Planners' Update Newsletter - March 2023

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march 15, 2023

Planners' Update Newsletter

Regional Planner assignments updated

Map of Washington designating territories for growth management services regional planners

To see the full assignment map and legend, download .pdf.

Commerce regional planner assignments are updated. The mission of Growth Management Services (GMS) is to assist and guide local governments, state agencies and others as we collectively manage growth and development within the framework of the Growth Management Act (GMA). Commerce regional planners are an integral part of this process, serving local communities and aiding in their adherence to GMA requirements.

Each planner works with the counties, cities and towns within their area of responsibility to help them with the following:

  • Technical assistance on comprehensive plans, development regulations and critical areas
  • Submitting materials to Commerce
  • Document review
  • Training and support for local planning staff, elected officials and appointed board members
  • Coordination with other state agencies on land use issues

All of our regional planners are subject matter experts on a specific policy topic, from buildable lands to transportation planning. If your regional planner’s individual specialty isn’t the area you need assistance with, they can coordinate with their fellow commerce specialists to get you the help you need.

Please take a moment to find your assigned planner and send them a quick hello.

Growth Management Act: Planning Cost Study

In 2022, the Washington State Legislature directed the Department of Commerce to conduct an evaluation of the costs for cities and counties to review and revise their comprehensive plans and ensure compliance within the Growth Management Act. With the help of consultants, Community Attributes Inc. (CAI) and Land Development Consultants (LDC), Commerce has completed the planning cost study (PDF) and submitted it to the Legislature. 

Study process and findings

To assess planning costs across jurisdictions of all sizes, and across Washington State, the project team developed a survey and distributed it to all cities and counties statewide, collaborating with the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) and the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC). Forty-eight cities and 14 counties responded to the survey. Responding cities ranged in population from about 150 to about 200,000, and responding counties ranged from about 2,000 to more than 2 million.

Among the key findings:

  • Among costs associated with various planning aspects under GMA, complex comprehensive plan updates and new comprehensive plan elements have the highest costs for both cities and counties, with higher costs for counties.
  • For cities, updates to a Shoreline Master Program had the third highest costs among all project types, while for counties, updates to a Critical Areas Ordinance ranked third.
  • Cities and counties differed on which projects cost the least, with counties indicating that a minor comprehensive plan update has the lowest average cost, and cities indicating that a new development regulation had the lowest average.
  • Reported costs varied highly by jurisdiction, and while total costs were generally lower for smaller jurisdictions, the cost per capita was generally higher.

In addition to assessing project costs, consultants completed interviews with 56 jurisdictions across the state, with questions focused on the types of technical assistance that would be most beneficial in meeting GMA requirements.

Across all responses, third party technical assistance services had the highest level of support, followed by the provision of model codes and ordinances.

Commerce is eager to leverage the results of both the costs survey and the technical assistance interviews to inform our approach to engaging both the Legislature and cities and counties across the state to improve planning practices in Washington.

Survey: Help us prioritize policy research topics

Part of recent efforts by the Legislature to improve our statewide planning framework provided Commerce up to $500,000 per biennium toward growth management policy research and development. We are currently soliciting input from local governments and other affected stakeholders for priority topic areas for this research. A summary will be submitted to the Legislature by the end of this fiscal year, June 30, 2023. If you or someone at your agency is interested in submitting a research topic for consideration, please complete our Topic Survey form no later than April 14, 2023.


If you believe that another organization would provide a helpful submission, please feel free to forward this request.

Please email Jacob Stillwell if you have any questions.

Housing updates

Infographic on projected housing needs data

Housing needs numbers are final

Commerce has finalized our housing for all planning tool (HAPT) for communities to use in their periodic updates. Using recently updated population growth projections from the Office of Financial Management and updated projection methodology, we updated the HAPT numbers March 1.

To be consistent within the GMA framework, the HAPT projects housing need at the county level. This allows counties to plan in cooperation with their cities for distribution of housing by income band across their jurisdictions based on local capacity, infrastructure, jobs, transportation and equity considerations.

In addition to this tool, we are close to finalizing all of our guidance documents for local governments planning for housing under the new requirements.

In 2021, the Washington Legislature changed the way communities are required to plan for housing. RCW 36.70A.070(2) was amended to say “plan for and accommodate” housing that is affordable to all income levels. This significantly strengthened the previous goal to “encourage affordable housing.” This series of amendments included a change in how housing needs are measured. Instead of a purely population-based metric, housing needs must now be allocated by income band, including planning for housing units for moderate, low, very low and extremely low-income households, and for emergency housing, emergency shelters and permanent supportive housing.

