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Shoreline Management

WAC 173-26-211

Environment designation system

(1) Applicability. This section applies to the establishment of environment designation boundaries and provisions as described in WAC 173-26-191 (1)(d).

(2) Basic requirements for environment designation classification and provisions.

     (a) Master programs shall contain a system to classify shoreline areas into specific environment designations. This classification system shall be based on the existing use pattern, the biological and physical character of the shoreline, and the goals and aspirations of the community as expressed through comprehensive plans as well as the criteria in this section. Each master program's classification system shall be consistent with that described in WAC 173-26-211 (4) and (5) unless the alternative proposed provides equal or better implementation of the act.

     (b) An up-to-date and accurate map of the shoreline area delineating the environment designations and their boundaries shall be prepared and maintained in the local government office that administers shoreline permits. If it is not feasible to accurately designate individual parcels on a map, the master program text shall include a clear basis for identifying the boundaries, physical features, explicit criteria, or "common" boundary descriptions to accurately define and distinguish the environments on the ground. The master program should also make it clear that in the event of a mapping error, the jurisdiction will rely upon common boundary descriptions and the criteria contained in RCW 90.58.030(2) and chapter 173-22 WAC pertaining to determinations of shorelands, as amended, rather than the incorrect or outdated map.

     (c) To facilitate consistency with land use planning, local governments planning under chapter 36.70A RCW are encouraged to illustrate shoreline designations on the comprehensive plan future land use map as described in WAC 365-195-300 (2)(d).

     (d) Pursuant to RCW 90.58.040, the map should clearly illustrate what environment designations apply to all shorelines of the state as defined in RCW 90.58.030 (2)(c) within the local government's jurisdiction in a manner consistent with WAC 173-26-211 (4) and (5).

     (e) The map and the master program should note that all areas within shoreline jurisdiction that are not mapped and/or designated are automatically assigned a "rural conservancy" designation, or "urban conservancy" designation if within a municipality or urban growth area, or the comparable environment designation of the applicable master program until the shoreline can be redesignated through a master program amendment.

     (f) The following diagram summarizes the components of the environment designation provisions.

(3) Consistency between shoreline environment designations and the local comprehensive plan. As noted in WAC 173-26-191 (1)(e), RCW 90.58.340 requires that policies for lands adjacent to the shorelines be consistent with the Shoreline Management Act, implementing rules, and the applicable master program. Conversely, local comprehensive plans constitute the underlying framework within which master program provisions should fit. The Growth Management Act, where applicable, designates shoreline master program policies as an element of the comprehensive plan and requires that all elements be internally consistent. Chapter 36.70A RCW also requires development regulations to be consistent with the comprehensive plan.

     The following criteria are intended to assist local governments in evaluating the consistency between master program environment designation provisions and the corresponding comprehensive plan elements and development regulations. In order for shoreline designation provisions, local comprehensive plan land use designations, and development regulations to be internally consistent, all three of the conditions below should be met:

     (a) Provisions not precluding one another. The comprehensive plan provisions and shoreline environment designation provisions should not preclude one another. To meet this criteria, the provisions of both the comprehensive plan and the master program must be able to be met. Further, when considered together and applied to any one piece of property, the master program use policies and regulations and the local zoning or other use regulations should not conflict in a manner that all viable uses of the property are precluded.

     (b) Use compatibility. Land use policies and regulations should protect preferred shoreline uses from being impacted by incompatible uses. The intent is to prevent water-oriented uses, especially water-dependent uses, from being restricted on shoreline areas because of impacts to nearby nonwater-oriented uses. To be consistent, master programs, comprehensive plans, and development regulations should prevent new uses that are not compatible with preferred uses from locating where they may restrict preferred uses or development.

     (c) Sufficient infrastructure. Infrastructure and services provided in the comprehensive plan should be sufficient to support allowed shoreline uses. Shoreline uses should not be allowed where the comprehensive plan does not provide sufficient roads, utilities, and other services to support them. Infrastructure plans must also be mutually consistent with shoreline designations. Where they do exist, utility services routed through shoreline areas shall not be a sole justification for more intense development.

(4) General environment designation provisions.

     (a) Requirements. For each environment designation, the shoreline master program shall describe:

     (i) Purpose statement. The statement of purpose shall describe the shoreline management objectives of the designation in a manner that distinguishes it from other designations.

     (ii) Classification criteria. Clearly stated criteria shall provide the basis for classifying or reclassifying a specific shoreline area with an environment designation.

