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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 June 13, 2016, we issued our State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) decision about our recommended changes to our Environmentally Critical Areas (ECA) regulations. 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.

Our proposed changes reflect updates to the BAS for protecting wetland functions, preserving great blue heron habitat, managing impervious surfaces, and mitigating impacts to critical areas. Additionally, our proposal includes 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 continue to allow recovery of development credit. The amendments also clarify language and correct typographical errors to make the code easier to use and implement.

Our proposed amendments include changes to the 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 and the two Director’s Rules on our project documents page.

Next Steps

The official public comment period closed June 26, 2016. We are now reviewing comments and making any additional changes as appropriate. We anticipate the Mayor will approve the legislation in July 2016. We will then submit the legislation to City Council for their review and approval. In the meantime, our staff is available to attend meetings to discuss the proposed changes. if you need more information, please visit our get involved page

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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