Shoreline Master Program Update Begins

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Seattle’s Lake Union

My Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) Committee has begun work on the first comprehensive update of Seattle’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) since 1987.  We received our first briefing in August and discussed aspects of it at our September 12 and September 13 meetings and we’ll discuss it again at our October 26 meeting.  A public hearing has been set for Monday, October 15, at 5:30 in the Council Chambers, with a vote scheduled for November 14.

The SMP is an incredibly important and complex set of policies and regulations that govern development and uses on and adjacent to marine and freshwater shorelines.  For Seattle this includes Puget Sound, Lake Washington, Lake Union and the Ship Canal, the Duwamish River, Green Lake, and wetlands and floodplains around these.  The SMP affects land uses, structures and activities, including those occurring over water and on vessels, the location of structures including setbacks and allowed water coverage, public access requirements, and construction practices related to bulkheads, docks and piers.

Updating the SMP is required under the State Shoreline Management Act (SMA), created by citizen referendum in 1972. The SMA establishes policy goals for the management of shorelines, and the state’s SMP guidelines set requirements for how to achieve these, with some flexibility for local concerns and conditions. The SMA establishes three major policy goals:

Preferred Shoreline Uses:  Water-oriented uses such as port facilities, shoreline recreational uses, and water-dependent businesses are preferred uses. Single-family residences are a preferred use if developed in a manner consistent with protection of the natural environment.

Environmental Protection:  The Act requires protecting shoreline natural resources, including “… the land and its vegetation and wildlife, and the water of the state and their aquatic life …” to ensure no net loss of ecological function.  No net loss of ecological functions means that the existing condition of shoreline ecological functions should not deteriorate because of development in the Shoreline District.

Public Access: The Act promotes public access to shorelines, including view protection.

The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) began working on this update in 2008, and the proposed revisions have been through a series of public outreach activities.  A first draft was released on February 8, 2011 and a second on October 26, 2011.  Key recommendations from DPD are:


  • Ensure No Net Loss (NNL) of ecological functions.
  • Regulate environmentally critical areas located in the Shoreline District under the SMP.
  • Develop a restoration plan that results in improved ecological functioning of the shoreline.
  • Require that non-water-oriented uses include ecological restoration.
  • Require that ecological restoration be included when replacing non-conforming uses and structures.
  • Include shoreline buffers for all shoreline environments.
  • Allow 20% of a site to be used for uses that are not water-dependent or water-related (WD/WR) if they support WD/WR uses.
  • Allow additional height for permitted structures that are not WD/WR and for accessory uses.
  • Allow WD/WR uses to be located over water on lots in the Urban Commercial and Urban Maritime shoreline environments and allow certain non-water-dependent or water-related uses to be located overwater as a Conditional Use.
  • Require projects to avoid impacts and mitigate remaining impacts to achieve NNL.
  • Define and protect priority freshwater and saltwater habitat.
  • Allow existing structures in the urban shoreline environments built in the required setback to be replaced if mitigation is provided.
  • Allow recreational marinas in the Urban Industrial and Urban Maritime shoreline environments in the Lake Union Ship Canal.
  • Maintain current regulations for floating homes to be repaired, maintained and replaced.
  • Prohibit new floating homes.
  • Maintain current regulations prohibiting house barges after 1990 and requiring water quality protection while providing for the preferred uses and public access of the shoreline.

DPD has prepared a draft shoreline restoration plan that will be used in conjunction with the proposed regulations. The restoration plan will not be included in the City’s regulations but will be used by the City to identify the types of restoration that will increase ecological functions along Seattle’s shorelines.  The restoration plan will be approved as part of the SMP ordinance.

All SMP update documents may be accessed on DPD’s website at:

The Council and our staff will review this very complex legislation and may fine-tune the proposed regulations to ensure that they are workable and effective.  My goal is to make sure that we preserve and enhance our shorelines while minimizing any impact of new regulations on our shoreline based businesses. We expect that DPD has developed a careful analysis of the economic and environmental impact of these changes.  We also expect there to be considerable discussion of how proposed regulations concerning live-aboards (people who live on a vessel) will be implemented and whether or not the proposed regulations balance the City’s desire to improve the environment on our waterways with live-aboards’ desire to continue to enjoy their unique homes.