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Shoreline Master Programs

Single Family Residence exemption

The Shoreline Management Act creates an exemption for construction of single family residences on shorelands. The construction must be by an owner, lessee or contract purchaser for their own use or for the use of their family. Several court decisions have taken a strict view of the meaning of this provision, e.g., see Ecology v. Pacesetter case [89 Wn.2d 203 (1977)].

To meet the exemption, the law requires that the residence:

  • must not exceed a height of thirty-five feet above average grade level, and
  • must meet all other state and local requirements

State rules clarify that "single-family residence" means a detached dwelling designed for and occupied by one family including those structures and developments within a contiguous ownership which are a normal appurtenance.

Appurtenant structures

An appurtenance must be connected to the use and enjoyment of a single-family residence. Houses constructed on speculation ("spec houses") are not exempt.

To meet the exemption criteria, appurtenances must be located landward of the ordinary high water mark and the perimeter of wetlands. Overwater structures are not exempted from the requirement to obtain a permit. For example, applications for a gazebo or a deck on a dock would not be exempt from shoreline permit requirements.

On a statewide basis, normal appurtenances include:

Local SMPs may add interpretations of normal appurtenances to their Shoreline Master Program.

For more information

Contact Ecology's shoreline permit reviewer serving your town, city, or county.