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PDFWAC 365-190-040


(1) The classification and designation of natural resource lands and critical areas is an important step among several in the overall growth management process. These steps, outlined in subsections (4) and (5) of this section comprise a vision of the future, and that vision gives direction to the steps in the form of specific goals and objectives. Under the act, the timing of the first steps coincided with development of the larger vision through the comprehensive planning process.
(2) The act required preliminary classifications and designations of natural resource lands and critical areas to be completed in 1991. Counties and cities planning under the act were to enact interim regulations to protect and conserve these natural resource lands and critical areas by September 1, 1991. By July 1, 1992, counties and cities not planning under the act were to bring their development regulations into conformance with their comprehensive plans. By July 1, 1993, counties and cities planning under the act were to adopt comprehensive plans, consistent with the goals of the act. Implementation of the comprehensive plans was to occur by the following year.
(3) Under RCW 36.70A.130, all counties and cities must review, and if needed, update their natural resource lands and critical areas designations. Counties and cities fully planning under the act must also review and, if needed, update their natural resource lands conservation provisions, comprehensive plans and development regulations. Legal challenges to some updates have led to clarifications of the ongoing review and update requirements in RCW 36.70A.130, and the process for implementing those requirements. The process description and recommendations in this section incorporate those clarifications and describe both the initial designation and conservation or protection of natural resource lands and critical areas, as well as subsequent local actions to amend those designations and provisions.
(4) Classification is the first step in implementing RCW 36.70A.170 and requires defining categories to which natural resource lands and critical areas will be assigned.
(a) Counties and cities are encouraged to adopt classification schemes that are consistent with federal and state classification schemes and those of adjacent jurisdictions to ensure regional consistency. Specific classification schemes for natural resource lands and critical areas are described in WAC 365-190-050 through 365-190-130.
(b) State agency classification schemes are available for specific critical area types, including the wetlands rating systems for eastern and western Washington from the Washington state department of ecology, the priority habitats and species categories and recommendations from the Washington state department of fish and wildlife, and the high quality ecosystem and rare plant categories and listings from the department of natural resources, natural heritage program. The Washington state department of natural resources provides significant information on geologic hazards and aquatic resources that may be useful in classifying these critical areas. Not all areas classified by state agencies must be designated, but such areas may be likely candidates for designation. WAC 365-195-915 provides guidance when departing from science-based recommendations.
(5) Designation is the second step in implementing RCW 36.70A.170.
(a) Pursuant to RCW 36.70A.170, natural resource lands and critical areas must be designated based on their defined classifications. For planning purposes, designation establishes:
(i) The classification scheme;
(ii) The distribution, location, and extent of the uses of land, where appropriate, for agriculture, forestry, and mineral extraction; and
(iii) The general distribution, location, and extent of critical areas.
(b) Inventories and maps should indicate designations of natural resource lands and critical areas. In circumstances where critical areas cannot be readily identified, these areas should be designated by performance standards or definitions, so they can be specifically identified during the processing of a permit or development authorization.
(c) Designation means, at a minimum, formal adoption of a policy statement, and may include further legislative action. Designating inventoried lands for comprehensive planning and policy definition may be less precise than subsequent regulation of specific parcels for conservation and protection.
(d) Successful achievement of the natural resource industries goal set forth in RCW 36.70A.020 requires the conservation of land base sufficient in size and quality to maintain and enhance those industries, and the development and use of land use techniques that discourage uses incompatible to the management of designated lands.
(e) Mineral resource lands especially should be designated as close as possible to their likely end use areas, to avoid losing access to those valuable minerals by development, and to minimize the costs of production and transport. It is expected that mineral resource lands will be depleted of minerals over time, and that subsequent land uses may occur on these lands after mining is completed.
(6) Classifying, inventorying, and designating lands or areas does not imply a change in a landowner's right to use his or her land under current law. The law requires that natural resource land uses be protected from land uses on adjacent lands that would restrict resource production. Development regulations adopted to protect critical areas may limit some land development options. Land uses are regulated on a parcel basis and innovative land use management techniques should be applied when counties and cities adopt development regulations to conserve and protect designated natural resource lands and critical areas. The purpose of designating natural resource lands is to enable industries to maintain access to lands with long-term commercial significance for agricultural, forest, and mineral resource production. The purpose is not to confine all natural resource production activity only to designated lands nor to require designation as the basis for a permit to engage in natural resource production. The department provides technical assistance to counties and cities on a wide array of regulatory options and alternative land use management techniques.
