Department of Commerce releases updated buildable lands guidelines

Extensive stakeholder process results in improved guidance, new tools for addressing current growth management challenges in some western Washington counties.

OLYMPIA, WA – The Washington State Department of Commerce has released new guidelines to help local governments complete buildable lands reports required by the state’s Growth Management Act (GMA).

The legislature called for updated guidelines last year to reflect current issues and challenges of growth management in Washington state. The guidelines were developed over a year-long process by a steering committee representing counties, cities, industry experts and other interest groups. Commerce hired consultant LDC, Inc., to assist with drafting the update.

Certain counties are required under the GMA’s review and evaluation program (RCW 36.70A.215) to inventory their buildable lands, to measure development of land that has occurred, including housing and employment, since the last inventory, and to review the resulting population densities against forecasted growth. The new guidelines Commerce posted last week detail procedural, data collection and approach and methodology suggestions to help local governments complete their buildable land reports. Updated definitions, a comprehensive list of potential “reasonable measures,” and new market supply factor evaluation considerations are also included.

Originally, six western Washington counties were required to complete buildable lands reports reports:  Snohomish, King, Pierce, Kitsap, Thurston and Clark. The same 2017 legislation requiring Commerce to provide updated guidance also added Whatcom County to the list of counties required to report by June 30, 2021.  Other counties and cities may complete buildable lands reports for the purpose of informing their comprehensive plan updates, but are not required by the state to do so.

“These guidelines help strengthen communities by providing more certainty of the supply of land for homes and jobs. This is important to encourage economic development, assure adequate land for investment, and plan for more affordable housing, especially in the fastest growing counties in the state,” said Mark Barkley, Commerce assistant director in the local government division.

Implemented in 1990, the Growth Management Act requires local jurisdictions to direct development within urban growth areas, efficiently using infrastructure, supporting transit and preserving natural areas.  The Department of Commerce oversees growth management and implementation of the GMA at the state level.

A PDF of the updated Buildable Lands Guidelines is available on the Commerce website, . For further information, please contact Valerie Smith, senior planner, Growth Management Services,, (360)725-3062.


Penny Thomas, Commerce Communications, (206) 256-6106

Valerie Smith, senior planner, Growth Management Services, (360)725-3062

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