     (iii) Management policies. These policies shall be in sufficient detail to assist in the interpretation of the environment designation regulations and, for jurisdictions planning under chapter 36.70A RCW, to evaluate consistency with the local comprehensive plan.

     (iv) Regulations. Environment-specific regulations shall address the following where necessary to account for different shoreline conditions:

     (A) Types of shoreline uses permitted, conditionally permitted, and prohibited;

     (B) Building or structure height and bulk limits, setbacks, maximum density or minimum frontage requirements, and site development standards; and

     (C) Other topics not covered in general use regulations that are necessary to assure implementation of the purpose of the environment designation.

     (b) The recommended classification system. The recommended classification system consists of six basic environments: "High-intensity," "shoreline residential," "urban conservancy," "rural conservancy," "natural," and "aquatic" as described in this section and WAC 173-26-211(5). Local governments should assign all shoreline areas an environment designation consistent with the corresponding designation criteria provided for each environment. In delineating environment designations, local government should assure that existing shoreline ecological functions are protected with the proposed pattern and intensity of development. Such designations should also be consistent with policies for restoration of degraded shorelines.

     (c) Alternative systems.

     (i) Local governments may establish a different designation system or may retain their current environment designations, provided it is consistent with the purposes and policies of this section and WAC 173-26-211(5).

     (ii) Local governments may use "parallel environments" where appropriate. Parallel environments divide shorelands into different sections generally running parallel to the shoreline or along a physical feature such as a bluff or railroad right of way. Such environments may be useful, for example, to accommodate resource protection near the shoreline and existing development further from the shoreline. Where parallel environments are used, developments and uses allowed in one environment should not be inconsistent with the achieving the purposes of the other.

(5) The designations.

     (a) "Natural" environment.

     (i) Purpose. The purpose of the "natural" environment is to protect those shoreline areas that are relatively free of human influence or that include intact or minimally degraded shoreline functions intolerant of human use. These systems require that only very low intensity uses be allowed in order to maintain the ecological functions and ecosystem-wide processes. Consistent with the policies of the designation, local government should include planning for restoration of degraded shorelines within this environment.

     (ii) Management policies.

     (A) Any use that would substantially degrade the ecological functions or natural character of the shoreline area should not be allowed.

     (B) The following new uses should not be allowed in the "natural" environment:

     • Commercial uses.

     • Industrial uses.

     • Nonwater-oriented recreation.

     • Roads, utility corridors, and parking areas that can be located outside of "natural" designated shorelines.

     (C) Single-family residential development may be allowed as a conditional use within the "natural" environment if the density and intensity of such use is limited as necessary to protect ecological functions and be consistent with the purpose of the environment.

     (D) Commercial forestry may be allowed as a conditional use in the "natural" environment provided it meets the conditions of the State Forest Practices Act and its implementing rules and is conducted in a manner consistent with the purpose of this environment designation.

     (E) Agricultural uses of a very low intensity nature may be consistent with the natural environment when such use is subject to appropriate limitations or conditions to assure that the use does not expand or alter practices in a manner inconsistent with the purpose of the designation.

     (F) Scientific, historical, cultural, educational research uses, and low-intensity water-oriented recreational access uses may be allowed provided that no significant ecological impact on the area will result.

     (G) New development or significant vegetation removal that would reduce the capability of vegetation to perform normal ecological functions should not be allowed. Do not allow the subdivision of property in a configuration that, to achieve its intended purpose, will require significant vegetation removal or shoreline modification that adversely impacts ecological functions. That is, each new parcel must be able to support its intended development without significant ecological impacts to the shoreline ecological functions.

     (iii) Designation criteria. A "natural" environment designation should be assigned to shoreline areas if any of the following characteristics apply:

     (A) The shoreline is ecologically intact and therefore currently performing an important, irreplaceable function or ecosystem-wide process that would be damaged by human activity;

     (B) The shoreline is considered to represent ecosystems and geologic types that are of particular scientific and educational interest; or

     (C) The shoreline is unable to support new development or uses without significant adverse impacts to ecological functions or risk to human safety.

     Such shoreline areas include largely undisturbed portions of shoreline areas such as wetlands, estuaries, unstable bluffs, coastal dunes, spits, and ecologically intact shoreline habitats. Shorelines inside or outside urban growth areas may be designated as "natural."