(7) Overlapping designations. The designation process may result in critical area designations that overlay other critical area or natural resource land classifications. Overlapping designations should not necessarily be considered inconsistent. If two or more critical area designations apply to a given parcel, or portion of a given parcel, both or all designations apply.
(a) If a critical area designation overlies a natural resource land designation, both designations apply. For counties and cities required or opting to plan under the act, reconciling these multiple designations will be the subject of local development regulations adopted pursuant to RCW 36.70A.060.
(b) If two or more natural resource land designations apply, counties and cities must determine if these designations are incompatible. If they are incompatible, counties and cities should examine the criteria to determine which use has the greatest long-term commercial significance, and that resource use should be assigned to the lands being designated.
(8) Counties and cities must involve the public in classifying and designating natural resource lands and critical areas. The process should include:
(a) Public participation program:
(i) Public participation should include, at a minimum, representative participation from the following entities: Landowners; representatives of agriculture, forestry, mining, business, environmental, and community groups; tribal governments; representatives of adjacent counties and cities; and state agencies. The public participation program should include early and timely public notice of pending designations and regulations and should address proposed nonregulatory incentive programs.
(ii) Counties and cities are encouraged to consider a variety of opportunities to adequately communicate with the public. These methods of notification may include, but are not limited to, traditional forms of mailed notices, published announcements, electronic mail, and internet sites to distribute informational brochures, meeting times, project timelines, and design and map proposals to provide an opportunity for the public to participate.
(iii) The department provides technical assistance in preparing public participation programs.
(b) Adoption process. Statutory and local processes already in place governing land use decisions are the minimum processes required for designation and regulation pursuant to RCW 36.70A.060 and 36.70A.170. At a minimum the following steps should be included in the adoption process:
(i) Accept the requirements of chapter 36.70A RCW;
(ii) Consider minimum guidelines developed by the department under RCW 36.70A.050;
(iii) Consider other definitions used by state and federal regulatory agencies;
(iv) Consider definitions used by similarly situated counties and cities;
(v) Determine recommended definitions and check conformance with minimum definitions in chapter 36.70A RCW;
(vi) Adopt definitions, classifications, and standards;
(vii) Apply definitions by mapping designated natural resource lands and critical areas; and
(viii) Establish procedures for amending natural resource lands and critical areas designations.
(c) Intergovernmental coordination.
(i) The act requires coordination among counties and cities to reconcile conflicts and strive for consistent definitions, standards, and designations within regions. The minimum coordination process may include one of two options:
(A) Notification option: Adjacent cities (or those with overlapping or adjacent planning areas); counties and the cities within them; and adjacent counties would provide each other and special purpose districts and special purpose districts within them notice of their intent to classify and designate natural resource lands and critical areas within their jurisdiction. Counties or cities receiving notice may provide comments and input to the notifying jurisdiction. The notifying jurisdiction specifies a comment period prior to adoption. Within 45 days of the jurisdiction's date of adoption of classifications or designations, affected jurisdictions are supplied information on how to locate a copy of the proposal. The department may provide mediation services to counties and cities to help resolve disputed classifications or designations.
(B) Interlocal agreement option: Adjacent counties and cities; all the cities within a county; or several counties and the cities within them may choose to cooperatively classify and designate natural resource lands and critical areas within their jurisdictions. Counties and cities by interlocal agreement would identify the definitions, classification, designation, and process that will be used to classify and designate lands within their areas. State and federal agencies or tribes may participate in the interlocal agreement or be provided a method of commenting on designations and classifications prior to adoption by jurisdictions.
(ii) Counties or cities may begin with the notification option in (c)(i)(A) of this subsection and choose to change to the interlocal agreement method in (c)(i)(B) of this subsection prior to completion of the classification and designations within their jurisdictions. Approaches to intergovernmental coordination may vary between natural resource land and critical area designation. It is intended that state and federal agencies with land ownership or management responsibilities, special purpose districts, and Indian tribes with interests within the counties or cities adopting classification and designation be consulted and their input considered in the development and adoption of designations and classifications. The department may provide mediation services to help resolve disputes between counties and cities that are using either the notification or interlocal agreement method of coordinating between jurisdictions.
