Local Project Review

The Local Project Review Act, RCW 36.70B, was established in 1995, after the passage of the Growth Management Act (GMA), as the statewide framework for local government land use planning review and development permitting. Fundamental land use planning choices made in adopted comprehensive plans and development regulations serve as the foundation for project review.

New Requirements under the GMA - SB 5290 (2023)

Major changes were made to the Local Project Review Act with the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 5290 in 2023 (PDF). Updates and amendments to the Act are intended to consolidate, streamline and further improve local permit review processes for improved outcomes for applicants, customers, planners, builders and designers. Amendments went into effect in the summer of 2023, except for new permit time period requirements which will go into effect on January 1, 2025. RCW 36.70B.080

Local Jurisdictions

Local jurisdictions are responsible for implementing several new requirements, listed below. 

  • RCW 36.70B.070 
    • Clarify determination of completeness procedural requirements.
    • The determination must be based on the procedural requirements as outlined on the project permit application.
  • RCW 36.70B.080
    • Apply new default timelines for processing permits, effective January 1, 2025.
      • 65 days if no notice is required for the permit type
      • 100 days if public notice is required for the permit type
      • 170 days if public notice and hearings are required for the permit type
    • Refund application review fees up to 20% if new time periods are not met, unless additional measures have been adopted.
    • Report annual permit review data, including data on compliance with the new permit time periods – only for counties and cities subject to the requirements of the Review and Evaluation Program, RCW 36.70A.215 (often referred to the Buildable Lands Program) and cities greater than 20,000 population within those counties.
  • RCW 36.70B.160 
    • Adopt some of 10 listed measures to expedite permit review by the next comprehensive plan update, under certain circumstances.
    • Adopt additional measures to expedite permit review if the local government had adopted at least three project review and code measures more than five years earlier, and the local government is not meeting the permit deadlines at least 50% of the time since its most recent comprehensive plan update.

Commerce Guidance

SB 5290 directs Commerce to provide technical assistance and guidance for counties and cities implementing the bill, including setting fee structures for permitting and reporting annual permit review data. SCJ Alliance was selected to work alongside Commerce and lead a team to work on several elements of SB 5290 implementation with the Department of Commerce.

Digital Permitting Work Group

Commerce was tasked with facilitating a study to examine the benefits and drawbacks of implementing a statewide permit process system and tracking software capable of virtual inspections, electronic review and with capacity for video storage. Specifically, the study will address the following:

  • Evaluate existing needs for digital permitting systems, including impacts on existing digital permitting systems already in place.
  • Review barriers preventing local jurisdictions from accessing or adopting digital permitting systems.
  • Evaluate the benefits and costs associated with a statewide permitting software system.
  • Provide budgetary, administrative policy and legislative recommendations to increase the adoption of or establish a statewide system of digital permit review.

Commerce formed a digital permitting work group to recommend an approach for modernizing local government permit systems supported by extensive fact finding and barrier identification. The digital permitting work group is made up of a wide array of stakeholders including planning directors, administrators, building officials, state and local government organizations and information technology professionals.

A final report to the Legislature will be released in the fall of 2024. SB 5290, Section 4

Setting Fee Structures

Commerce will provide technical assistance and guidance to counties and cities to ensure permit review fees are reasonable and sufficient to recover true costs associated with permit review. Guidance will include the different ways permit fees are established, the methodology for establishing fee structures, and instruction on tracking and analysis jurisdictions can do based on an understanding of the time it takes to review a permit and the true costs to the jurisdiction for that respective review. RCW 36.70B.245

Annual Performance Reporting

Counties subject to the Review and Evaluation Program (often referred to as the Buildable Lands Program), RCW 36.70A.215, and cities within those counties with a population over 20,000, must publish an annual report with data on permit volumes and timelines. Annual permit data must be sent to Commerce and posted annually to increase public accessibility of permit data. Counties required to produce an annual report include Clark, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston and Whatcom. RCW 36.70B.080

Commerce will develop an annual performance report template that local governments will use to document and report permitting data for each year. Guidance for using the template and tracking information to meet the requirements will accompany the report template.

Map of Washington state including highlighted counties
Map of the state of Washington highlighting the seven counties subject to the Review and Evaluation Program: Clark, King, Kitsap, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston and Whatcom (RCW 36.70A.215).

Local Project Review Grants

Commerce will administer two grant programs and provide technical assistance to cities and counties for actions related to streamlining residential building permit review and modernizing permitting processes. Approximately $3 million will be available in statewide grants to implement SB 5290 (2023), beginning June 2024.

Commerce Legislative Report

The Legislature directed Commerce to develop a plan for communities to secure technical support staff needed to review residential housing permits so that they may meet permit review timelines. The opportunity to address challenges and deliver trained staff that can provide temporary support or hard to find expertise for timely processing of residential housing permit applications is through a resource list/roster of available skilled consulting and staffing firms. Subject to appropriations by the Legislature, the resource list will be made widely available on the Local Project Review webpage and communicated frequently to communities at conferences, in the Commerce Planning Newsletter and in other communications channels.

Resources