     Ecologically intact shorelines, as used here, means those shoreline areas that retain the majority of their natural shoreline functions, as evidenced by the shoreline configuration and the presence of native vegetation. Generally, but not necessarily, ecologically intact shorelines are free of structural shoreline modifications, structures, and intensive human uses. In forested areas, they generally include native vegetation with diverse plant communities, multiple canopy layers, and the presence of large woody debris available for recruitment to adjacent water bodies. Recognizing that there is a continuum of ecological conditions ranging from near natural conditions to totally degraded and contaminated sites, this term is intended to delineate those shoreline areas that provide valuable functions for the larger aquatic and terrestrial environments which could be lost or significantly reduced by human development. Whether or not a shoreline is ecologically intact is determined on a case-by-case basis.

     The term "ecologically intact shorelines" applies to all shoreline areas meeting the above criteria ranging from larger reaches that may include multiple properties to small areas located within a single property.

     Areas with significant existing agriculture lands should not be included in the "natural" designation, except where the existing agricultural operations involve very low intensity uses where there is no significant impact on natural ecological functions, and where the intensity or impacts associated with such agriculture activities is unlikely to expand in a manner inconsistent with the "natural" designation.

     (b) "Rural conservancy" environment.

     (i) Purpose. The purpose of the "rural conservancy" environment is to protect ecological functions, conserve existing natural resources and valuable historic and cultural areas in order to provide for sustained resource use, achieve natural flood plain processes, and provide recreational opportunities. Examples of uses that are appropriate in a "rural conservancy" environment include low-impact outdoor recreation uses, timber harvesting on a sustained-yield basis, agricultural uses, aquaculture, low-intensity residential development and other natural resource-based low-intensity uses.

     (ii) Management policies.

     (A) Uses in the "rural conservancy" environment should be limited to those which sustain the shoreline area's physical and biological resources and uses of a nonpermanent nature that do not substantially degrade ecological functions or the rural or natural character of the shoreline area.

     Except as noted, commercial and industrial uses should not be allowed. Agriculture, commercial forestry, and aquaculture when consistent with provisions of this chapter may be allowed. Low-intensity, water-oriented commercial and industrial uses may be permitted in the limited instances where those uses have located in the past or at unique sites in rural communities that possess shoreline conditions and services to support the use.

     Water-dependent and water-enjoyment recreation facilities that do not deplete the resource over time, such as boating facilities, angling, hunting, wildlife viewing trails, and swimming beaches, are preferred uses, provided significant adverse impacts to the shoreline are mitigated.

     Mining is a unique use as a result of its inherent linkage to geology. Therefore, mining and related activities may be an appropriate use within the rural conservancy environment when conducted in a manner consistent with the environment policies and the provisions of WAC 173-26-241 (3)(h) and when located consistent with mineral resource lands designation criteria pursuant to RCW 36.70A.170 and WAC 365-190-070.

     (B) Developments and uses that would substantially degrade or permanently deplete the biological resources of the area should not be allowed.

     (C) Construction of new structural shoreline stabilization and flood control works should only be allowed where there is a documented need to protect an existing structure or ecological functions and mitigation is applied, consistent with WAC 173-26-231. New development should be designed and located to preclude the need for such work.

     (D) Residential development standards shall ensure no net loss of shoreline ecological functions and should preserve the existing character of the shoreline consistent with the purpose of the environment. As a general matter, meeting this provision will require density, lot coverage, vegetation conservation and other provisions.

     Scientific studies support density or lot coverage limitation standards that assure that development will be limited to a maximum of ten percent total impervious surface area within the lot or parcel, will maintain the existing hydrologic character of the shoreline. However, an alternative standard developed based on scientific information that meets the provisions of this chapter and accomplishes the purpose of the environment designation may be used.

     Master programs may allow greater lot coverage to allow development of lots legally created prior to the adoption of a master program prepared under these guidelines. In these instances, master programs shall include measures to assure protection of ecological functions to the extent feasible such as requiring that lot coverage is minimized and vegetation is conserved.

     (E) New shoreline stabilization, flood control measures, vegetation removal, and other shoreline modifications should be designed and managed consistent with these guidelines to ensure that the natural shoreline functions are protected. Such shoreline modification should not be inconsistent with planning provisions for restoration of shoreline ecological functions.

