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Ask MRSC - Planning

Below are selected “Ask MRSC” inquiries we have received from local governments throughout Washington State related to planning. Click on any question to see the answer.

These questions are for educational purposes only. All questions and answers have been edited and adapted for posting to the MRSC website, and all identifying information, including the inquirer’s name and agency name, has been removed.

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Reviewed: October 2023

RCW 29A.84.040 makes it a misdemeanor to remove or deface lawfully placed political advertising including yard signs or billboards without authorization. Check with your city attorney to see if your city has adopted this statute. If so, a violation can be charged in municipal court. If not, it will have to be referred to the county prosecutor.

For a bit more background, a local government cannot prohibit the placement of political signs in the areas between the street and sidewalk (or in the unpaved section of the right-of-way where there is no sidewalk), commonly referred to as the “parking strip.” As a general rule, the public right-of-way, which includes parking strips, is only an easement and the underlying property belongs to the abutting property owner. As such, only the property owner or the tenant of the property owner may determine what, if any, political signs are placed in the parking strip. In contrast, a jurisdiction can prohibit temporary signs in the untraveled area of a right-of-way that does not involve parking strips, such as in boulevard medians or in the middle of roundabouts. For more information, see this blog post, Regulating Non-Commercial Temporary Signs During Election Season, and our Sign Regulation webpage.

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Reviewed: April 2023

Below are examples from both Washington State and elsewhere. The out-of-state examples are probably more in line with the shorter, more graphically oriented plan you are interested in. Nevertheless, several Washington plans also do a nice job incorporating graphics, even while being heavier on text.

Washington state:

Other states:

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Reviewed: March 2023

RCW 82.02.050-.110 and WAC 365-196-850 authorize counties, cities, and towns planning under the Growth Management Act (GMA) to impose various types of impact fees, including for transportation, schools, parks, and fire protection facilities. For non-GMA cities, there is authority in the Local Transportation Act (LTA), Chapter 39.92 RCW, to impose transportation impact fees to mitigate the impact on infrastructure from development.

As we note on our Revenue Guide for Washington Cities and Towns (p. 144), this allows for a fee charged to developers to mitigate the impacts on infrastructure and capital facilities because of increased demand resulting from new development. Revenues are restricted and may only be used for transportation. The fee may be imposed by any city, but since typically impact fees are assessed under the GMA rather than LTA the city cannot impose both. Since your city does not plan under GMA that restriction does not apply. Also, the fee does not require voter approval. The fee must be limited to the “amount that the local government can demonstrate is reasonably necessary as a direct result of the proposed development.” See RCW 39.92.030(4).

The fee authorized under Chapter 39.92 RCW does not run afoul of the prohibition on development fees in RCW 82.02.020. That section specifically says that “Nothing in this section prohibits counties, cities, or towns from imposing transportation impact fees authorized pursuant to Chapter 39.92 RCW.”

Our inquiry database indicates that the City of Lacey imposes a Local Transportation Act fee. See Lacey Municipal Code Ch. 14.21.

MRSC’s Selected Funding Sources for Public Facilities webpage includes several additional examples of ways to help mitigate impacts resulting from development, including the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) mitigation, voluntary agreements, and local improvement districts.

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Reviewed: March 2023

The authority to waive connection and hook-up fees, as well as other rate relief programs, comes from RCW 35.92.020(5) and RCW 35.67.020(5) which authorize cities and towns to “provide assistance to aid low-income persons in connection with [municipal utilities and sewer] services.” And RCW 35.92.380 requires that any waivers of system development or connection charges be done pursuant to a program established by ordinance.

None of these statutes contains language similar to that in RCW 82.02.060 requiring the waived fees to be paid from sources other than impact fee accounts. I find nothing in our inquiry database that indicates that SDCs, if waived pursuant to an adopted ordinance, require backfilling from another source.

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Reviewed: November 2022

Here are some resources that should be helpful:

  • U.S. Census Bureau:
    • Home-based Workers - Notes that the American Community Survey (ACS) includes a question for those 16 and over who were employed and at work in the previous week, on the method of transportation usually used to get to work. Home-based workers are those who reported “work from home” on this question.
    • This recent Census article highlights that the number of people primarily working from home tripled between 2019 and 2021 (with Washington State having one of the highest percentages of home-based workers) and indicates that the Census will release additional ACS statistics over the next few months.
  • Washington State Office of Financial Management (OFM):
  • Washington State Employment Security Department: Employment Estimates - Provides monthly estimates of nonfarm employment, by industry, in Washington state.

