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.
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.
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
- Bellingham Street Vacation Procedures, Policies and Petition (2018)
- Federal Way Administrative Street Vacation Policies (2020) — Thorough review of the process, including a framework for decision-making.
- Ilwaco Vacation of Public ROW Guidelines (2013) — Offers a 1-page summary of process and checklist. Does not include fees.
- Kennewick Procedure for Vacation of Public ROW (2019) — Brief summary of major steps involved, as well as city contacts.
- Kirkland Street Vacation Application Form and Checklist (2009) — Includes instructions for public notice signs.
- Seattle Street Vacation Policies (2018) — Guides petitioners, city departments, boards and commissions, and the public through the city’s process.
- Spokane Street Vacation Application (2017) — Includes step-by-step guide to vacating streets, alleys, and other public rights-of-ways.
- Yakima ROW Vacation Application Packet (2017) — Includes application, site plan checklist, and procedures
Sample County Code Provisions, Ordinances, and Resolutions
- Clark County Code Ch. 12.28 — Requires payments received as compensation be credited to the county road fund.
- Jefferson County Code Ch. 12.10 — Includes review criteria.
- King County Ordinance 15189 (2005) — Vacates ROW to dedicate it to Highline Public Schools.
- Lewis County Resolution 13-481 — Proposed vacation of portion of 3rd Street.
- Mason County Resolution 26-06 (2006) — Proposed hearing on vacation petition.
- Okanogan County
- County Code Ch. 12.90 — Sec. 040 sets out a compensation schedule based on type of county road.
- Resolution 109-2019 (2019) — Includes resolution and materials related to a vacation petition within Town of Methow Plat.
- Snohomish County Code Ch. 13.100 — Modifies procedures for granting a vacation of a county road/ROW when the request is part of a land development application.
Sample County Guidelines and Policies
- King County Road Vacations — Offers a brief process overview with links to more detailed documents.
- Kitsap County Road Vacations — Links to separate documents for petition, policy, and procedures.
- Mason County: What is a Road Vacation? — Explains the basic process in a Q&A format.
- Snohomish County Bulletin #101: Road ROW Vacation (2015) — Covers the process in a Q&A format.
- Washington State County Road Administration Board: Model Documents — Includes model road vacation policies, application forms, and checklists for counties.
- MRSC Information Bulletins — These documents outline the legal framework for street vacations, including applicable statutes, major court decisions, and sample local government documents.
- Street Vacation (1989)
- Street Vacations and Ancient Rights of Way (1993)
- MRSC Topic Pages