Subdivisions May Speed Up in Jurisdictions Near You
As we all know, many areas of Washington are experiencing considerable growth. The Seattle metro region, in particular, grew approximately 1,100 people per week since 2010 . People are moving to our state in droves, and housing production is having trouble keeping up .
In an effort to speed up approvals, the Washington Legislature approved Senate Bill 5674, allowing local governments to administratively approve final plats for long subdivisions . Prior to SB 5674, the legislative body (city or county council or county board of commissioners) was required to approve final plats.
The Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (“MBA”) testified in support of the bill in both the House and Senate; no one spoke in opposition. With the urging of the MBA and many local builders, a number of local governments in the Puget Sound region are welcoming the opportunity to make this change.
Subdivisions in a Nutshell
By way of background, a subdivision is a division of land into multiple lots. Subdivisions must pass through preliminary and final plat review. The preliminary plat review is extensive, with stormwater review often taking the longest. The local government considers environmental impacts of the project and provides multiple opportunities for public comment, generally including a public hearing. The hearing is typically held by a hearing examiner who must determine that appropriate provisions are made for the public health, safety, and general welfare; open space; parks and recreation; drainage; transportation; potable water; sewage disposal; schools; and features that assure safe walking conditions for students who walk to school.
Once a subdivision is out of preliminary plat review, the applicant’s project goes through engineering review. Plat infrastructure and other required improvements such as landscaping are also built or bonded after preliminary plat review and before final plat approval. When the applicant has satisfied all conditions set forth in the preliminary plat approval, he or she may submit a final plat, which, once approved and recorded, creates the actual lots.
Problems Caused by Final Plat Approval Before SB 5674
The purpose of final plat approval is to determine whether conditions in the preliminary plat approval have been satisfied. Final plat approval is not discretionary. Nevertheless, prior to the approval of SB 5674, final plat approval for long subdivisions required the legislative body approval or, as in some cities in Pierce County, approval by a hearing examiner following a public hearing. This step could add considerable time, particularly when there was more pressing business before the legislative body, such as budget adoption. It could also result in confusion. Members of the public might attend the meeting thinking that the legislative body or hearing examiner could impose additional requirements.
Changing the Process
As with short plats, final plats for long subdivisions may now be administratively approved. Local governments need to opt-in to the new approval process by amending their subdivision regulations. And many jurisdictions are doing just that.
Auburn was the first to adopt administrative approval; other local cities and counties have followed suit. The following are some select jurisdictions in the Puget Sound area that (often unanimously) approved ordinances to allow administrative final plat approvals:
Ordinance in draft form
Consideration and vote are forthcoming.
Adopted July 26, 2017
Considered by the Planning Commission
August 22, 2017
Adopted June 19, 2017
Adopted August 14, 2017
Adopted September 19, 2017
Considered by the Planning Commission
September 20, 2017
Source: Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties and relevant regulatory documents.
In the coming years, we are likely to see faster approvals statewide. This will save time, money, and resources for local jurisdictions and builders in Washington.
 Sarah Anne Lloyd, “The Seattle area has grown by more than 1,000 people per week since 2010,” Seattle Curbed, Mar. 24, 2017, https://seattle.curbed.com/2017/3/24/15055650/seattle-metro-population-growth/.
 Monica Nickelsburg, “Booming Seattle maintains title as nation’s hottest housing market for 8th month in a row,” Geekwire, June 27, 2017, https://www.geekwire.com/2017/booming-seattle-maintains-title-nations-hottest-housing-market-8th-month-row/ (“Despite countless cranes that dot the Seattle skyline, real estate development has not been able to keep up with the city’s breakneck population gains.”).
 “Short subdivisions” are divisions resulting in four or fewer lots, but cities and counties may increase the number of lots created in a short subdivision to nine. All other land divisions are simply “subdivisions,” commonly referred to as long subdivisions. SB 5674 did not affect short subdivisions, which were already approved administratively.