Development Regulations and Zoning
This page provides an overview of development regulations and zoning codes in Washington State, including examples of unified development codes, development review procedures codes, moratoria, interim zoning ordinances, and other recommended resources.
Development regulations include a variety of land use regulations, such as those pertaining to zoning, subdivisions, critical areas, landscaping, planned unit development, signs, and State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) procedures. Some jurisdictions have prepared "unified development codes" (or land use codes) that contain a range of development regulations, regulating how land is subdivided, used, and developed. Other jurisdictions have separate titles of their codes for zoning, subdivision, and environmental regulations.
In communities that are planning under the Growth Management Act (GMA), development regulations are required to be consistent with adopted comprehensive plans (see our page on Growth Management Act). However, if the local jurisdiction has not yet adopted regulations to implement the plan, the existing zoning apparently will control over the new comprehensive plan, if there is a conflict (Citizens of Mount Vernon v. City of Mount Vernon (1997))
Zoning is a planning practice of dividing land within a jurisdiction into regulated zones. This designates land into different uses and purposes, such as various types of residential, business, transportation uses. Zoning also allows local governments to enforce protections for Critical Areas and other sensitive areas within their jurisdiction such as protected or hazardous areas.
Zoning maps provide visualization of various zones throughout a jurisdiction. It is the officially adopted zoning map, and not a comprehensive plan’s "future land use map," that will identify how a specific parcel can and cannot be used or developed within a jurisdiction. The zoning map, however, must be consistent with the comprehensive plan.
Examples of City Zoning Codes
- East Wenatchee Municipal Code Title 17 – Includes zoning for multiple special and mixed-use districts.
- Langley Municipal Code Title 18 – Small city example
- Redmond Zoning Code Portal – Interactive site for zoning code, property viewer, and use names database. Recently updated to new format
- Sumner Municipal Code Title 18 – Includes overlay districts
- Tumwater Municipal Code Title 18 – Includes many zoning districts, special uses, and transfer of development rights
Examples of County Zoning Codes
- Pierce County Code Title 18A
- Spokane County Code Title 14
- Island County Code Title 17
- King County Code Title 21A
- Kitsap County Code Title 17
- Okanogan County Code Title 17A – From a county not fully planning under the GMA
- Whatcom County Code Title 20
Examples of Zoning Maps
- Bellingham Zoning Map – Standard version of a city zoning map
- Lacey Zoning Map – A GIS application of a developed zoning map
- Whatcom County Zoning Map – A large-scale division of many different land uses
Unified Development Codes integrate multiple types of land use and development regulations into one location of a municipal or county code. This often includes combining and locating a zoning code, subdivision regulations, critical areas ordinance, and development review procedures into a single Title of a local government's code document.
Examples of City Land Use Codes
- Bellevue City Code Title 20 – Veteran land use code, includes subdivision regulations
- Carnation Municipal Code Title 15 – Smaller city example
- Ellensburg Municipal Code Title 15 – Complete revision of city’s land use regulations in 2013. Award-winning code Governor’s Smart Communities Award in 2014. Includes User’s Guide (subdivisions, SEPA, development agreements, critical areas, landmarks, design guidelines, etc.)
- Issaquah Municipal Code Title 18
- Lake Stevens Municipal Code Title 14
- Seattle Municipal Code Title 23 – Very detailed, complex code
- Spokane Municipal Code (see Titles 17 A-I - Unified Development Code) – Includes administration, comprehensive plan and various land use and city-wide standards (environmental, construction, and engineering)
- Vancouver Municipal Code Title 20
Examples of County Unified Development Codes
- Clark County Code Title 40
- Jefferson County Code Title 18 – Example of a simpler unified development code for rural/resource county
- Skagit County Code Title 14
- Stevens County Code Title 3
- Yakima County Code Title 19
Some municipal and county codes have separate ”development review procedures” chapters that specifically detail the processes, procedures, and timelines to be used for the review and approval/denial of new development proposals and any other type of applicable permits. These codes establish staff roles in the review process, requirements for approval by permit type (including any specific to a single permit type), and noticing procedures. For more information, see our page on Streamlining Local Permit Review Procedures.
