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Frequently asked questions about the Shoreline Master Program

Frequently asked questions about the Shoreline Master Program

How is the Shoreline Master Program different from other King County land use plans and regulations?

The Shoreline Master Program protects natural resources, encourages land uses that require a waterfront location and encourages public access to public shorelines. The Shoreline Master Program must be consistent with the King County Comprehensive Plan and zoning regulations.

King County's critical areas regulations also apply to the County's shorelines. However, the geographic scope of the critical areas regulations is broader, because they apply to all water bodies, not just the larger ones regulated by the Shoreline Management Act. The critical areas regulations also apply to other types of critical areas, such as wetlands, wildlife habitat, geologic hazard areas, flood hazard areas and critical aquifer recharge areas. The Shoreline Master Program applies to these areas only when they are located within the shoreline area.

Because the critical areas regulations were recently updated, King County will rely on those regulations as much as possible in order to comply with the state's Shoreline Master Program requirements.

The Shoreline Master Program will be incorporated into the King County Comprehensive Plan. The Executive Recommended update was transmitted to the King County Council August 2009.

What is the Shoreline Management Act and where does it apply?

Washington's voters approved the Shoreline Management Act in 1972 to protect shorelines and provide for shoreline-dependent uses and public access. Rules developed through the Shoreline Management Act apply to marine shorelines, rivers with a flow greater than 20 cubic feet per second, lakes larger than 20 acres and upland areas within 200 feet of these water bodies. Floodplains and wetlands associated with these shorelines are also subject to the act. State information on the Shoreline Management Act can be found on Washington Department of Ecology Shoreline Management Web site (external link).

What does the current King County Shoreline Master Program include and how does it affect private property owners?

The current program was adopted by the King County Council in 1978, and has not been significantly updated since then. Regulations implementing these policies are found in Title 25 of the King County Code. King County maintains a list and map of the specific shorelines regulated under the program.

Private properties that are located along major shorelines (defined above) or within their floodplains are subject to the management and permit requirements of the Shoreline Master Program. Property owners can determine if their property is affected by looking up their property on King County's Web site.

What does the Shoreline Management Act require of King County?

Most counties and cities in Washington are required by the Shoreline Management Act to adopt a Shoreline Master Program. The Department of Ecology revised its regulations on Shoreline Master Programs in 2003. These regulations require all Washington counties and cities with shorelines to update their programs to be consistent with the new regulations. The Shoreline Management Act also establishes standards for public involvement that the county must follow during the update its Shoreline Master Program.

How can the public stay involved during the Shoreline Master Program update process?

King County has created a Shoreline Master Program update Web site to help keep the public informed throughout the update process. The Web site will be updated as new information becomes available. The King County Council will hold further hearings and public meetings during its review of the Executive's proposal.

Are agricultural activities on agricultural lands subject to the King County Shoreline Master Program?

No. The King County Shoreline Master Program cannot modify or limit existing agricultural activities on agricultural lands. However, the Program must include or reference provisions for new agricultural activities on non-agricultural lands and conversion of agricultural land to other uses. Existing King County agricultural regulations, as established under the Livestock Management Ordinance (1993) and critical areas protection requirements (2004), will remain in effect. These regulations provide the option of using a farm plan to meet aquatic area and wetland protection requirements.

What are the current regulations for docks and piers?

Docks and piers are covered by two sets of regulations. King County's existing Shoreline Master Program, K.C.C. Title 25 (Acrobat file), applies to docks and piers on lakes 20 acres and larger. King County's Critical Areas Regulations, K.C.C. Chapter 21A.24 (Acrobat file), apply to all lakes, regardless of size, and to wetlands and streams and other critical areas.

Under the Shoreline Master Program, a pier or dock for the sole use of a single family residence is not an outright permitted use. Joint use docks or piers or floating moorage buoys are preferred alternatives. However, if circumstances do not allow for a joint use dock or pier or a floating moorage buoy, a dock or pier may be allowed.

Under King County's Critical Areas Regulations, new docks or piers are allowed on lake shorelines only if the lake shoreline has the required zoning and existing density of development, and there is no significant vegetation along the shoreline. This means that whether or not a new dock or pier is allowed will depend on the specific circumstances of each lake and property. If a new dock or pier is allowed, it must be seasonal and floating.

These regulations only apply to the construction of a new dock or pier, not to one that already exists and was legally constructed. Existing docks and piers may be maintained with County approvals, although there are limitations on the types of materials used. For example, products containing toxic materials cannot be used.

Are regulations for docks and piers changing as part of the Shoreline Master Program Update?

In February 2007, a number of rural King County lake front property owners received anonymous flyers recommending that property owners need to contact King County before February 28, 2007 if they want to change King County regulations on docks and floats. The flyer also stated King County has recently gathered data to show who has docks and whether they have permits.

There has been no comprehensive effort by King County to determine which docks have permits. King County is in the midst of a multi-year process to update its 30 year old Shoreline Master Program. As a first step in that update, King County compiled existing information on a variety of shoreline related issues, including information about shoreline permits and approvals, including docks and piers. This information was used to evaluate shoreline conditions and will be considered in making recommendations on future shoreline management. The inventory information and details regarding the Shoreline Master Program update process can be viewed at on the Shoreline Master Program Web site.

The Executive Recommended Shoreline Master Program will make it easier for many rural lake property owners to obtain permits to build a dock. Joint use and community docks are still preferred, but current limits tied to zoning and density would be eliminated.

How is mining regulated under King County's Shoreline Master Program?

A property's zoning determines whether mining is allowed on that property.  Its shoreline designation is not a factor.

Under the King County Zoning Code, mining is allowed on property that is zoned Mining (M).  Mining is also allowed on lands in the Forest Production District that are zoned F.  If a property has another zoning designation, such as Rural Area (RA) or Agriculture (A), mining is not allowed, unless the mining activity was legally established before the current zoning was put in place.  Under the current Shoreline Master Program, mining is allowed within the shoreline jurisdiction

A property's shoreline designation, for example "rural" or "conservancy" under the current King County Shoreline Master Program, does not alter the zoning for the property.  The shoreline designation will not allow mining on a property if the Zoning Code does not allow mining on that property.

Will the proposed shoreline regulations allow mining in the conservancy environment?

No. King County has proposed eight new shoreline designations in the third draft of the updated Shoreline Master Program. These include Conservancy and Resource shoreline environments. The Resource shoreline is intended to conserve lands designated for agriculture and mining from inappropriate development. The Conservancy designation is primarily intended to protect important ecological resources and public safety while allowing lower intensity land uses. 

In the Executive Recommended Shoreline Master Plan, mineral resource lands are generally designated Resource Shorelines. There is an exception for marine shorelines. Marine shoreline reaches are designated Natural if they have a Restoration Plan Priority of A and are at least 500 feet long or if they are adjacent to the Marine Aquatic Reserve and have a Restoration Plan Priority of A or B.

For more information about shoreline management in King County, please contact Laura Casey, environmental scientist, Department of Local Services.