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Street and Road Vacation Procedures

This page provides a brief overview of road and street vacation procedures for cities and counties in Washington State, including statutory requirements and sample documents.



Overview

A street or road vacation occurs when a local government relinquishes its interest in a public right-of-way (ROW) or a public service easement on a piece of property.

A street vacation does not necessarily remove all encumbrances from the area vacated. For example, if utilities are located in the area that was vacated, easements may be reserved so the utilities can stay in place and remain accessible in the future


How Does It Work?

Street vacation petitions are typically submitted by the owners of property that abuts the vacated ROW. The petition must explain how the ROW has no future public use nor will its loss adversely impact current or future public needs. The petition is then submitted to a local government, which has broad discretion to grant, deny, or condition any approval of a street vacation request. 

Alternatively, local governments may initiate the street or ROW vacation process. Either way, the abutting property owners may be required to pay compensation for all or a portion of the value of the right of way, depending on the circumstances. 

A local government can also reserve an easement when vacating a ROW — such as a utility easement — and the easement reservation should be reflected in the appraised value of the ROW. 


Statutes

Vacation of city street rights-of-way is governed by Ch. 35.79 RCW, and vacation of county roads is governed by Ch. 36.87 RCW. A road or street vacation is the termination of the public interest in a right-of-way (opened or unopened), and it extinguishes the easement for public travel that is represented by the right-of-way. In the typical case, city and county governments hold an easement for public travel on lands designated or used as roads, streets, and alleys; local governments do not generally own the fee title to the property underlining the right-of-way.

While the city and county vacation statutes provide for similar procedures, there is one important difference. A petition by abutting property owners to initiate a city street vacation must be signed by owners of more than two-thirds of the property abutting the street to be vacated, while a petition to initiate a county road vacation need only be signed by owners of a majority of the frontage of the street to be vacated. Both city street and county road vacations may be initiated by the legislative body.

Cities may require compensation under RCW 35.79.030 in an amount up to one-half of the appraised value or up to the full appraised value in certain circumstances. Counties may require compensation of full appraised value or a percentage of appraised value, and compensation may be adjusted based on a variety of factors set forth in RCW 36.87.120.

Vacation of rights-of-way abutting bodies of water is governed by RCW 36.87.130 for counties and RCW 35.79.035 for cities. It generally requires a detailed analysis of an agency's projected needs for waterfront access.

For roads that were platted but unopened or unused prior to 1905, RCW 36.87.090 should be reviewed to determine if those old roads might have been automatically vacated by operation of law. See also the MRSC Information Bulletins listed under Recommended Resources.


Examples of Local Road and Street Vacation Procedures

Below are examples of street and road vacation documents from cities and counties in Washington State, including ordinances, procedures, and application forms.

Sample City Code Provisions, Ordinances, and Resolutions

  • Bainbridge Island Municipal Code Ch. 12.34 — Includes criteria for city council to use when determining whether to vacate a street or alley (see Sec. 110).
  • Blaine Municipal Code Ch. 12.16 — Allows the city council to initiate, by resolution, the vacation of any existing ROW; requires a legal description and map of the proposed area. 
  • Edgewood Ordinance 18-0523 (2018) — Creates new chapter in city code related to vacations/alterations of approved short plats, full subdivision plats, and binding site plans.
  • Gig Harbor Municipal Code Ch. 12.14 — Allows ordinances vacating streets, alleys, public places, or portions to contain a provision retaining or requiring conveyance of easements for construction, repair, and maintenance of existing and future public utilities.
  • Issaquah Municipal Code Ch. 12.20 — Sec. 060 provides that any property falling within the limits of a vacated alley or street be transferred to abutting property owners.
  • Lakewood Ordinance No. 677 (2018) — Vacates a portion of unopened ROW.
  • Liberty Lake Resolution 04-66 (2004) — Initiates vacation of city ROW.
  • Kirkland Municipal Code Ch. 19.16 — Sec. 200 requires that one-half of the revenue received as compensation for vacated city property be dedicated to the acquisition, improvement, development, and related maintenance of public open space or transportation capital projects.
  • Tumwater Resolution 2020-003 (2020) — Sets a public hearing for a street vacation petition brought to the city.

Sample City Guidelines and Policies

Sample County Code Provisions, Ordinances, and Resolutions

Sample County Guidelines and Policies


Recommended Resources


Last Modified: June 02, 2022