Planners' Newsletter- April 2024

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april 15, 2024

Blue Heron Nisqually

Reviewing and revising Critical Areas Ordinances with Best Available Science 

The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Washington State Department of Commerce are partnering to support local governments as they update their Critical Areas Ordinances (CAO). As part of the Growth Management Act (GMA), all counties and cities must designate and protect environmentally critical areas including Fish and Wildlife Habitat Conservation Areas and wetlands (RCW 36.70A.172, WAC 365-195-900 to 925). Local governments must also update their CAOs every ten years as a part of the periodic update cycle.    

Updates to CAOs can be highly technical. One of the key requirements to effectively update your local CAO is a review of the Best Available Science (BAS) provided by regulatory agencies like WDFW. As a part of their BAS review, cities and counties must consult current information on priority habitats and species identified by WDFW (WAC 365-190-130(4)). Commerce is encouraging local governments to engage with WDFW regional land use planners for technical assistance with applying the latest BAS standards in their CAO updates.   

For example, WDFW recently developed BAS recommendations on riparian management to help local governments review, develop, and implement regulatory tools to protect riparian ecosystems consistent with the goals of the GMA and Shoreline Management Act (SMA). WDFW created a new riparian checklist (PDF) to help local planners translate the BAS-based recommendations into CAO amendments and a checklist addendum (PDF) with CAO citations as examples. Commerce and our state agency partners included these and other resources in the current Critical Areas checklist (PDF), with additional resources available on our Critical Areas webpage

The BAS and CAO review processes can be substantial. Fortunately, all jurisdictions have up to an additional year after their Comprehensive Plan updates are due to complete their CAO updates. We encourage cities and counties to take this extra time to carefully “review and, if needed, revise" their CAOs consistent with updated BAS and GMA requirements. For additional assistance, please contact your regionally assigned Commerce planner.

Commerce launched the Local Project Review webpage

Commerce has launched a new Local Project Review webpage. We’ve compiled the latest information including updates on legislative measures, resources, and best practices specific to local project permitting in Washington state.

In the coming weeks, Commerce will post additional tools to the web page to help local governments meet new legislative requirements, such as:

  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  • News of grant funding opportunities to update paper permit systems to digital review systems, and to consolidate and streamline residential building permit review
  • Guidance for setting project permit review fees
  • Guidance for reporting annual permit review timelines – only applies to counties and cities subject to RCW 36.70A.215 (the Review and Evaluation Program/Buildable Lands Program) and cities/towns greater than 20,000 population within those counties
  • A guide for implementing the Local Project Review Act

For questions or comments, please contact our senior planners, Jo Anne Wright or Catherine McCoy.

Reminder: Call for Nominations are due May 15

In March, Commerce announced the start of the 2024 Governor’s Smart Community Awards application window. The Governor’s Smart Communities Awards program recognizes outstanding efforts of local communities, and their partners throughout the state, to create vibrant and livable communities through Growth Management Act planning and other community development objectives.

For more information and to see the nomination forms, visit our GSCA webpage. The Governor’s Smart Awards program is administered by the Department of Commerce.

For questions or comments, please contact Valerie Smith.

Climate and ecosystem updates

Community-Based Organization Public Participation Grants

Do you have challenges incorporating the perspectives of historically underrepresented populations into your Comprehensive Plan update process? Is funding a barrier to participation? Commerce recently announced a community-based organization grant to provide financial assistance to overburdened and vulnerable populations interested in participating in their local comprehensive planning process, and we need your help to spread the word among organizations in your community! 

Intended to enable meaningful participation at a local level, Commerce has budgeted $2 million of Climate Commitment Act funds for this grant program with expected award amounts between $35,000 and $100,000 for the initial year of the grant program (July 1, 2024, to June 30, 2025). Successful applicants will engage in local comprehensive planning processes occurring within cities and counties as a result of funding support.  

For more information, contact the application coordinator at


Climate Commitment Act

Climate grants from Commerce are provided with funding from Washington’s Climate Commitment Act. The CCA supports Washington’s climate action efforts by putting cap-and-invest dollars to work reducing climate pollution, creating jobs, and improving public health. Information about the CCA is available at


Salmon recovery through local planning grant

With combined funding from Washington state’s Climate Commitment Act (CCA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Puget Sound Geographic Funds, Commerce announced a new Planning for Salmon Recovery Grant. The new grant program is intended to support updates to comprehensive plans and development regulations that protect ecosystems, improve water quality, and provide incentives to improve the functions that protect and enhance vital salmon habitat.

Partnering with the Puget Sound National Estuary Program Stormwater and Habitat Strategic Initiative Leads, the grant will provide $2.2 million in statewide salmon recovery planning grants and an additional $1 million in Puget Sound-focused funding to local governments and tribes. These grants support the Governor’s statewide salmon recovery strategy and Strategic Initiative Lead investment priorities.

In addition to these amounts, up to $2 million in funding administered by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Habitat Strategic Initiative Lead will be layered on top of other grants. The funding will provide monitoring and adaptive management practices to improve implementation, consistency, and effectiveness of permitting for critical areas protection in the Puget Sound.

Pre-application workshop

  • 3-4 p.m., April 18, 2024
  • Register (Zoom)


Please contact Angela San Filippo or David Pater, or visit Commerce’s Ecosystem Services Program webpage for more information.

