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2022 Growth Management Act-Related Bills

2022 Growth Management Act-Related Bills

This blog post summarizes several bills related to the Growth Management Act (GMA) that were passed during the most recent Washington State legislative session and signed into law by the governor. All of these bills took effect on June 9, 2022.

Tribal Participation in GMA Planning

Under HB 1717, federally recognized tribes may voluntarily participate in a county or regional planning process under GMA. If a tribe wants to participate, it must present a resolution to the county, indicating its intent. Local governments then must enter into good faith negotiations with the tribe to develop a mutually agreeable memorandum of agreement outlining collaboration and participation in the planning process.

If agreement cannot be reached, the parties may enter into a mediation process of 60 days or less using a suitable expert arranged for and paid by the Department of Commerce. Failure to reach an agreement does not prevent a tribe from attempting to participate in subsequent planning processes. A tribe may also request that Commerce provide facilitation services to resolve issues that it has with a local government concerning the local government’s comprehensive plan.

Additionally, tribes must be invited to participate in the process to develop countywide planning policies. These policies must address the protection of tribal cultural resources in collaboration with tribes that choose to participate in the process. Upon request, Commerce is required to provide any notices of proposed comprehensive plans or amendments to tribes.

State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Exemption Expansion for Housing

SB 5818 promotes housing construction in cities by making amendments to and limiting appeals under SEPA and the GMA. The bill:

  • Amends RCW 36.70A.600 to encourage cities to take specific actions to expand housing supply. City adoption of these measures was previously precluded from SEPA appeal if the city took action by April 1, 2023. This bill removes the sunset date.
  • Amends the GMA housing element (RCW 36.70A.070) and SEPA (RCW 43.21C.495) to preclude SEPA appeal on the adoption of ordinances, development regulations, and other non-project actions that increase housing capacity and affordability and mitigate displacement under the mandatory housing element, and that apply outside critical areas. However, exemption does not apply if these actions have significant adverse impact on fish habitat.
  • Amends SEPA (RCW 43.21C.501) to preclude appeals of residential or mixed-use development on the basis of or impacts to aesthetics or light and glare, if the project is subject to adopted design review requirements. Design review is a formally adopted local government process by which projects are reviewed for compliance with design standards for the type of use adopted through local ordinance. The appeal exemption on the basis of or impacts to the transportation elements only applies if the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has not found the project will present significant adverse impacts on to the state-owned transportation system.
  • Directs the Washington State Department of Ecology to update SEPA categorical exemption rules to increase the upper limits of optional flexible thresholds for residential projects, including increasing the upper limit for multi-family development from 60 units to 200 units. Additionally, categorical exemptions for minor new construction must include documentation of outreach with WSDOT on impacts and potential mitigation to state-owned transportation facilities.
  • Creates a new section in SEPA stating that an applicant whose project qualifies as exempt under SEPA isn’t required to file an environmental checklist if other information is available to establish that a project qualifies for an exemption.

As this is only a summary of the key provisions, reviewing the bill in full is recommended.

Urban Growth Area (UGA) Revisions

SB 5593 requires that each county that designates UGAs under RCW 36.70A.110 review patterns of development occurring within the UGA.

If, during this review, the county determines patterns of development have created pressure in areas that exceed available, developable lands within the UGA, the UGA may be revised to accommodate identified patterns of development and likely future development pressure for the succeeding 20-year period if the following requirements are met:

  • The revised UGA may not result in an increase in the total surface areas of the UGA.
  • The areas added to the UGA are not or have not been designated as agricultural, forest, or mineral resource lands of long-term commercial significance.
  • Critical areas comprise less than 15 percent of the areas added to the UGA.
  • The areas added to the UGA are suitable for urban growth.
  • The transportation element and capital facilities plan element have identified the transportation facilities and public facilities and services needed to serve the UGA and the funding to provide these facilities and services.
  • The UGA is not larger than needed to accommodate the growth planned for the succeeding 20-year planning period and a reasonable land market supply factor.
  • The areas removed from the UGA do not include urban growth or urban densities.
  • The revised UGA is contiguous, does not include holes or gaps, and will not increase pressure to urbanize rural or natural resource lands.

Enhancing Opportunities in Limited Areas of More Intense Rural Development (LAMIRDs)

SB 5275 allows more options for development and redevelopment inside the boundary of a LAMIRD, which is an isolated pocket of more intense development in rural areas.

Per RCW 36.70A.070, the rural element of comprehensive plans may allow for LAMIRDs, including necessary public facilities and public services to serve the limited area, under certain circumstances.

Under the new law, any development or redevelopment of building size, scale, use, or intensity may be permitted within a LAMIRD subject to confirmation from all existing providers of public facilities and public services of sufficient capacity of existing public facilities and public services to serve any new or additional demand from the new development or redevelopment. Development and redevelopment may include changes in use from vacant land or a previously existing use as long as the new use is consistent with the local character.

Any commercial development or redevelopment within a mixed-use area must be principally designed to serve the existing and projected rural population and any retail or food service space must not exceed the footprint of previously occupied space or 5,000 square feet (whichever is greater) for the same or similar use, or any included retail or food service space must not exceed 2,500 square feet for a new use.

Periodic Update Timelines

HB 1241 extends the eight-year comprehensive plan periodic update cycle to a 10-year cycle after the upcoming cycle. Additionally, the deadline for counties with plans due in 2024 (King, Kitsap, Pierce, and Snohomish), has been extended six months from June 30 to December 31.

The bill also requires larger counties and cities with a population over 6,000 within those counties to submit an implementation progress report on key outcomes, including housing affordability and availability, permit processing timelines, greenhouse gas emissions, and vehicle miles traveled, five years after the review and revision of their comprehensive plan. Commerce will develop guidelines for indicators, measures, milestones, and criteria for use by counties and cities in the implementation progress report.

If a city or county does not implement identified regulations, zoning and land use changes to implement any changes from the most recent periodic update by the deadline for the implementation progress report, it must identify the need for such action in the implementation progress report. It must also adopt a work plan to implement actions in the progress report and complete all work within two years of submission of the report.

GMA Effective Dates

SB 5042 provides that the effective date of an action that expands a UGA; removes the designation of agricultural, forest, or mineral resource lands; creates or expands a LAMIRD; establishes a new fully contained community; or creates or expands a master-planned resort is the later of the following dates:

  • 60 days after the date of publication of notice of adoption of the comprehensive plan, development regulation, or amendment to the plan or regulation, implementing the action; or
  • if a petition for review to the Growth Management Hearings Board is timely filed, upon issuance of the board's final order.

Related MRSC Resources

For more information, see the following pages:

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

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About Lisa Pool

Lisa Pool joined MRSC in June 2021. Most recently, she served as a senior planner for Bellingham. In this role, she primarily focused on long-range planning projects, including the city’s comprehensive plan and new housing-related regulations. Prior to moving to Bellingham, she worked on regional sustainability and transportation issues for a metropolitan planning organization and conducted development review for cities and counties in the Midwest.

Lisa holds a Bachelor of Arts in environmental policy and a Master of Urban Planning, both from the University of Kansas in Lawrence. She has been a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners since 2009.