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GMA Plan/Development Regulations Updates


The Growth Management Act (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. With some exceptions, proposed amendments or updates may be considered no more frequently than once every year and must be considered concurrently, so that the cumulative effects may be evaluated.

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. 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.

Legislation Extending Update Deadlines

ESHB 1478 extended the time between mandated growth management plan/development regulation and shoreline plan updates to every eight years, and changed upcoming deadlines for many jurisdictions. The first bloc of counties and cities must complete review and revision requirements by June 30, 2015. 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. See RCW 36.70A.130(3), (5) and (6) for deadline and extension provisions.

A jurisdiction may complete the periodic update process before its deadline. 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, then it would not be subject to another required periodic update until 2023.

For the update schedule for all counties, see the GMA Update Schedule Map, on the Department of Commerce website.

Shoreline Master Program Updates

RCW 90.58.080(4) provides a timetable of deadlines by which local governments must complete or amend their shoreline master program (SMP) to be consistent with state guidelines. The first bloc of counties must complete updates by June 30, 2019. After completing this new round of updates, all counties, and cities must review and revise their shoreline master programs on an eight-year cycle. As per RCW 36.70A.480, the goals and policies of the SMP shall be considered an element of a local jurisdiction's comprehensive plan. All other portions of the SMP shall be considered a part of the local jurisdiction's development regulations.

Department of Commerce Update Information

The Washington State Department of Commerce (formerly Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development) offers many helpful resources on plan updates including checklists and good example documents. Please see the Department's webpage: Growth Management Act Periodic Update.

This webpage includes a link to a very useful guidebook on completing the periodic update: Keeping Your Comprehensive Plan and Development Regulations Current. Guidebook appendices include checklists, sample work programs, resolutions/ordinances and other helpful aids. Appendix E of this guidebook includes a list of amendments to GMA that should help alert local jurisdictions to corresponding amendments that may be needed in local comprehensive plans to maintain consistency to GMA. The webpage also includes a newly revised guidebook for updating the transportation plan element. Guidebooks helpful for updating capital facilities and housing plan elements are in process, with some chapters already available.

Local Comprehensive Plan Update Programs

Some jurisdictions were already underway with comprehensive plan updates in anticipation of 2011 deadlines. Now that the first set of deadlines has been postponed until June 30, 2015, some jurisdictions are continuing with their update process, but phasing update work over the extended period of time.


  • Imagine Olympia - Includes draft plan update, and a description of the well-conceived three phase process: scoping to update the vision and identify focus areas, community meetings on the focus areas, and commenting on draft documents. Also a helpful list of the changes made.
  • Renton Comprehensive Plan Update - Webpage includes the schedule, participation plan, many issue papers, and workshop and meeting presentations and result summaries
  • Redmond Comprehensive Plan Update Project - Includes links to Redmond's commendable involvement process (see final report) and many useful project documents for comprehensive plan update adopted 12/06/2011
  • Seattle's Comprehensive Plan - Scroll to "Major Review", and "Get Involved - What's Next?" which includes a Report on Public Engagement (), 03/2012 - Describes Seattle’s citizen involvement events in the update process, including survey responses, and citizens’ dreams of Seattle
  • Sequim Comprehensive Plan Update, 2011 - Fine small city example. Sequim plans an earlier than required update to improve the plan's usefulness as guide for the community's future
  • Shoreline Comprehensive Plan Major Update - The City established a program to bring inspiring speakers to Shoreline to stimulate creative thinking as the city developed goals and policies to guide vision and plan implementation, updated 03/22/2012
  • Summer Comprehensive Plan Introduction, 12/2010 - See "Public Participation" - "2004 Comprehensive Plan Update," "Plan Documents," and "Related Documents" sections - Interesting participation strategy included focus groups, community survey, business survey, and bus tour/critique of recent projects


Ordinances Adopting Comprehensive Plan Updates

Examples of ordinances adopting required periodic comprehensive plan updates.

  • Jefferson County Ordinance No. 17-1213-04 - Amends the comprehensive plan and development regulations to comply with seven-year update requirement, 12/13/2004
  • King County Ordinance No. 17485 - Adopts the 2012 King County Comprehensive Plan and the development regulations, passed 12/03/2012
  • Mercer Island Ordinance No. 05C-05 - Adopts by reference amendments to the comprehensive plan, passed 07/05/2005
  • Rock Island Ordinance No. 07-091 - Amends and updates the comprehensive plan, passed 07/26/2007 - Good small city example
  • Seattle Ordinance No. 121701 - Amends the comprehensive plan to incorporate changes proposed as part of the 2004 comprehensive plan update process, passed 12/13/2004
  • Shoreline Ordinance No. 649 - Adopts update to Comprehensive Plan and 2012 Annual Review Amendments, passed 12/10/2012

Annual Comprehensive Plan Amendments

In addition to the 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).

  • Mukilteo Comprehensive Plan - 2013 Docket - History of amendments and links to the docket of city- and citizen-initiated proposed amendments to be considered for the current year
  • Kitsap County Resolution 032-2011 - Providing for Review and Potential Amendment to the Kitsap County Comprehensive Plan, Land Use and Zoning Maps and Corresponding Development Regulations, 2011 - Describes types of amendments and establishes criteria regarding amendments that may be considered
  • Redmond Comprehensive Planning: 2013-2014 Comprehensive Plan Amendments - Information on how to submit an application for a proposed amendment and how to participate in the review process
  • Covington 2013 Comp Plan Amendment Information and Development Regulation Amendment Information - Including 2013 comprehensive plan amendment docket instructions and guidelines and application form , as well as instructions and application form for development regulation amendments
  • Clark County Ordinance Report on Ordinance No. 2010-12-12 - An ordinance amending the growth management comprehensive plan and zone map through the 2010 annual reviews and dockets, 12/14/2010

Comprehensive Plan Update Work Programs and Processes

Specific Update Topics Related to Recent Legislation or Current Issues

Related MRSC Pages

Legislation Requiring Action When Funding Available

  • Mandatory Parks Element - A mandatory requirement for a park and recreation element was added to the required GMA comprehensive plan elements during the 2002 legislative session. The requirement may be found at RCW 36.70A.070(8) & (9). Although new or amended elements are to be adopted concurrent with the scheduled update provided in RCW 36.70A.130, that requirement is postponed until adequate state funding is available. See the MRSC Parks and Recreation webpages.
  • Mandatory Economic Development Element - A mandatory requirement for an economic development element was added to the required GMA comprehensive plan elements during the 2002 legislative session. The requirement may be found at RCW 36.70A.070(7) and (9). Although new or amended elements are to be adopted concurrent with the scheduled update provided in RCW 36.70A.130, that requirement is postponed until adequate state funding is available. See the MRSC Planning for Economic Development webpage.

Association of Washington Cities Update Tools

The Association of Washington Cities is preparing a dozen short and very digestible (5-8 minutes) videos on some critical GMA update topics. They are designed for use in council or planning commission study sessions, or in community meetings to focus attention on key issues and to kick start a discussion, aided by some optional discussion questions.

Several videos are now available including one on why the GMA update and planning matter for our communities. Other topics include linking the plan with your budget, how council, staff and commission can work together effectively, how to get development that “fits,” your community, and tips for minimizing legal risk in plan making and implementation. See AWC's webpage: GMA Comp Plan Conversation Starters.

Additional Resources

Last Modified: April 23, 2015