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Comprehensive Plan Update Process

This page provides guidance on the required periodic updates to city and county comprehensive plans and development regulations under the Washington State Growth Management Act (GMA), including useful examples of various steps in the process as well as information on annual (optional) comprehensive plan amendments.

For a general overview of comprehensive plans, see our page Comprehensive Planning.


The Growth Management Act (GMA) provides two mechanisms for updating comprehensive plans and development regulations:

  • "Periodic updates" process (mandatory)
  • Annual amendments process (optional)

"Periodic Updates" Process (Mandatory)

Cities and counties fully planning under RCW 36.70A.040 must complete a periodic update for their entire comprehensive plan and development regulations, including those related to critical areas and natural resource lands. Periodic updates are required to be done every eight years, with the next scheduled updates due between 2024, 2025, 2026, or 2027 dependent on county. However, this is set to change to every 10 years after the current cycle.

Counties and cities 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 only (see our page on Critical Areas).

Below are some examples:

Annual Amendments Process (Optional)

An optional amendment process allows cities and counties, if desired, to adopt a package of changes to the comprehensive plan and development regulations (in between the mandatory periodic update deadlines), as long as the annual amendment process occurs no more than once per year.

Below is an example of an annual amendment worksheet:

Periodic Update Schedule (Mandatory)

Each Washington city and county must periodically review and, if needed, revise its comprehensive plan and development regulations every 10 years to ensure that they comply with the GMA, as per the schedule provided in RCW 36.70A.130.

Map showing which counties must update GMA plans each year from 2024-2027
Map provided by Department of Commerce; click for higher resolution


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, with the exception of King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish counties, which have a deadline of December 31, 2024 for the current cycle.

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 this does not change the deadline for its next periodic update cycle established by law. The Washington Department of Commerce’s Growth Management Act Periodic Update page contains more information on the current periodic update schedule for each county in Washington.

Other Periodic Update Considerations

Countywide Planning Policies

While counties are not required to update their countywide planning policies per RCW 36.70A.130, it is important for counties to review existing planning policies to see if any changes are needed and, if so, to 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 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).

Buildable Lands Program

Jurisdictions subject to RCW 36.70A.215, which includes Clark, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston, and Whatcom 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).

Below are some program examples:

Periodic Update Process

Practice Tip: We highly recommend consulting the Washington State Department of Commerce’s Growth Management Act Periodic Update page and resources.

For fully planning jurisdictions, the Department of Commerce has laid out 12 steps needed to complete the review and update process. Those steps are:

  1. Create a work program
  2. Capital facilities data gathering and planning
  3. Initiate county-city collaboration
  4. Begin review of existing regulations
  5. Develop a community engagement Plan
  6. Conduct SEPA and NEPA Review Checklist
  7. Draft Staff Reports and Maps
  8. Issue public notices
  9. Make SEPA determination
  10. Submit to Commerce for 60-day review
  11. Take legislative action
  12. Submit notice of adoption to commerce and publish changes

These steps are outlined in more detail below. For the full list of steps and additional information, see the Department of Commerce’s Guide to the Periodic Update process under the Growth Management Act (2022).

1. Create 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.


2. Capital Facilities Data Gathering and Planning

Prioritize capital facilities planning as a critical aspect of Urban Growth Area (UGA) designation. Focus on ensuring that Capital Facilities Plans (CFPs) are integral to urban development planning and that they prioritize capital projects effectively to maximize funding opportunities.

For more information on this topic, see MRSC's Capital Facilities Planning and Commerce's Capital Facilities Planning pages.

3. Initiate County-City Collaboration

Initiate crucial county-city collaboration at least two years before the update, focusing on regional issues like population projections and housing forecasts. Coordinate Geographic Information System (GIS) data early to ensure that updated maps can be efficiently implemented once the periodic update is completed.

4. Begin Review of Existing Regulations

Review all aspects of comprehensive plans and development regulations, utilizing the Department of Commerce's periodic update checklists as a foundation for your review. Document proposed changes and consider adopting ordinances or resolutions to enhance transparency.

5. Develop a Community Engagement Plan

Create a community engagement plan that encourages participatory local democracy and helps build trust in government. Adopt a public participation program to meet Growth Management Act (GMA) requirements and adjust it as needed over time. Special attention needs to be paid the particular needs and circumstances of the particular community when creating a plan.

For resources and ideas on how to create an engagement plan tailored to a specific situation, see our Community Engagement Resources page. For more information on establishing consistent procedures for public participation, see Puget Sound Regional Council's Public Participation Plan (2023).


  • Colville Public Participation Program (2020) – Provides clear notification techniques, schedules, and materials used to inform each session. It also identifies staff responsible for workshop engagement.
  • Ellensburg Public Participation Plan (2017) – Utilizes a variety of participation tools including events, interviews, focus groups, and online engagement
  • Seattle Public Participation Plan (2015) – Includes standard methods of engagement such as website and public meetings, with an added emphasis on social media. Good use of online surveys and “Meeting in a Box” toolkit.
  •  Whatcom County Public Participation Plan (2021) – Outlines engagement opportunities and procedures on specific stages and projects in the update process.

6. Conduct a SEPA and NEPA Review Checklist

Comply with State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requirements. Involve the Washington State Department of Ecology for environmental impact assessments and mitigation measures.

Examples of Checklists

7. Draft Staff Reports and Maps

Develop legally defensible, factual, and easy-to-understand staff reports that combine all relevant information, findings of fact, and stakeholder resources into comprehensive documents.

8. Issue Public Notices

Issue public notices for transparency in the periodic update process, publishing these notices in designated legal publications and considering additional platforms like authorized social media outlets.

9. Make SEPA Determination

Make SEPA determination after conducting environmental review and public notice, considering an integrated comment period aligned with Commerce's 60-day notice requirements.

10. Submit to Commerce for 60-Day Review

Notify the Commerce Growth Management Services office at least 60 days before the final adoption of comprehensive plans and/or development regulations, including all necessary details to comply with statutory notice requirements.

11. Take Legislative Action

Adopt an ordinance or resolution that identifies revisions made during the review process, or conclude that no revisions are needed, following local policies and processes for legislative action.

12. Submit Notice of Adoption to Commerce and Publish Changes

Finally, submit a copy of the signed adopted ordinance or resolution to Commerce, Growth Management Services, not more than 10 days after adoption, and work with your department and code publishing service to codify and publish the updates.

Department of Commerce Resources

Annual Comprehensive Plan Amendment Process (Optional)

In addition to the major, periodic comprehensive plan review and updates that are required by law, numerous local jurisdictions consider proposed amendments on a more frequent basis, often annually. Having a more frequent process allows a community to amend its comprehensive plan quickly to respond to a major change in circumstances and stay relevant to local needs. Under RCW 36.70A.130(2), however, cities and counties may consider proposed amendments no more frequently than once per 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).

Examples of Annual Comprehensive Plan Amendment Processes

Recommended Resources

Last Modified: February 23, 2024