RELATED ECOLOGY PROGRAMS
Variance permits are used to allow a project to deviate from an SMP’s dimensional standards (e.g., setback, height, or lot coverage requirements). A variance proposal must meet variance criteria found in state rule and be consistent with other environment and use requirements.
Ecology encourages local governments to contact shoreline permit review staff early in the process of approving a conditional use permit if difficulties are anticipated.
In the ten-year period from 1993 - 2002, local governments issued 2,626 conditional use and variance permits, of which 101 were denied by Ecology.
Under state rules found in WAC 173-27-170, upland developments (developments that are landward of the OHWM and wetlands regulated by the SMA) may be granted variances if the applicant demonstrates all of the following:
The criteria for allowing variances for developments proposed below the OHWM or in wetlands is the same, but stricter. In addition to demonstrating the criteria described in (b) through (f), above, applicants must also show:
Variances must also meet criteria in WAC 173-27-140 which apply to all development.
The "unnecessary hardship" of the criteria recognizes all regulations may cause some degree of hardship and discomfort in their application. Variances should only be granted where the specific facts of the case indicate that the hardship is unnecessary when considering the purposes (policy basis) for which the specific standards were originally adopted.
Note that the shoreline jurisdiction area is not a setback requirement from which a variance can be issued. If a use is prohibited within a shoreline environment designation but allowed by the applicable zoning regulations, a variance cannot be used to reduce the 200 foot setback necessary to place the use where it is outside of SMA jurisdiction.
For all variance applications, consideration shall be given under the variance permit review process to the cumulative impact over time of granting additional permits for like actions in the area. In other words, if comparable developments were granted variances in the area where similar circumstances exist, the total of the developments must also be consistent with the SMA and must not produce substantial adverse effects to the shoreline environment.
For example, a variance for the size and length of a dock on a narrow slough for one site may not have a substantial adverse effect by itself but a series of such docks could make navigation on the slough very difficult. The initial variance request then could be denied based on future cumulative impact. The State Supreme Court addressed the regulation of cumulative impacts in Hayes v. Yount, 87 Wn.2d 280, 287-88, 552 P.2d 1038 (1976).
If a significant number of variances are granted from the same provisions of the master program in similar circumstances it may be time to consider amending the master program.
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