(d) Mapping natural resource lands. Mapping should be done to identify designated natural resource lands. For counties and cities fully planning under the act, natural resource lands designations must be incorporated into the comprehensive plan land use element and should be shown on the future land use map required under RCW 36.70A.070.
(9) Evaluation. When counties and cities adopt a comprehensive plan, the act requires them to evaluate their designations and development regulations to assure that they are consistent with and implement the comprehensive plan. When considering changes to the designations or development regulations, counties and cities should seek interjurisdictional coordination and must include public participation.
(10) Designation amendment process.
(a) Land use planning is a dynamic process. Natural resource lands review procedures should provide a rational and predictable basis for accommodating change.
(b)(i) De-designations of natural resource lands can undermine the original designation process. De-designations threaten the viability of natural resource lands and associated industries through conversion to incompatible land uses, and through operational interference on adjacent lands. Cumulative impacts from de-designations can adversely affect the ability of natural resource-based industries to operate.
(ii) Counties and cities should maintain and enhance natural resource-based industries and discourage incompatible uses. Because of the significant amount of time needed to review natural resource lands and potential impacts from incompatible uses, frequent, piecemeal de-designations of resource lands should not be allowed. Site-specific proposals to de-designate natural resource lands must be deferred until a comprehensive countywide analysis is conducted.
(c) Reviewing natural resource lands designation. In classifying, designating and de-designating natural resource lands, counties must conduct a comprehensive countywide analysis. Counties and cities should not review natural resource lands designations solely on a parcel-by-parcel basis. Designation amendments should be based on consistency with one or more of the following criteria:
(i) A change in circumstances pertaining to the comprehensive plan or public policy related to designation criteria in WAC 365-190-050(3), 365-190-060(2), and 365-190-070(3);
(ii) A change in circumstances to the subject property, which is beyond the control of the landowner and is related to designation criteria in WAC 365-190-050(3), 365-190-060(2), and 365-190-070(3);
(iii) An error in designation or failure to designate;
(iv) New information on natural resource land or critical area status related to the designation criteria in WAC 365-190-050(3), 365-190-060(2), and 365-190-070(3); or
(v) A change in population growth rates, or consumption rates, especially of mineral resources.
(11) Use of innovative land use management techniques.
(a) Natural resource uses have preferred and primary status in designated natural resource lands. Counties and cities must determine if and to what extent other uses will be allowed. If other uses are allowed, counties and cities should consider using innovative land management techniques that minimize land use incompatibilities and most effectively maintain current and future natural resource lands.
(b) Techniques to conserve and protect agricultural, forest lands, and mineral resource lands include the purchase or transfer of development rights, fee simple purchase of the land, less than fee simple purchase, purchase with leaseback, buffering, land trades, conservation easements, current use assessments, innovative zoning, or other innovations which maintain current uses and assure the conservation of these natural resource lands.
(12) Development in and adjacent to agricultural, forest, and mineral resource lands shall assure the continued management of these lands for natural resource production. Uses that would convert natural resource lands to other uses or would interfere with the allowed natural resource uses must be prohibited except as authorized in accessory uses under RCW 36.70A.177 or other applicable statutes. Any uses adjacent to agricultural, forest, and mineral resource lands of long-term commercial significance must not interfere with their continued use for the production of agricultural, forest, or mineral products respectively. Counties and cities should consider the adoption of right-to-farm provisions, and may also adopt measures to conserve and enhance marine aquaculture. Covenants or easements recognizing that farming, forestry, and mining activities will occur should be imposed on new development in or adjacent to agricultural, forest, or mineral resource lands. Where buffering is used it should be on land within the adjacent development unless an alternative is mutually agreed on by adjacent landowners.
[Statutory Authority: RCW 36.70A.050 and 36.70A.190. WSR 23-08-037, § 365-190-040, filed 3/29/23, effective 4/29/23; WSR 10-03-085, § 365-190-040, filed 1/19/10, effective 2/19/10. Statutory Authority: RCW 36.70A.050. WSR 91-07-041, § 365-190-040, filed 3/15/91, effective 4/15/91.]
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