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Shoreline Master Programs

Task 3.5: Develop administration provisions

As part of a comprehensive amendment, review and correct any problems with local administrative procedures to improve efficiency and integrate SMP administration with other local regulatory processes. (WAC 173-26-191, Master program contents)

By appropriately classifying uses, streamlining permitting for uses and activities with minor environmental and social impacts, and ensuring that uses and activities with the potential for significant impact receive more intense review.  Local governments can speed permitting and concentrate resources where needed.

The uses designated as substantial development permits and conditional uses will vary from community to community, as will the processes, but it is important that each community achieve a balance that makes sense for the community and that protects the state-wide interest in shoreline areas.


The best shoreline master program is of little use if it is not effectively administered. Responsibilities and procedures should be spelled out clearly to avoid procedural glitches and ensure thorough review and evaluation of proposed actions or violations.

Local government has the primary responsibility for administering the Shoreline Managment Act (SMA) (RCW 90.58.050). Specific details can vary greatly from one jurisdiction to the next. In setting permit and enforcement procedures, local governments must take into account environmental protection, efficient permitting, public involvement, protection of public and private rights, protection of nearby properties and the staff and expertise available to the community. Local governments use different procedures for various types of uses and activities to appropriately balance these needs.

Developments and uses with greater potential adverse impacts are classified as conditional uses. Conditional use permits require a hearing and are decided by a hearing examiner, a local shorelines hearings board or board of adjustment, or the city or county legislative body. In deciding which body to give the decision making responsibility for conditional uses and variances, local governments should consider the following:

  • City and county legislative bodies are typically very busy. Requiring them to review and approve all conditional use permits and variances, particularly in a large jurisdiction, may result in substantial permitting delays and additional work for an already overworked legislative body.

  • City and county legislative bodies are primarily policy makers. They establish policy by adopting Shoreline Master Programs (SMPs) and approving SMP amendments. Deciding permits is an administrative function. Many local communities assign responsibility for conditional use permits and variances to an existing body with permitting expertise, such as a hearing examiner.


Some communities also have a local appeals process. Local governments have the authority to provide for appeals from local permit decisions. However, it is important to remember that the SMA provides a built in appeals process to the Washington State Shorelines Hearings Board. This appeal is available in the case of all decisions to approve or deny shoreline permits.

Local appeals provide additional protection to residents and property owners. They also give local legislative authorities the power to review the decisions of staff or hearings examiners. On the down side, they can introduce additional delays into the permitting process. So local appeal processes must be carefully considered. Local appeals are preferable to having every permit approved by both staff or a hearing examiner and a city council or county commission. If a local government decides to adopt a local appeal process they should limit the appeal period to a short period of time. Five days is suggested. Only one level of local appeal should be provided.

Local examples

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