     (iii) Designation criteria. Assign a "rural conservancy" environment designation to shoreline areas outside incorporated municipalities and outside urban growth areas, as defined by RCW 36.70A.110, if any of the following characteristics apply:

     (A) The shoreline is currently supporting lesser-intensity resource-based uses, such as agriculture, forestry, or recreational uses, or is designated agricultural or forest lands pursuant to RCW 36.70A.170;

     (B) The shoreline is currently accommodating residential uses outside urban growth areas and incorporated cities or towns;

     (C) The shoreline is supporting human uses but subject to environmental limitations, such as properties that include or are adjacent to steep banks, feeder bluffs, or flood plains or other flood-prone areas;

     (D) The shoreline is of high recreational value or with unique historic or cultural resources; or

     (E) The shoreline has low-intensity water-dependent uses.

     Areas designated in a local comprehensive plan as "limited areas of more intensive rural development," as provided for in chapter 36.70A RCW, may be designated an alternate shoreline environment, provided it is consistent with the objectives of the Growth Management Act and this chapter. "Master planned resorts" as described in RCW 36.70A.360 may be designated an alternate shoreline environment, provided the applicable master program provisions do not allow significant ecological impacts.

     Lands that may otherwise qualify for designation as rural conservancy and which are designated as "mineral resource lands" pursuant to RCW 36.70A.170 and WAC 365-190-070 may be assigned a designation within the "rural conservancy" environment that allows mining and associated uses in addition to other uses consistent with the rural conservancy environment.

     (c) "Aquatic" environment.

     (i) Purpose. The purpose of the "aquatic" environment is to protect, restore, and manage the unique characteristics and resources of the areas waterward of the ordinary high-water mark.

     (ii) Management policies.

     (A) Allow new over-water structures only for water-dependent uses, public access, or ecological restoration.

     (B) The size of new over-water structures should be limited to the minimum necessary to support the structure's intended use.

     (C) In order to reduce the impacts of shoreline development and increase effective use of water resources, multiple use of over-water facilities should be encouraged.

     (D) All developments and uses on navigable waters or their beds should be located and designed to minimize interference with surface navigation, to consider impacts to public views, and to allow for the safe, unobstructed passage of fish and wildlife, particularly those species dependent on migration.

     (E) Uses that adversely impact the ecological functions of critical saltwater and freshwater habitats should not be allowed except where necessary to achieve the objectives of RCW 90.58.020, and then only when their impacts are mitigated according to the sequence described in WAC 173-26-201 (2)(e) as necessary to assure no net loss of ecological functions.

     (F) Shoreline uses and modifications should be designed and managed to prevent degradation of water quality and alteration of natural hydrographic conditions.

    (G) Local governments should reserve shoreline space for shoreline preferred uses. Such planning should consider upland and in-water uses, water quality, navigation, presence of aquatic vegetation, existing shellfish protection districts and critical habitats, aesthetics, public access and views.

    (iii) Designation criteria. Assign an "aquatic" environment designation to lands waterward of the ordinary high-water mark.

     Local governments may designate submerged and intertidal lands with shoreland designations (e.g., "high-intensity" or "rural conservancy") if the management policies and objectives for aquatic areas are met. In this case, the designation system used must provide regulations for managing submerged and intertidal lands that are clear and consistent with the "aquatic" environment management policies in this chapter. Additionally, local governments may assign an "aquatic" environment designation to wetlands.

     (d) "High-intensity" environment.

     (i) Purpose. The purpose of the "high-intensity" environment is to provide for high-intensity water-oriented commercial, transportation, and industrial uses while protecting existing ecological functions and restoring ecological functions in areas that have been previously degraded.

     (ii) Management policies.

     (A) In regulating uses in the "high-intensity" environment, first priority should be given to water-dependent uses. Second priority should be given to water-related and water-enjoyment uses. Nonwater-oriented uses should not be allowed except as part of mixed use developments. Nonwater-oriented uses may also be allowed in limited situations where they do not conflict with or limit opportunities for water-oriented uses or on sites where there is no direct access to the shoreline. Such specific situations should be identified in shoreline use analysis or special area planning.

     If an analysis of water-dependent use needs as described in WAC 173-26-201 (3)(d)(ii) demonstrates the needs of existing and envisioned water-dependent uses for the planning period are met, then provisions allowing for a mix of water-dependent and nonwater-dependent uses may be established. If those shoreline areas also provide ecological functions, apply standards to assure no net loss of those functions.

     (B) Full utilization of existing urban areas should be achieved before further expansion of intensive development is allowed. Reasonable long-range projections of regional economic need should guide the amount of shoreline designated "high-intensity." However, consideration should be given to the potential for displacement of nonwater-oriented uses with water-oriented uses when analyzing full utilization of urban waterfronts and before considering expansion of such areas.

