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Shoreline Master Programs

Introduction to the shoreline permit system

Washington's Shoreline Management Act establishes a local/state partnership in administering permits. Local governments have the primary responsibility for initiating the planning required by the act and administering the regulatory program. Ecology's role is to act primarily in a supportive and review capacity with an emphasis on providing assistance to local government and on insuring compliance with the policies and provisions of the Shoreline Management Act.

Most "developments" within shorelines of the state must be consistent with the policies of the SMA and the requirements of the local SMP.

Most developments that meet a specific dollar threshold are considered "substantial developments" and require a substantial development permit (SDP).

Certain kinds of development are exempt from substantial development, conditional use, and/or variance permit requirements. (Note: Most activities exempt from the requirement to obtain a SDP must comply with the policies of the SMA and substantive requirements of the local master program. A proposed development may be found exempt from requirements for an SDP but may still require a variance or conditional use permit.)

Under certain circumstances, local governments can allow deviations from SMP requirements through variance (VARs) or conditional use permits (CUPs). 

Permit process

All shoreline permits are processed by the local government. Following the local government decision on all permit applications, applications are sent to Ecology. Ecology must approve, approve with conditions or deny each conditional use permits and variances. Ecology does not have direct approval authority over the more common SDPs - if they are found inconsistent with the local SMP and the SMA, Ecology may file an appeal with the Shorelines Hearings Board.

Pre application: many jurisdictions hold a pre-application conference between the staff and applicant, and often, with other agencies with jurisdiction over the proposed development.

Application: the permit application must include a detailed site plan, a vicinity map, text describing the location of proposed use(s), proposed and existing structures, utilities, fill, information on the natural shoreline environment, local shoreline designation information and location of the OHWM. A SEPA checklist is also often required. The state rule that describes application requirements is WAC 173-27-180.

Notice: notice of the public comment period must be given for all shoreline permits. State rule describing notice requirements is WAC 173-27-110

Local government review and decision : local government technical review of the proposal, including compliance with SEPA review requirements, usually results in a staff report containing recommendations for the decision maker(s). After the public comment period, the local government makes a decision on the permit application. All SEPA requirements must be met prior to the decision. Upon a final local government decision, all approved permits and denied permit applications are filed with Ecology.

Ecology review: Ecology has authority to approve or deny CUPs and Variances. If Ecology disagrees with a local government decision on an SDP, the agency must appeal to the Shorelines Hearings Board. Citizens may appeal local or state permits decisions.

Permit revisions: permits may be revised during processing or after issuance, if the local government determines that the changes are "within the scope and intent of the original permit." See WAC 173-27-090(5) and WAC 173-27-100(2) and (3)

Permit rescissions: if a local government finds that a permittee has not complied with the conditions of a permit, the permit may be rescinded after a hearing for which public notice is given [see RCW 90.58.140(8)].

Appeals: local SMPs may contain provisions for a local appeals process. At the state level, requests for review are heard by the Shorelines Hearings Board, a quasi-judicial body created to hear permit appeals by aggrieved parties. Permits may be upheld, reversed or remanded to the local government with instructions to issue a new permit consistent with the SHB order. [See RCW 90.58.140 and RCW 90.58.180]

For more information

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

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