Additionally, some cities do their own employment studies (either in-house or through consultants) that would analyze various local employment data to inform their comprehensive plans.

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Reviewed: October 2022

Seattle and King County’s comprehensive plans specifically identify gun safety, while other jurisdictions’ comprehensive plans more broadly address violence, crime, and/or public safety (see examples below). Additionally, community health needs assessments and community health improvement plans are often either referenced or adopted by reference in comprehensive plans. For example, the King County Comprehensive Plan references the community health indicators (see violence & injury prevention) that are part of the King County Community Health Needs Assessment, 2021-2022 (see discussion of firearm-related deaths).

Here are some examples of goals and policies from Washington comprehensive plans:

  • King County Comprehensive Plan – In Chapter 4 of the “Regional Health and Human Services” section, see H-102.e and H-209, which include references to firearms.
  • Kirkland Human Services Goals and Policies – See Policy HS-5.3 in the Human Services chapter. It includes as a goal area “A safe haven from all forms of violence and abuse.”
  • Redmond Comprehensive Plan – In the Chapter “Shoreline Master Program,” see SL-46 “Incorporate crime prevention principles in the design of public access to make facilities safe and easy to patrol and supervise.”
  • Seattle Comprehensive Plan (2020) – In the Chapter “Community Well-Being,” see public safety policy CW 5.7 “Work in partnership with state, county, and community agencies to prevent violence, including that associated with substance abuse, and firearms injuries.” Other examples include GS 3.27, CW G5, BL-G15, and NN-P18.
  • Spokane Social Health Chapter – See SH 6 on Safety, and related policies (CPTED, natural access control, natural surveillance, community oriented policing services, etc.).
  • Vancouver Comprehensive Plan – See the Police section in the Public Facilities and Services Chapter, which includes data and strategies around crime and violence.
  • Yakima Comprehensive Plan – See policy 7.4.7 “Encourage community policing, CPTED principles, and community watch programs to improve public safety for both businesses and residences.

Here are a few examples from other states:

  • Oakland Safety Element - Public Safety – Includes policies and actions related to violent crime.
  • Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan – See Goal 5 and related action steps, which include “Follow a public health approach to ending violence by reducing the factors that put people at risk for being involved with violence” and “Expand the use of non-enforcement, community-driven public safety strategies and responses such as restorative practices that can address and repair the harm caused by a crime.”
  • Stockton General Plan – See Goal SAF-1, Safe Community (public safety is a top community priority). Policies SAF-1.1 and SAF-1.2 address violence and crime.

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Reviewed: October 2022

We are aware of a handful of Washington cities that allow more than one ADU per lot.

And here’s an Oregon example:

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Reviewed: October 2022

The city can apply its sign regulations provided it is a uniform application of the code (in other words, all applicants are treated similarly) and it does not impose an unjustified substantial burden on religious exercise. However, you should check with your attorney on this issue.

The law involved is a federal law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) (42 U.S.C. § 2000cc) which impacts land use decisions involving religious organizations. In order to show that a land use regulation – such as a sign code regulation - violates RLUIPA, the church must establish that the government imposed a substantial burden on the plaintiff’s religious exercise. The government is then required to show that the regulation is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.

Here are two good resources to review:

Below is one of the Q&As relevant to your question from the Dept. of Justice guidance linked above:

Does RLUIPA exempt religious assemblies and institutions from local zoning laws? No. RLUIPA is not a blanket exemption from zoning laws. As a general matter, religious institutions must apply for the same permits, follow the same requirements, and go through the same land-use processes as other land users. RLUIPA does not pre-empt or replace the normal zoning code. Rather, it imposes a number of safeguards and requirements on local governments regarding zoning that impact religious uses by requiring that:
  • the zoning law or its application not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification pursued through the least restrictive means,
  • the zoning law not treat religious uses less favorably than nonreligious assemblies and institutions,
  • the law not discriminate based on religion or religious denomination, and
  • the jurisdiction not totally or unreasonably restrict religious uses.
When there is a conflict between RLUIPA and the zoning code or how it is applied, RLUIPA, as a federal civil rights law, takes precedence and the zoning law must give way. So long as a municipality applies its codes uniformly and does not impose an unjustified substantial burden on religious exercise, it may apply traditional zoning concerns – such as regulations addressing traffic, hours of use, parking, maximum capacity, intensity of use, setbacks, frontage – to religious uses just as they are applied to any other land uses.