     (C) Policies and regulations shall assure no net loss of shoreline ecological functions as a result of new development. Where applicable, new development shall include environmental cleanup and restoration of the shoreline to comply in accordance with any relevant state and federal law.

     (D) Where feasible, visual and physical public access should be required as provided for in WAC 173-26-221 (4)(d).

     (E) Aesthetic objectives should be implemented by means such as sign control regulations, appropriate development siting, screening and architectural standards, and maintenance of natural vegetative buffers.

     (iii) Designation criteria. Assign a "high-intensity" environment designation to shoreline areas within incorporated municipalities, urban growth areas, and industrial or commercial "limited areas of more intensive rural development," as described by RCW 36.70A.070, if they currently support high-intensity uses related to commerce, transportation or navigation; or are suitable and planned for high-intensity water-oriented uses.

     (e) "Urban conservancy" environment.

     (i) Purpose. The purpose of the "urban conservancy" environment is to protect and restore ecological functions of open space, flood plain and other sensitive lands where they exist in urban and developed settings, while allowing a variety of compatible uses.

     (ii) Management policies.

     (A) Uses that preserve the natural character of the area or promote preservation of open space, flood plain or sensitive lands either directly or over the long term should be the primary allowed uses. Uses that result in restoration of ecological functions should be allowed if the use is otherwise compatible with the purpose of the environment and the setting.

     (B) Standards should be established for shoreline stabilization measures, vegetation conservation, water quality, and shoreline modifications within the "urban conservancy" designation. These standards shall ensure that new development does not result in a net loss of shoreline ecological functions or further degrade other shoreline values.

     (C) Public access and public recreation objectives should be implemented whenever feasible and significant ecological impacts can be mitigated.

     (D) Water-oriented uses should be given priority over nonwater-oriented uses. For shoreline areas adjacent to commercially navigable waters, water-dependent uses should be given highest priority.

     (E) Mining is a unique use as a result of its inherent linkage to geology. Therefore, mining and related activities may be an appropriate use within the urban conservancy environment when conducted in a manner consistent with the environment policies and the provisions of WAC 173-26-241 (3)(h) and when located consistent with mineral resource lands designation criteria pursuant to RCW 36.70A.170 and WAC 365-190-070.

     (iii) Designation criteria. Assign an "urban conservancy" environment designation to shoreline areas appropriate and planned for development that is compatible with maintaining or restoring of the ecological functions of the area, that are not generally suitable for water-dependent uses and that lie in incorporated municipalities, urban growth areas, or commercial or industrial "limited areas of more intensive rural development" if any of the following characteristics apply:

     (A) They are suitable for water-related or water-enjoyment uses;

     (B) They are open space, flood plain or other sensitive areas that should not be more intensively developed;

     (C) They have potential for ecological restoration;

     (D) They retain important ecological functions, even though partially developed; or

     (E) They have the potential for development that is compatible with ecological restoration.

     Lands that may otherwise qualify for designation as urban conservancy and which are designated as "mineral resource lands" pursuant to RCW 36.70A.170 and WAC 365-190-070 may be assigned a designation within the "urban conservancy" environment that allows mining and associated uses in addition to other uses consistent with the urban conservancy environment.

     (f) "Shoreline residential" environment.

     (i) Purpose. The purpose of the "shoreline residential" environment is to accommodate residential development and appurtenant structures that are consistent with this chapter. An additional purpose is to provide appropriate public access and recreational uses.

     (ii) Management policies.

     (A) Standards for density or minimum frontage width, setbacks, lot coverage limitations, buffers, shoreline stabilization, vegetation conservation, critical area protection, and water quality shall be set to assure no net loss of shoreline ecological functions, taking into account the environmental limitations and sensitivity of the shoreline area, the level of infrastructure and services available, and other comprehensive planning considerations.

     Local governments may establish two or more different "shoreline residential" environments to accommodate different shoreline densities or conditions, provided both environments adhere to the provisions in this chapter.

     (B) Multifamily and multilot residential and recreational developments should provide public access and joint use for community recreational facilities.

     (C) Access, utilities, and public services should be available and adequate to serve existing needs and/or planned future development.

     (D) Commercial development should be limited to water-oriented uses.

     (iii) Designation criteria. Assign a "shoreline residential" environment designation to shoreline areas inside urban growth areas, as defined in RCW 36.70A.110, incorporated municipalities, "rural areas of more intense development," or "master planned resorts," as described in RCW 36.70A.360, if they are predominantly single-family or multifamily residential development or are planned and platted for residential development.

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