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Critical areas are lands with natural hazards or lands that support certain unique, fragile or valuable resource areas.

Lands designated by King County as critical include areas at high risk for erosion, landslides, earthquakes or flooding; coal mines; or wetlands or lands adjoining streams, rivers and other water bodies.

The King County Code protects critical areas as well as their buffers in order to protect public health and safety, and to promote environmental health in the region. Buffers are areas adjacent to a critical area that are also restricted from specific building and development activities.

When a development proposal occurs near wetlands, lakes, wildlife habitat or streams, an applicant may be asked to provide additional information with the permit application in order to enable the Permitting Department staff to better assess potential impacts the development might have on these critical areas.

Refer to Permitting Department Customer Information Bulletin 21, Critical Areas Review (PDF*, 142KB), for detailed information including:

  • What is the purpose of the critical area requirements?
  • What incentives are available to property owners to protect critical areas?
  • What is the critical areas review process?
  • How do applicants find out if a property contains a critical area?
  • How are critical areas protected?

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