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.
- 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.
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
- 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 Integrated Project Review, Chapter 3 (G), A Short Course on Local Planning Resource Guide
Having a clear and consistently applied permit review process is of benefit to 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 generally consistent with Washington state goals and requirements for an integrated project permit review process that handles permits in a timely and fair manner.
- Clallam County Code Ch. 26.10 - Consolidated Development Permit Process
- Clark County Code
- Deer Park Municipal Code Title 19 - Integrated Project Review
- Gig Harbor Municipal Code Title 19 - Administration of Development Regulations
- Mill Creek Municipal Code Title 14 - Development Code Administration
- Renton Municipal Code Ch. 4-8 - Permits - General and Appeals
- Shoreline Municipal Code Ch. 20.30 - Procedures and Administration
- Sumner Municipal Code Ch. 18.56 - Procedures for Land Use Permits
- Yakima County Code Title 16B - Project Permit Administration
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 who are 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.
Less complex projects with fewer likely impacts can often be handled through a simplified process which may include approvals by designated staff.
- Federal Way Municipal Code Ch. 19.55 - Process 1 - Director's Approval
- Sammamish Over the Counter Permit Process (2017) - Speedy process for small projects that won the Governor's Smart Communities award
- San Juan County Code Sec. 18.70.040 - Simple land divisions
- Shoreline Development Code Sec. 20.30.040 - .050 - Ministerial and Administrative Decisions
Some communities provide the option for an expedited review for an added fee, as convenience for applicants with pressing time needs. Others provide expedited review for certain types of development that the community wishes to encourage.
- Covington Expedited Plan Review Request (2017)
- Issaquah Green Building Incentive Program - Applicants pursuing green building certification (LEED Gold or Built Green 5 Star) are eligible for priority building permit review at no additional fee.
- King County Code Sec. 27.02.050(C) - Expedited review fees.
- Kirkland Municipal Code Sec. 5.74.090 - Expedited Review
- Express Permits Qualifications - for projects that can be reviewed and turned around in approximately 1 week
- Fast Track Permits Qualifications - for projects that can be reviewed and turned around in approximately 2 weeks.
- Priority Permit Review - provides for faster processing of permits for new single-family homes built under the Green Building Program.
- Vancouver Municipal Code Sec. 20.920.060(H) - Expedited permit review for infill development.
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 and Inspections - 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 Maps Online - Online maps related to property development are available to applicants as a resource.
- Final Plat Review and Recording - Scroll to Digital Plat Submission Guidelines (page 6)
- Pierce County Apply for a Permit - Opportunity to submit applications online, online septic tank as-built look up, parcel research tools, and opportunity to submit questions to Development Center staff.
- 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 access to reference material and documentation.
Combined Public Hearings
- Kent City Code Sec. 12.01.060 - Joint public hearings
- Yakima Municipal Code Sec. 16.03.040 - Applicant's right to a combined hearing
Although a preapplication meeting may seem like an extra step, a preliminary meeting between applicants and permit review staff can clarify an understanding about the applicant's intentions and needs. It can also clarify the full extent of requirements and ultimately avoid costly misunderstandings and delays.
- Federal Way Municipal Code Ch. 19.40 - Preapplication Process
- Issaquah Municipal Code Sec. 18.04.130 - Pre-application meeting
- Vancouver Pre-Application Conference Application and Waiver Request Form (2019)
Other Streamlining Measures
- Marysville One-Stop Permit Center
- Portland, OR Process Management - Liaisons available to help customers navigate the City permitting and construction process
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) has prepared a useful report summarizing best permitting practices principles: Local Government Permitting: Best Practices (2008).
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.
- King County
- Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) Permitting Best Practices Review (2004; see "Best Practice" Categories 1 & 2)
- Department of Permitting and Environmental Review (DPER): Accountability Could Improve Efficiency (2017) - Internal audit to recommend how the county can address significant backlog of residential building permit applications and improve processing times.
- Pierce County
- Planning and Land Services Department Presentation (2013) - Overview of improved permitting services
- Pierce County's Next Generation Permitting (2015) - See Section C. System Design
- Snohomish County
- Model Permit Report, EDC Permit Streamlining Committee, Snohomish County Economic Development Council (2002)
- Evaluation of Snohomish County's Land Use Permitting Process (2002)
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 a population 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.
- Clark County Community Development Data & Reports - Quarterly and annual reports on land use permit activity. The annual report also shows how the average time to issue a permit depends in part on the duration of holds requested by the applicant. Also reports on building permit issuance and valuation, code enforcement, and related subjects.
- King County Data and Reports - Buildable lands (land supply), annual growth, and benchmark reports.
- Kitsap County Department of Community Development Statistics - Data on number of permits and length of time of review
- Issued Building Permit Stats - Monthly and year-to-date accounting of the number of permits, type, valuation, and units added or removed.
- DCI: Performance Measures: From 2007 Accountability Agreement - Turnaround/approval time relative to target.
- Office of Hearing Examiner Annual Reports - Summary of cases filed, and decisions issued, and effective use of pie charts to highlight interesting statistics.
- Snohomish County
- Vancouver Fees, Reports and Publications - Annual report efficiently provides an accounting of the entire gamut of department activities. Also, weekly and annual building permit reports.