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Environmentally Critical Areas Update

A Blue Heron flying in the sky
Reviewing and updating our environmentally critical areas code to ensure we follow current best practices and state rules.

What's Happening Now?

On October 26, 2016, the Mayor sent legislation to update regulations for Seattle's Environmentally Critical Areas (ECAs) to the Seattle City Council. The Council’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee will hold a public hearing about the updated regulations on December 6, 2016. Please visit our project documents page to read the updated regulations and related documents. For information on how to comment on the updated regulations, please visit our get involved page.

The purpose of our update is to continue to comply with the State’s Growth Management Act (GMA) requirements to designate and protect ECAs. Under GMA, we are also required to review Best Available Science (BAS) and include measures to conserve and protect salmon fisheries. The Washington State legislature requires us to revise our ECA regulations every eight years.

The changes to the regulations are based on updates to the BAS for protecting wetland functions, preserving great blue heron habitat, managing impervious surfaces, and mitigating impacts to critical areas. Additionally, we included changes to the regulations for development on large sites with steep slope areas. The changes would result in structures that are more compatible with existing development and will fit better in neighborhoods. The amendments also clarify language and correct errors to make the code easier to use and understand.

Our proposed legislation includes amendments to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) regulations. Our proposal is to remove the City requirement for SEPA review for certain projects in critical areas that would otherwise be exempt from SEPA under Section 25.09.800. The SEPA review is currently limited to an analysis of the project's impacts on the environmentally critical areas. We propose to eliminate this review because the updated ECA regulations, including the proposed amendments, will provide clear, specific, and predictable regulations for those types of projects.

In addition to the proposed amendments to the ECA and SEPA regulations, we’ve updated two Director’s Rules. The first is for the Great Blue Heron Management Plans (DR 5-2007). This update reflects Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) latest recommendations for protecting great blue heron and their nests. Great blue herons are listed as a WDFW Priority Species and a species of local importance in Seattle. The second is the SEPA Exemptions from Environmental Review Requirements When Establishing, Changing or Expanding a Use (DR 29-2015). This amended Director’s Rule allows vegetation management that meets ECA and SEPA requirements. Vegetation management includes the removal of non-native vegetation species and planting native vegetation among other things.

Our Director’s Report summarizes the proposed changes. Check out our Director’s Report, the two Director’s Rules, and the regulations, on our project documents page.

Next Steps
City Council will hold a public meeting on the proposed legislation on December 6, 2016. They will then complete their review and approval of the legislation, likely in early 2017. The updated regulations would become effective in early 2017.  

Project Benefits

By updating our ECA policies and regulations to improve their effectiveness and to include updated BAS, we can better protect our critical areas and manage development in areas that are hazardous to build on. We can also enhance the urban environment by protecting wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat, riparian corridors, and other ecological resources. The health of these areas is an important indicator of the overall health and well-being of our city.

The End Result

Our updated ECA policies and regulations will continue to comply with the GMA and include current BAS.

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