs) must also be completed according to this schedule, and evaluation requirements for the buildable lands program must be completed by counties and cities one year before those deadlines.
A jurisdiction may complete the periodic update process before its deadline, but the deadline for its next periodic update would still remain eight years from the original deadline established in the GMA. For example, if a jurisdiction has an update deadline of June 30, 2015, but it completes its update in 2012, it would still be subject to another required periodic update in 2023 (eight years after 2015).
There are five overall tasks counties and cities must take during the periodic update process.
- Establish a work program (including a public participation plan)
- Review, and revise where needed, relevant plans and regulations
- Conduct a public engagement program throughout the periodic update process
- Submit notice to state
- Take legislative action on proposed amendments
These steps are outlined in more detail below with relevant useful examples.
Buildable Lands Program
Jurisdictions subject to RCW 36.70A.215, which includes Snohomish, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Thurston, and Clark counties and their respective cities, must complete a review and evaluation of their “Buildable Lands Program” at least one year before the comprehensive plan update to provide data that will be used for the comprehensive plan update, per RCW 36.70A.215(2)(b).
Countywide Planning Policies
While there is not a requirement that a county must update its countywide planning policies in RCW 36.70A.130, it is important for counties to review existing planning policies to see if any changes are needed and, if they are, revise as necessary in collaboration with cities. This situation might occur if a county’s periodic update identifies issues that could only be addressed by amending the countywide planning policies. These might include incorporation of new buildable lands data, UGA revisions, or new policies for siting public facilities of a countywide nature, to name just a few examples. For jurisdictions that are subject to RCW 36.70A.215, amendments to countywide planning policies must be considered, however, if any new information or analysis that impacts the “Buildable Lands Program” is identified during such a review, per RCW 36.70A.215(2)(d).
Work Program and Schedule
It may be helpful to establish a detailed process schedule prior to undertaking your update. The Department of Commerce has put together a Sample Work Program which can provide a basis for your own process schedule and also illustrates the state expectations for your update.
In determining the scope of work for an update, it is recommended that local governments use the Department of Commerce’s Update Checklists (Appendix D) as the foundation for a work program. While not required, it is recommended that a work program be formally adopted by ordinance or resolution. This can help preclude challenges later on about whether the jurisdiction should have reviewed a particular comprehensive plan element or development regulation.
- Redmond Scope of Periodic Review and Update (2010) – A good work program ordinance including a simple matrix of the scope of work along with a timeline of activities.
- Tukwila Resolution No. 1792 (2013) – Ordinance that includes the work program and public participation program combined. Work program includes short summaries of the discussion and decisions about each element of the comp plan. Also includes a simple bulleted schedule of activities at the end.
- Tumwater GMA Update Work Program (2015) – Begins with a simple visual timeline of activities. Follows with a description of expected changes for each comp plan element, including identifying staff and consultant needs.
- Benton County Scope of Work Matrix (2006) – Uses a matrix style table to identify areas in each element that need review and which staff teams will work on them. A flow chart program timeline at the end clarifies the process.
- Mason County Scope of Work (2015) – Includes brief summaries of each plan element using bold to highlight specific areas of change. Has a table-style schedule of activities at the end.
Public Participation Programs
RCW 36.70A.035 of the GMA requires that each Washington city and county establish a public participation program and procedures for amendments, updates and revisions of comprehensive plans and development regulations. While not required, it is recommended that local governments establish a formal, comprehensive public participation program that articulates each component of public engagement throughout the process.
- Renton Public Participation Plan (2013) – A fairly standard outreach plan that includes public meetings, flyers and other notices, and an opt-in listserv for interested citizens. Focuses most energy on the plan website as a repository for all information related to the plan update.
- Seattle Public Participation Plan (2015) – Includes standard methods of engagement (website, public meetings, etc.), with an added emphasis on social media through Facebook and Twitter. There is good use of online surveys through survey monkey as a way of soliciting feedback on various options. Also utilizes the “Meeting in a Box” toolkit, which includes a fact sheet, PowerPoint presentation, and discussion questions which can be used for citizen or organization-hosted meetings that aren’t led by the city.
- Port Orchard Public Participation Plan (2016) – Thorough participation plan that clearly identifies the various audiences and has a comprehensive list of tools for outreach and engagement. Also includes a full schedule of program.
- Clark County Resolution No. 2014 (2014) – Formal resolution that includes work program and public participation program. In addition to standard outreach techniques, the plan calls for using “Innovative Public Involvement Technology” and lists a number of unique ideas.
Adopting Updates and Amendments
Once final updates have been agreed upon, the legislative body should take formal action indicating that the community has reviewed and evaluated the comprehensive plan and adopting any amendments or changes to the plan and development regulations.
RCW 36.70A.106, states that cities and counties must notify the Department of Commerce of “intent to adopt” an updated plan or regulations at least 60 days prior to final adoption, which includes sending a copy of the proposed amendments to the Department. Upon a request by a local government, the Department of Commerce may grant “expedited review” for proposed development regulations amendments, which would result in a reduction of the 60-day review time period if the request is granted (RCW 36.70A.106(3)(b)). Cities and counties must additionally send a copy of the comprehensive plan and development regulations to Commerce within 10 days after final adoption.
All cities and counties are expected to have their comprehensive plans and development regulations (including critical areas ordinances) updated by June 30 of their deadline year (see schedule above). If a jurisdiction needs additional time to complete the update, the Department of Commerce recommends the jurisdiction pass a resolution that indicates: (1) the efforts that have been made toward updating the comp plan; (2) the specific reasons why additional time is needed; and (3) an expected date of completion.
- Mercer Island Resolution No. 1500 (2015) – Explains that during the comp plan update process, the city also undertook a town center visioning process. The extension is intended to allow these two processes to happen concurrently so that appropriate policies reflect the town center work.
- Seattle Resolution No. 31597 (2015) – Explains that an appeal of a determination of non-significance (DNS) by the city’s hearing examiner required a revised DNS and more time for public input and future appeals, so they were unable to adopt by June 30.
Annual Comprehensive Plan Amendments
In addition to the periodic, major comprehensive plan review and updates that are required every eight years, many local jurisdictions consider proposed amendments on a more frequent basis. As per RCW 36.70A.130(2) cities and counties may consider proposed amendments no more frequently than once every year, with some exceptions. Rather than adopting changes on a piecemeal basis, proposed amendments must be considered "concurrently so the cumulative effect of the various proposals can be ascertained." Local jurisdictions that consider such amendments typically establish a docket of proposed amendments that will be considered together on an annual cycle (or other specified period).
- Redmond Annual Amendments (2015) – Information on how to submit an application for a proposed amendment and how to participate in the review process. Also includes the docket of proposed amendments.
- Edgewood Amendment Review (2010) – Includes request for amendments and the amendment application form.
- Spokane County Annual Comp Plan Updates (2015) – Requires citizens with an amendment request to schedule a pre-application conference with staff before putting in an application.