Again, we recommend discussing the question with your city attorney. Our guidance at MRSC is general and not intended to substitute for the advice of your legal counsel.

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Reviewed: September 2022

Here are a few examples that might be useful:

  • Bellevue Mobility Implementation Plan Report (2022) – See page 70, which discusses Seattle’s use of mode share to determine transportation concurrency. “Under this system, the city requires a transportation impact analysis of a proposed development to determine whether the mode share of the occupied building would meet SOV mode share standards established for different areas…”
  • Issaquah Transportation Impact Analysis Guidelines (2015) – See page 2, which states, “Consistent with the Transportation Concurrency and multi-modal transportation impact fees in the City, these guidelines pertain to all modes of transportation, both motorized and non-motorized. The purpose of these Guidelines is to establish requirements and procedures to ensure timely and consistent analysis.”
  • Walla Walla Transportation Impact Analysis Guidelines (2018) – See page 11, which states that an analysis of multi-modal access and circulation is required.

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Reviewed: July 2022

Here are several examples from both cities and counties:

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Reviewed: April 2022

Many local governments allow use of their facilities on a nondiscriminatory, equal access basis to the public, usually for a rental fee and this could include a message on a reader board. Some cities have policies that address how city reader board signs may be used. Here are a few examples:

We recommend working closely with your city attorney in developing such a policy, keeping in mind First Amendment issues. A city reader board should not be used to advertise a political event, especially if the event relates to a political candidate or ballot measure. RCW 42.17A.555 prohibits the use of city facilities to support or oppose political campaigns.

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Reviewed: January 2022
Authorizing a subdivision to be developed in phases does not relieve the developer of the statutory deadlines in RCW 58.17.140 or from the requirement to obtain extensions pursuant to local code. RCW 58.17.140(3) establishes deadlines for submittal of a final plat after preliminary plat approval. RCW 58.17.140(4) gives local governments discretion to provide for extensions of that time, through procedures adopted by ordinance. Chapter 58.17 RCW does not actually address phasing of subdivisions. Nevertheless, it is a common practice. Some codes provide specific extensions for phasing, but most do not, other than extensions that might be available for any subdivision. Again, how and whether to grant extensions is a matter of local policy (implemented through an adopted ordinance).

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Reviewed: November 2021

There are two methods cities may use to impose the tax authorized by RCW 82.14.530. The first is by submitting an authorizing proposition (by passing a ballot measure resolution) that goes before the voters at the next general election (see subsection (1)(b)(i)(A)). The second method dispenses with the need to put the measure before the voters and gives the legislative body the authority to decide whether to impose the tax (see subsection (1)(b)(i)(B)). The option to impose the tax without voter approval was added in 2020.

See our description of this tax—how it’s implemented and how it may be used-- as well as several examples of ordinances and resolutions on the Housing & Related Services Sales Tax section of our Affordable Housing Funding Sources topic page. The Issaquah and Spokane ordinances are examples where the council approved the tax without putting the question before the voters. So, a resolution would be used to put the measure before the voters, followed by adoption of an ordinance implementing the tax if adopted. And only an ordinance implementing the tax would be needed if the city opted not to put the question before the voters.

And here are search results from our Sample Document Library using the term “RCW 82.14.530”.

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Reviewed: October 2021

Your current sign code applies until officially amended or interim zoning controls or a moratorium is put in place pursuant to RCW 35A.63.220 or RCW 36.70A.390. Any application will need to be processed under the current regulations.

The city does have discretion whether to enforce against violations of the current sign code if it feels it would be inconsistent with state or federal law. This would have to be determined in consultation with your City Attorney. Again, however, any applications that came in for signs would need to be processed pursuant to your current code.

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Reviewed: July 2021

MRSC recommends that agencies not tie the issuance of one permit to fixing an unrelated code violation on the property. One relevant case to consider is Mission Springs, Inc. v. City of Spokane, 134 Wn.2d 947, 960, 954 P.2d 250, 256 (1998) (city councilmembers liable for refusing to issue grading permit when “Issuance of such a permit is not a matter of discretion but is ministerial”). So, depending on the type of permit, if the applicant satisfies all the requirements for issuance (including the payment of fees for that permit), then the city should issue the permit. 

