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Shoreline Master Programs

Task 3.2 Develop general goals, policies and regulations


General goals are statements of intent that are intended to provide the policy foundation for the entire SMP. SecThe SMA requires that every SMP address seven specific "elements" (shoreline use, economic development, circulation, conservation, public access, recreation, historic/cultural). Many local SMPs structure their general goal statements under these element headings. (Rule citation)

Local examples

Policies and regulations

General policies and regulations are those that will apply to all shoreline uses and modification activities without respect to environment designation. They affect all other more specific policies and regulations and can eliminate redundancy in an SMP. (General master program provisions)

Ecology guidelines for general policies and regulations

Additional Guidance

Local examples

Relationship between goals, policies and regulations

Goals are the broadest expression of community desires consistent with the Shoreline Management Act (SMA). The SMA and state SMP guidelines do not require the inclusion of Goal Statements in an SMP. However, many local communities find value in the goal-setting process itself because it focuses the community on mutually desired outcomes before beginning the potentially more divisive process of deciding how to best achieve those outcomes.

A policy is a commitment to act in a prescribed manner in the administration of the master program. Most policy statements use the verb form "should" to indicate the principal to be upheld in making a decision and that the policy direction itself will require interpretive judgment in applying it to a specific case.

A regulation is an authoritative rule dealing with the specifics of a use or physical standard. Regulations are specific, as definitive as possible, and generally use the verb form "shall" to indicate that the statement must be conformed to.

The term "provision" is used in Ecology's SMP guidelines and SMP Submittal checklist to indicate policies, regulations, standards, guideline criteria or environment designations. (Rule citation)

Legally, the entire SMP is adopted by Ecology as a planning and regulatory program. In practice, however, the SMP policies are adhered to with more flexibility than regulations in the review of development proposals at the local and state level. Most jurisdictions use the regulations as the primary standards against which all development proposals are evaluated. The policies form the umbrella framework under which the regulations were originally developed and are now used to help interpret, give support to or explain the regulations. It is important to keep in mind that the mandate of the SMA is to implement adopted shoreline policy.

Tips for Writing SMP Provisions

Ecology recommends that policies and regulations be included together in each of the general use, modification activity and environment designation sections of an SMP.  The specific policies then become the bridge between goals and the regulations, and are located in the section which makes the connection between policy direction and implementing regulation most apparent and effective.

It is not necessary for SMPs to contain a separate elements section with goals and policies for each of the elements listed under RCW 90.58.100(2).  The elements should be addressed in the General Policies and Regulations section that covers all shoreline uses.

Use the verb form “should” in policy statements to indicate intent and provide direction while at the same time allowing needed administrative flexibility. (Rule citation)

Use the verb form “shall” when stating mandatory regulations. (Rule citation)

Use the term “may be permitted” or “may be allowed” when describing a use or modification activity that could be permitted subject to and complying with the SMP provisions (e.g. marinas may be permitted in the Urban environment designation). This provides the jurisdiction the expressed discretion of approving, approving with conditions or denying proposals. (Rule citation)

Use the verb form “will” or "must" when describing an administrative action taken by the government (e.g. the city will review the submittal and approve or deny the permit application). (Rule citation)

Use the term “prohibited” when describing a use, activity or condition that is not permitted under any circumstance. This is very important, because a “prohibited” use cannot be granted a variance or conditional use process. WAC 173-27-160(4) states that a conditional use permit shall not be granted for a use which is specifically prohibited. The various sections of a master program applied during the review of a project should not conflict and weaken the intent of the WAC so that “not permitted” may be given the overall connotation of “not usually permitted,” thus opening the possibility of applying the conditional use. The lack of a specific prohibition also fuels the confusion. The bottom line is, state the use as “is prohibited” if you want to insure that the prohibition will stand up.

Wherever possible, cross-reference interrelated general use, environment designation and modification activity regulations so it is clear that all apply. This will make administration easier and the document more user-friendly.

Use the general term “shoreline permit” if the referenced provisions could apply to a substantial development, variance or conditional use permit, or any combination thereof.

Accessory uses: Often, a large maritime industrial or commercial activity will require non-water-oriented uses such as parking or office and warehouse space. Unless some accessory use provision is included in the master program, these support activities will be difficult to regulate. At the same time, the definition of an accessory use must not be so broad as to allow uses that are not subordinate to and supportive of the primary use or else unintended uses could be permitted on the shoreline as accessory uses. Thus, an accessory use should be defined as "a use that is demonstrably subordinate and incidental to the principal use and which functionally supports its activity."


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