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Streamlining Local Permit Review Procedures

This page provides an overview of the legal requirements for project review and examples of permit review procedures as well as examples of streamlined processes.

New legislation:

  • Effective July 23, 2023:
    • 2SSB 5412 exempts project actions that develop residential housing units/middle housing within an urban growth area if specified criteria are met, or within a city west of the crest of the Cascade Mountains that meets specified population criteria, from the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).
    • 2SSB 5290 requires local governments to exclude interior alterations from site plan review, except under certain conditions. Also, requires the Department of Commerce (1) to establish a grant program for qualifying local governments to transition from paper permit systems to digital systems, (2) to convene a work group to examine digital permitting systems, and (3) to establish a grant program for local governments that agree to comply with certain residential permit application processing time frames.
    • ESHB 1293 requires cities and counties planning under the Growth Management Act (GMA) to apply only clear and objective design review standards to the exterior of new development, with certain exceptions. We will provide more information on our website soon.
  • Effective January 1, 2025, 2SSB 5290:
    • Provides local governments with new default permit processing time frames and requires local governments to provide permitting fee refunds if the time frames are missed, except under certain circumstances.
    • Replaces existing local government permit processing reporting requirements with new requirements and requires the Department of Commerce to produce an annual report using the information.

We will provide more information on our website soon.

Legal Requirements

Jurisdictions fully planning under the GMA must use all of the permit procedures outlined within Ch. 36.70B RCW to administer permit application processes, while only part of its requirements apply to non-GMA cities and counties.

In general, all cities and counties are required to develop an integrated and consolidated project permit review process that:

  • Combines both procedural and substantive environmental review with project permit review; and
  • Allows no more than one open record hearing and not more than one closed record appeal hearing on both the permit and environmental review, except for appeals of a SEPA determination of significance.

For more information on Washington's local project review requirements, see the Washington Department of Commerce's Short Course on Local Planning

Examples of Local Permit Review Procedures

Having a clear and consistently applied permit review process benefits everyone, whether you are an applicant, developer, local citizen, or municipal staffer.

The following are examples of Washington local government permit review procedures. They are consistent with Washington state goals and requirements for an integrated project permit review process that handles permits in a timely and fair manner.

Examples of Streamlined Permit Procedures

Shorter permit processing times will save applicants time. They can also save significant money when there are costs associated with holding property until it is put to productive use. A shorter permit process may also be easier on citizens interested in observing the process, since it will not require such a sustained effort. A streamlined process generally can be accomplished without sacrificing adequate review, as these examples illustrate.

Administrative Approvals

Less complex projects with fewer likely impacts can often be handled through a simplified process which may include approvals by designated staff.

Expedited Review

Some communities provide the option for an expedited review for an added fee, as a convenience for applicants with pressing time needs. Others provide expedited review for types of development the community wishes to encourage.

Online Application Submittal and Other Online Tools to Assist Applicants

Online applications can save on delivery time and cost. They also result in digital documents that can be reviewed simultaneously by different departments.

  • Bellevue Permits – Uses common, easy-to-use permitting portal that makes it possible to get simple permits from Bellevue and thirteen other participating jurisdictions (MyBuildingPermit).
  • Clark County:
  • Pierce County Development Center – Portal for all types of permits. Opportunities to submit applications online, look up septic tank "as-built" records, research parcels, and submit questions to Development Center staff

Permit Tracking

  • Redmond ePermitting Service – Allows applicants to track progress on permit application and improves city processes by automating permitting, inspections, enforcement cases, land use planning, and project review
  • Mukilteo Online Permit Center – Allows applicant to access current status of permits, permit reports, inspection requests and activity, as well as accessing reference material and documentation

Combined Public Hearings

Pre-Application Meeting

Although a preapplication meeting may seem like an extra step, a preliminary meeting between applicants and permit review staff can clarify requirements and ultimately avoid costly misunderstandings and delays.

Other Streamlining Measures

Examples of Permit Procedure Studies

A number of local jurisdictions have conducted studies and developed recommendations for improving permit processing and customer satisfaction. The Governor's Office for Regulatory Innovation and Assistance (ORIA) lists Best Practices for Permitting

The State Auditor's Office Local Government Performance Center (now the Center for Government Innovation) conducted four case studies of counties that have implemented practices to cut permitting time and has provided brief summaries of each: Lessons Learned: How Counties Are Improving Permitting Processes (2015).

Examples of Monitoring / Annual Development Permit Reports

This section includes selected examples of permit monitoring and annual permit reports from cities and counties in Washington State. RCW 36.70B.080(2)(b) requires certain cities and counties to prepare annual performance reports regarding development permit applications. These jurisdictions include six counties in Western Washington (Clark, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston) and cities within those counties with populations of 20,000 or more. A number of cities and counties outside of the Puget Sound area are also monitoring permit activity.

The following reports provide information that can help officials recognize growth trends and activity, measure performance, and flag potential areas for improvement of the permitting process.

Last Modified: February 23, 2024