There may be circumstances in which denial of a building permit is appropriate if the code violation is related to the building permit. An example of that would be if the applicant has not satisfied a subdivision or short plat condition of approval that is required prior to issuance of building permits. Your agency attorney should be able to advise you in specific situations where you are not sure how to proceed.

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Reviewed: May 2021

Under RCW 36.70A.130(2), cities and counties may consider proposed amendments no more frequently than once per year, with some exceptions, but there is no set date specified by the State. Instead, it is up to the local government to establish when the annual amendment process starts (and ends 12 months later). We recommend that the established time period be clearly stated, made available, and publicized, so as to minimize any confusion or lack of knowledge about it.

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Reviewed: April 2021

A Homeowners Association (HOA) Covenants Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs) restricting Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) would remain in effect and enforceable even if a city passed an ordinance allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single family residential areas. This is because an HOA’s CC&Rs are private rules that each private homeowner agrees to follow as a condition of purchasing a home in a particular development. So, if the city allows ADUs in single-family areas with CC&Rs, the property owner would first need to negotiate with the HOA to change the applicable CC&R (or perhaps, to obtain an exception) before an ADU could be built.

For example, city zoning might allow a three-story building, but a covenant might only allow two stories; the more restrictive covenant, not the zoning restriction, would control the use of the property. The nature of a CC&R is private and does not involve the city. A city ordinance would not preempt or have legal priority over valid private restrictions, unless the CC&R were contrary to law. Enforcement of a restriction on ADUs would be a civil matter between the property owners. A city has no authority to enforce private covenants. See, for example, Viking Properties, Inc., v. Holm, 155 Wn.2d 112, 120 (2005) ("the City has correctly conceded that it 'has no authority' to enforce or invalidate restrictive covenants . . . ."). See, also, Jones v. Town of Hunts Point, 166 Wn.App. 452 (2012).).

State law does regulate Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs) at Chapter 64.38 RCW. The HOA law places some limitations on what an HOA can privately regulate. The law prohibits an HOA’s governing documents (i.e., CCRs) from excluding solar panels, certain types of drought resistant landscaping, and adult family homes. See RCW 64.38.055 thru .060. Under the law, the governing documents may not prohibit the display of flags or political signs. See RCW 64.38.033 and .034. And RCW 49.60.224 and .227 relate to removal of discriminatory language in deeds and restrictive covenants. RCW 64.38.028 provides a simple process for an HOA board to remove this discriminatory language from its governing documents. While there is no provision limiting private regulation of ADUs in Washington State, I understand this is something the legislature may consider to promote more housing types in communities.

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Reviewed: December 2020

Normally, impact fees are paid before construction begins because they are a condition for receiving a permit. However, RCW 82.02.050 requires cities, towns, and counties to adopt an impact fee payment deferral system for small single-family residential developments, allowing developers to pay the fees after construction instead of beforehand. For details and examples, see MRSC's Impact Fees page.

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Reviewed: October 2020

Under state law, a subdivision process is required to divide property into smaller lots. MRSC has a webpage with a lot of information on what is required to subdivide property. The type of process that would apply to the situation you describe is a “short subdivision” or “short plat,” which is a simplified process that can be used for simple subdivisions involving less than five lots. Here is the information from the webpage on short subdivisions:

Short Subdivision Process

No process is set out in state law for approval of short plats. Cities and counties are required by RCW 58.17.060 to adopt by ordinance their own regulations and procedures that provide for "summary approval" of short plats through an administrative process.

Approval Process

Because it must be an administrative process, there is no public hearing for a short plat application, and the legislative body is not involved in the process. To approve a short plat, the administrative personnel assigned to review short plat applications must make the same written findings in RCW 58.17.110 that are required for subdivision (plat) applications.

Time Limitations for Approval

Short plats must be approved, disapproved, or returned to the applicant for modification within 30 days of the filing of the short plat application, unless the applicant consents to an extension. See RCW 58.17.140.

Recording and Filing Requirements

They must be filed with the county auditor and are not deemed "approved" until such filing. See RCW 58.17.065.

Vesting Rules

There is no limitation on the vesting of an approved short plat as there exists with respect to approved final plats. See Noble Manor v. Pierce County, 133 Wn.2d 269, 281-82 (1997).

A drawing prepared by a surveyor is generally required to subdivide property. You should check to see if the Town has a subdivision ordinance that would apply to this situation. The Town will want to be sure that the subdivided lots comply with the Town’s minimum lot size and dimension requirements, and that each lot has access to right of way.

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