Learn more


ADU guidance: 30-day comment period

phot of an accessory dwelling unit (ADU)

Give us your feedback!

Draft accessory dwelling unit (ADU) policy recommendations (.pdf) are available for review and public comment through April 15, 2023.

Commerce drafted an update to the 1994 ADU guidance developed to implement RCW 43.63A.215. With more people in need of housing, higher housing costs and ongoing underproduction of housing statewide, policies that support construction of ADUs are more important than ever.

The updated draft recommendations include:

  • legal authority and case law related to ADUs,
  • recommendations for cities and other urban areas,
  • key considerations for counties, and
  • other elements to consider such as addressing the use of ADUs as short-term rentals and ways to streamline the ADU permitting process.

In addition to final written recommendations, Commerce will also provide editable PowerPoint presentations and pre-recorded webinars by June 30, 2023 for your educational outreach and community engagement purposes.

Please submit comments by April 15, 2023

Download the draft (.pdf)

Email comments and questions to

Many thanks to those who have already provided comments.


New webinars: Housing guidance

stock image with words Live Webinar

Commerce will host two more Planning for Housing (2021 HB 1220) guidance webinars this spring to complement the Racially Disparate Impacts Webinar (video) in December:

Thursday, April 6, 12:30 - 2 p.m.
Establishing Housing Targets for Your Community
(Housing Need Projections and Allocation) REGISTER

Thursday, May 4, 12:30 - 2 p.m.
Updating Your Housing Element with HB 1220 Requirements (Land Capacity and Making Adequate Provisions) REGISTER

Registration information will also be posted to the website two weeks before each webinar and will be sent to our Planning for Housing mailing list.

Read more on these items and other guidance on our Updating GMA Housing Elements webpage.

Contact to learn more.


Multifamily property tax exemption reporting

The 2022 reporting forms for the MFTE program are available now on Commerce’s MFTE webpage. The reporting deadline is April 1, 2023.  To assist in the creation of the statewide auditing program (as required by RCW 84.14.100(3)) we are also requesting that jurisdictions submit all local reports collected, as required by RCW 84.14.100(1), from January 1, 2022 through December 31, 2022.  This request is for this year only, reports do not need to be in any specific format. 


News from outside Commerce

DNR educational resources

Department of Natural Resources Logo

The Washington Geological Survey (WGS) is committed to providing educational resources to the public to share our love of geology and foster understanding of what the agency does. WGS has many handouts that planners can use and share with the public. Here's a sample of what's available:

  • A Homeowner’s Guide to Landslides for Washington and Oregon
  • Tsunami Hazards in Washington State
  • Geologic Risk for Washington State
  • Landslides of Mt. St. Helens Activity Book
  • Washington Geological Survey: Geology in the Public Interest.

You can find those on the DNR website: Education and Outreach | WA - DNR under the "WGS Booklets and Handouts" tab.

For more handouts, see Washington Geological Survey | WA - DNR.

Reach out to Tricia Sears, WGS Geologic Planning Liaison,, if you have questions.

Upcoming Events

Save the date for Priest Lake: June 1 -2

Ben Serr at a podium

The annual American Planning Association (APA) Washington Inland Empire Section Conference is set for June 1 – 2, 2023 at Elkins Resort at Priest Lake.

This year’s focus will be on Green Spaces: Parks, Recreation and Conservation. Watch for full session description and an agenda soon.

Learn more


PAW annual conference: April 26 - 28

PAW annual conference logo

As a reminder, the Planning Association of Washington annual conference is coming up in April.

If you haven’t had a chance to register, visit the conference website to learn more. Celebrating the 60th year of PAW, check out the preliminary agenda and more.

Learn more


Online: The Short Course on local planning

The Short Course on local planning offers an overview of land use planning laws in Washington, an introduction to comprehensive planning and plan implementation under the Growth Management Act (GMA), and a review of roles in planning and mandatory training on the Open Public Meetings Act for local government officials.

All courses are online via Zoom, free and open to the public.

  • Thursday, March 23, 2023 at 6 p.m. REGISTER
  • Thursday, April 20, 2023 at 1 p.m. REGISTER
  • Tuesday, May 30, 2023 at 6 p.m. REGISTER

Ask about local presentations

Commerce also offers e-visits to local planning commissions or other meetings. Topics include, but are not limited to, comprehensive plan basics and roles in the planning process. Contact your regional planner to request a presentation.


Watch for future Planners' Forum schedule soon

Planners’ Forum dates for the spring are still being finalized. We’ll have more for you in the April Newsletter on upcoming dates. Keep an eye on the forum webpage to learn more.