Examples of Codes
- Castle Rock Municipal Code Ch. 17.77 – An example of streamlining permit review for specific permit and development types such as wireless infrastructure, subdivisions, and building permits.
- Issaquah Municipal Code Ch. 18.04 – Divides development review procedures into levels based on development or permit type.
- SeaTac Municipal Code Title 16A – Establishes review procedures for building and land permits.
State law authorizes local governments to adopt a moratorium or interim zoning ordinance. Legislative bodies that adopt a moratorium or interim zoning ordinance without holding a public hearing need to hold a public hearing within at least sixty days of adoption, regardless of if a recommendation was given by the Planning Commission or planning agency. A moratorium/interim zoning regulation may be effective for no longer than six months or up to a year if a work plan is developed for related studies. It can also be renewed for additional six-month periods as long as a subsequent public hearing is held prior to each renewal (RCW 36.70A.390)
While the statutory language is confusing, a moratorium or adoption of interim zoning regulations cannot be used for the designation or conservation of critical areas, agricultural lands, forestlands, or mineral resource lands. Additionally, a moratorium or adoption of interim zoning cannot be applied to ordinances or development regulations that prohibit building permit applications pertaining to transitional housing or permanent supportive housing in any zones in which residential dwelling units or hotels are allowed as well as indoor emergency shelters and indoor emergency housing in any zones in which hotels are allowed.
Examples of moratoria
- Bellingham Emergency Ordinance No. 2020-03-006 (2020) – An emergency twelve-month moratorium on the acceptance, processing, review, and issuance of any land use or building application or permit for the construction of any new, detached or single-family dwelling unit or residence
- Chelan County Resolution 2021-101 (2021) – A moratorium on development or designation of short-term rentals as the county develops regulation for short-term rentals.
- Clark County Code Sec. 40.260.80(C) – Forest practices – An example of establishing a moratorium that limits development for environmental purposes.
- Pierce County Code Ch. 18H.30 – Development Moratoria – Provides sample criteria for developing and implementing a development moratorium.
Interim Zoning Regulations
An interim zoning regulation is meant to establish emergency or temporary zoning while an agency allows applications or is developing changes to its zoning code.
Below are some examples of interim zoning ordinances.
- Edgewood Ordinance No. 19-0547 (2019) – An emergency six month interim zoning ordinance on the acceptance of applications for new residential/multi-family development in four zones throughout the city
- Tumwater Ordinance No. 02012-019 (2013) – Adoption of emergency interim zoning controls for a neighborhood for the duration of 12 months
The following MRSC pages relate to development regulations and zoning. In some cases, they address more specific topics within the general area of development regulations and zoning.
Focused Types of Regulations
- Adult Entertainment Regulation
- Manufactured Housing Regulation and Preservation
- Sign Regulation
- Streamlining Local Permit Review Procedures
Comprehensive Planning / Growth Management
- Washington State Department of Commerce: A Short Course in Local Planning Resource Guide (2017) – See Chapter 5 on Development Tools and Techniques. Includes discussion of zoning, platting, land use permits, impact fees, and other related topics
- Institute of Local Government: Understanding the Basics of Land Use and Planning: A Guide to Local Planning (2010) – Covers subjects such as why plan, participants in the process, and explanation of the general plan and zoning
- Oregon Transportation and Growth Management Program: Model Development Code and User's Guide for Small Cities (2015)
- Teton View Region (ID) Model Development Code User Handbook (2015) – Very easy-to-understand development code, including plain-language permit administration section. Would need to be revised to address Washington State law. Developed with a HUD grant and intended for other jurisdictions to copy and adapt to their needs.