Planners' Newsletter: May 2024

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May 16, 2024

Dog Mountain

Dog Mountain – Columbia River Gorge, Skamania County

Summer kicks off with the 2026 Periodic Update Workshop Series

The Growth Management Act requires local governments to update their comprehensive plans and development regulations every 10 years, which is commonly referred to as the periodic update cycle. Over the last two years, Commerce has partnered with the Puget Sound Regional Council to support 2024 jurisdictions and with the Thurston Regional Planning Council to support 2025 jurisdictions in their periodic updates. Jurisdictions typically start the process two years before their due date.

Starting this summer, Commerce is kicking off a new workshop series to help counties and cities with a 2026 periodic update, including Benton, Chelan, Cowlitz, Douglas, Franklin, Skamania, Spokane, Walla Walla and Yakima counties.

Periodic update kickoff event:

Please forward the 2026 Periodic Update kickoff flyer (PDF) to fellow 2026 jurisdictions and any interested community organizations that might wish to attend. Please note, jurisdictions not due in 2026 are still welcome and encouraged to attend. Workshops focus on a variety of topics, including new legislation and changes to guidance from the last workshop session. We will keep you updated on future workshops in our monthly newsletters and online at our Periodic Update webpage.

For questions, contact Suzanne Austin, AICP senior planner.

Housing update:

AHAB Report

The Washington State Affordable Housing Advisory Board (AHAB), which advises the Department of Commerce on housing and housing-related issues, recently published its 2023 – 2028 Affordable Housing Advisory Plan (PDF). The plan documents the need for affordable housing in the state and the extent to which that need is being met through public and private sector programs.

The plan also provides information on barriers to meeting housing needs, and recommendations for legislative actions or program changes that can help address persistent barriers to affordable housing production and meet the housing needs of Washington residents.

Key report recommendations:

The plan outlines more than 50 recommendations to address barriers to affordable housing production, including:

  • Increasing funding
  • Streamlining administrative and regulatory processes
  • Supporting construction job training
  • Promoting new types of housing
  • Supporting homeownership for low- and moderate-income families
  • Steps to prevent the loss of existing affordable housing
  • Protections for people living in manufactured home communities

County profiles provide local insights

Housing profiles of each of Washington's counties are included in the report. These profiles are designed to support local planning and provide an understanding of housing conditions, trends, and projected needs. By examining a county's specific challenges and resources, policymakers and local officials can better address unique needs of their communities.

About AHAB

The Affordable Housing Advisory Board advises the Department of Commerce and the Legislature on actions to address the housing needs of all Washington residents. Board members represent a diverse range of housing professionals and advocates with expertise on various aspects of the housing system. For more information and to sign up for updates, visit the Affordable Housing Board’s website.

STEP Model Ordinance and User’s Guide comment period has started

The draft STEP Model Ordinance and User’s Guide are available for your review until June 14, 2024.

To submit comments on these materials, complete this Smartsheet form. Comments will be reviewed for inclusion in a final version of Commerce guidance to be released in July 2024.

In 2021, the Legislature changed the way communities are required to plan for housing, including requiring that cities allow emergency shelters, transitional housing, emergency housing, and permanent supportive housing, or STEP housing, within their jurisdictional boundaries (RCW 35A.21.430, RCW 35.21.683). Additionally, all fully planning counties and cities must provide sufficient land capacity for their future emergency housing and permanent supportive housing needs and make adequate provisions for these needs (RCW 36.70A.070(2)).

For any additional questions, please contact Laura Hodgson, housing planning and data manager.

Annual Association of Washington Cities Conference

The AWC Annual Conference will be June 18-21 in Vancouver. In addition to leading sessions on Broadband on June 19 and STEP Housing on June 20, Commerce will hold open office hours at our booth to assist local governments in several areas, including:

  • Broadband expansion
  • Planning for climate resilience and mitigation
  • Planning for middle housing and STEP housing
  • Periodic updates for comprehensive planning
  • Details on current and upcoming Commerce funding

Our staff will be available to answer questions and support you throughout the conference. We look forward to seeing you in June.

GSCA deadline extended: Nominations are due June 15, 2024

In March, Commerce announced the start of the 2024 Governor’s Smart Community Awards application window. We are still seeking applications and will extend the nomination window until June 15. Submit one of the following forms for a project you think deserves special recognition.

The GSCA 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. The GSCA program is administered by the Department of Commerce. For questions or comments, please contact Valerie Smith, GSCA program manager.

Funding updates

2026 PUG Grants

Commerce announced awards for 2026 Periodic Update Grants (PUG) for jurisdictions in central and eastern Washington. The new application instructions and form are available on the GMS Grants Webpage, and you can access the application in SmartSheet. It offers grantees the opportunity to select a template scope of work or create their own.

PUG grants assist local jurisdictions in completing work to review and, as needed, revise comprehensive plan and development regulations. Grant awards are based on population size and are non-competitive. Fully and partially planning cities and counties are eligible.

For questions, contact Paul Johnson, operations support manager.

Consolidated Permit Review Grant

Commerce is still accepting applications for our consolidated permit review grant through the end of May. Grants of up to $187,500 will be provided to aid local government in streamlining residential building permit review and to help remove barriers to housing development. Applications are due by 5 p.m. Friday, May 31.

Please contact senior planners Jo Anne Wright or Catherine McCoy with questions, or learn more on our Local Project Review webpage.

Rai Pranjali

Growth Management staff update

Pranjali Rai

Please welcome our newest senior planner, Pranjali Rai. A part of the Climate and Ecosystems Section, Pranjali helps evaluate climate action strategies and their potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. She also supports local governments with climate related research.

Pranjali is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington, where her research primarily focuses on climate action and resilience development in small urban areas and rural counties. She is an American Planning Association-certified planner and holds a dual master’s degree in community planning and architecture from the University of Maryland. She previously consulted as an urban planner and designer on multiple sub-area planning efforts for municipal governments in the New England region.

Upcoming events

Regional Planners’ Forums

The Planners’ Forums are quarterly events held regionally across Washington in partnership with the Washington APA and the Planners Association of Washington. Each one features guest speakers discussing planning related topics in association with the guidelines set down by the American Planning Association. While regionally focused, the forums are typically on Zoom and available for statewide attendance.

Northwest Washington Spring Planners’ Forum (NWPF)

Individuals needing American Planning Association (AICP) credits will receive credits for attending based on topics covered. Learn more about Commerce’s regional forums at the Growth Management Planners' Forum webpage.

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.

Online Virtual Short Courses:

Ask about local presentations

Commerce also offers e-visits to local planning commissions or other meetings. Topics include comprehensive plan basics and roles in the planning process. Contact your regional planner to request a presentation.

Job opportunities

Senior Planner for Housing (COM 3)

Growth Management Services is hiring a senior planner for our housing team to help implement new infill housing laws, such as middle housing, accessory dwelling units, and transit-oriented development. The position will help review and comment on local comprehensive plans and development regulations related to housing and manage housing-related contracts including working with consultants to develop support materials for local governments.

View the opportunity online