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Shoreline Master Programs

Task 3.4: Develop policies, regulations and standards for shoreline uses and modifications

Shoreline uses

A shoreline "use" is the end to which a land or water area is ultimately employed. Regulations in SMPs are often referred to as “use requirements.” Use policies establish the principles applicable to each use category and serve as a bridge between SMP goals and the use regulations. Use regulations set physical development and management standards addressing, for example: location restrictions, design considerations, limitations on construction and materials, buffer and setback requirements, etc. Shoreline use policies and regulations are specific to individual use categories.

SMP Guidelines for shoreline uses (WAC 173-26-241)

The SMP Guidelines require master programs to implement four principles that guide development of local use policies and regulations (WAC 173-26-241(2)(a)).

  1. Establish a system of use regulations and environment designation provisions consistent with WAC 173-26-201 (2)(d) and 173-26-211.
  2. Ensure that all shoreline master program provisions concerning proposed development of property are established.
  3. Reduce use conflicts by including provisions to prohibit or apply special conditions.
  4. Establish use regulations to assure no net loss of ecological functions.

SMPS also must define the types of uses and development that require shoreline conditional use permits (WAC 173-26-241(2)(b)).

The Guidelines (WAC 173-26-241(3)(a)-(l)) also establish standards for the following uses:

  • Agriculture
  • Aquaculture
  • Boating Facilities (marinas, launch ramps, moorage, etc.)
  • Commercial Development (retail, restaurants, offices, etc.)
  • Forest Practices (Task 3.4.1)
  • Industry (manufacturing, shipbuilding, wholesale warehousing, cargo transfer, construction yards, etc.)
  • Instream Structures
  • Mining
  • Recreational Development – non-boating (parks, trails, golf courses, etc.)
  • Residential Development
  • Transportation Facilities - roads, ferries, private air strips, helipads, etc.
  • Utilities (wastewater treatment, electrical substations, etc.)

Sample local shoreline use policies


Shoreline modifications are actions that modify the physical configuration or qualities of the shoreline area. They are typically construction activities such as building a dike or dredging a basin, but they can include other actions such as clearing, grading, or application of chemicals.

As described in the SMP Guidelines, shoreline modifications are undertaken in support of or in preparation for shoreline uses. Shoreline uses generally are ongoing and the policies and regulations related to them must deal with functional relationships inherent in the individual uses, and pertain to long term management. Modifications represent a physical alteration of the shoreline so the regulations related to them must deal with more immediate, time-limited physical impacts. Examples include fill (modification) for a cargo terminal (industrial use) or dredging (modification) for a marina (boating facility use). A single use may require several different shoreline modifications. For example, building a marina and boatyard may involve a breakwater, dredging, clearing, grading and fill.

SMP Guidelines for modifications (WAC 173-26-231)

The SMP Guidelines include a range of shoreline stabilization measures within the Modifications section (see below).

Understanding the terminology used is important to SMP planning and implementation. In addition to what is provided below, a report and online guidance are available to assist local planners, especially those working in the Puget Sound region.

For more information


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