Before developing land, a developer must obtain permits from the local government that allow the development. These permits can include land use permits, environmental permits, building permits, and others, and are known as project permits. All counties and cities are required to combine the environmental review process with the project permit review process.
The Growth Management Act (GMA) is the comprehensive land use planning framework for counties and cities in Washington. The GMA establishes a wide array of planning duties for 28 counties, and the cities within those counties, that are obligated to satisfy all planning requirements of the GMA. These jurisdictions are sometimes referred to as fully planning under the GMA.
When a fully planning county or city is reviewing a project, its comprehensive plan and development regulations must serve as the basis for the project permit review. In determining if a proposed project is consistent with the comprehensive plan and development regulations, the county or city must consider the type of land use, the level of development or density proposed, and the availability of infrastructure needed to service the development.
Fully planning counties and cities must comply with additional project permit processing requirements, including establishing an integrated or consolidated permit process that:
State Environmental Policy Act.
SEPA establishes a review process for state and local governments to identify environmental impacts that may result from governmental decisions, such as the issuance of permits or the adoption of land use plans. The SEPA environmental review process involves a project proponent or the lead agency completing an environmental checklist to identify and evaluate probable environmental impacts. Government decisions that the SEPA checklist process identifies as having significant adverse environmental impacts must then undergo a more comprehensive environmental analysis in the form of an environmental impact statement (EIS).
Real Estate Excise Tax.
Cities and counties are authorized to impose an excise tax on the sale of real property. Counties may impose the real estate excise tax (REET) in unincorporated areas, while cities may impose REET within the city. In either case, the tax may not exceed 0.0025 percent of the sale price. Fully planning cities and counties may, with voter approval, impose an additional 0.0025 percent tax. The revenue must be used for capital projects, limited maintenance, and until December 31, 2023, the operation of capital projects. In addition, counties may impose two additional excise taxes countywide: up to 1 percent to be used exclusively for the acquisition and maintenance of conservation areas and up to 0.5 percent for the development of affordable housing.
Each fully planning city and county must adopt or amend development regulations to ensure project permit reviews for residential and mixed-use residential projects are completed within established timeframes.
Within 14 days of receiving a residential or mixed-use residential permit application, a fully planning city or county must provide the applicant with a written determination stating either:
A project permit application is complete when it meets the procedural submission requirements of the city or county, it is sufficient for continued processing, and no further information or project modifications are required. After an application has been deemed complete, no additional informational requirements may be imposed by the city or county on the completed application. After March 31, 2025, an application also will be deemed complete if the city or county does not provide the written determination that the application is incomplete within 14 days.
Within seven days after an applicant has submitted to a city or county any additional information identified as being necessary for a complete application, the city or county must notify the applicant whether the application is complete or, if incomplete, what additional information is necessary.
If an application is substantially revised by an applicant after it has been deemed complete, the city or county must notify the applicant whether the revised application is complete within 14 days.
In processing permits for residential or mixed-use residential projects, a city or county must complete its review within the following number of days after notifying the applicant that the application is complete:
In determining the number of days that have elapsed after notifying the applicant that the application is complete, the following periods are excluded:
Any project permits submitted after March 31, 2025, that are not approved, approved with conditions, or denied with cause within the required timeframe will be deemed approved if:
After March 31, 2025, a city or county may not collect local real estate excise taxes (REET) on the first sale of any residential or mixed-use residential property if the project permit was not issued within the applicable timeframes.