Housing updates

STEP Model Ordinance and Users Guide comment period starts in May

As we announced in our March newsletter, Commerce is developing materials to help local governments plan for emergency shelters (S), transitional housing (T), emergency housing (E), and permanent supportive housing (P), or STEP. The draft Model Ordinance and User’s Guide will be posted for a 30-day comment period in early May. To be notified of when the draft materials are ready for public review, please sign up. The draft materials will be added to the GMA Housing Elements webpage as soon as they are available.

Webinar on the Draft Model Ordinance and User’s Guide

  • 12:30-2 p.m., Tuesday, May 14, 2024
  • Register (Zoom)


Housing for All Planning Tool (HAPT) update

In March 2023, Commerce developed the Housing for All Planning Tool (HAPT) to help counties and cities allocate housing needs by income level to individual jurisdictions for their periodic update. This tool has been used over the last year, and it has become clear to us that the model would be more appropriate if it did not automatically allocate housing for households with incomes below 50% of area median income (AMI) outside of urban growth areas (UGAs). This type of housing generally requires high-density zoning, which is not generally allowed in rural areas. 

In response, Commerce is developing a new optional allocation method that will direct affordable housing to cities and unincorporated UGAs, where it is more feasible and can be supported with appropriate zoning, infrastructure, and services. This method will also provide counties with the option to allocate a portion of future housing needs to individual urban growth areas (UGAs) and in limited circumstances, other areas such as Local Areas of More Intense Rural Development (LAMIRDs), master-planned resorts, and tribal areas. This new method and accompanying guidance will be available in June 2024.

If you are a 2025 or 2026 county working on allocations, we encourage you to reach out to Laura Hodgson with questions on how to consider this new information in your periodic update work.

Outside our agency

Transportation Commission seeks input on the plan for Washington’s transportation future

The Washington State Transportation Commission is updating the state’s plan for transportation over the next 20 years. It will begin its first round of regional listening sessions in April and May, with six meetings planned throughout the state.

Conducted via Zoom, the following public meetings will focus on gathering input, with one meeting allowing an in-person option:

  • Greater Seattle area: Tuesday, April 23, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Hosted by Puget Sound Regional Council
  • Greater Spokane area: Wednesday, April 24, 9 to 11 a.m. Hosted by the Spokane Regional Transportation Council
  • Southwest Washington: Thursday, April 25, 9 to 11 a.m. Hosted by the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council
  • Olympic Peninsula and Olympia: Monday, April 29, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Hosted by the Peninsula Regional Transportation Planning Organization
  • North Central Washington: Wednesday, May 1, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Hosted by the Chelan Douglas Transportation Council

One of the meetings will be hybrid, with in-person and virtual options:

  • South Central Washington: May 13, 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Hosted by the Benton Franklin Council of Governments

Those wishing to attend any of the meetings, virtually or in person, please register by visiting the Transportation Commission’s website.


Washington Geological Survey releases aggregate resource inventory of Skagit County, Washington

The Washington Geological Survey (WGS) is pleased to announce the release of a new publication: Aggregate Resource Inventory of Skagit County, Washington. This new publication shows areas with potential sand, gravel, and bedrock resources in Skagit County.

As part of WGS’s continued effort to map aggregate resources in Washington, this publication includes a pamphlet and map sheet (Large File Size). The geospatial data are available as a zip-file download package with accompanying metadata on our Geology GIS Data and Databases website. An interactive web-based version of the multi-county Aggregate Resources Database is also available on the WGS Geologic Information Portal.

In addition to our new Skagit County publication, there are 5 existing county-scale maps and six 1:100,000-scale maps made by WGS from 2000– 2023. In 2024, WGS will be mapping aggregate resources in Spokane County. To learn more about these projects, check out our interactive aggregate resources project status web map.

We plan to map aggregate resources in all 39 counties in Washington. We are working on a plan to prioritize and schedule future mapping areas. If you are interested in WGS mapping aggregate resources in your county, we would like to hear from you!

For questions, contact Amy Rudko at 360-764-6340 or Tricia Sears at 360-628-2867.

Upcoming events

Regional Planners’ Forums

The Washington State Department of Commerce, the Planning Association of Washington, and the Washington Chapter of the American Planning Association collaboratively present the Regional Planners’ Forums.

Eastern WA Planners’ Spring Forum:

  • Date: Wednesday, April 17, 2024
  • Time: 9 - 11:30 a.m.
  • Location: Online – Register (Zoom)

Southwest WA Planners’ Forum: 

  • Date: Thursday, April 18, 2024
  • Time: 9 - 11:30 a.m.
  • Location: Online – Register (Zoom)

Peninsula Planners' Forum

  • Date: Thursday, May 2, 2024
  • Time: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
  • Location: Online - Register (Zoom)
  • Current Agenda (PDF)

*After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

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, free and open to the public.

In-person courses:

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.

Job Opportunities

MFTE Program Manager (COM 4) - Apply by April 19, 2024

Growth Management Services (GMS) is hiring a program manager for the Multifamily Tax Exemption Program.  This person will be responsible for technical assistance to support communities in developing and calibrating affordable housing programs. The position must also develop and implement an accountability system to audit and track MFTE projects.

Management Analyst 5 (MA 5) – Apply by April 25, 2024

GMS is also hiring a data, education, and outreach expert to serve as a Management Analyst 5. This person will serve as a strategic consultant providing unit managers with research support, and data analysis and lead a statewide education program on planning.