Seattle City Council adopts updated Shoreline Master Program

Home » Seattle City Council adopts updated Shoreline Master Program

City of SeattleFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 1/22/2013

Council President Sally J. Clark
Councilmember Tim Burgess

Councilmember Richard Conlin
Councilmember Jean Godden
Councilmember Bruce Harrell
Councilmember Nick Licata
Councilmember Mike O’Brien
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen

Seattle City Council adopts updated Shoreline Master Program
New regulations protect shorelines for all

This afternoon the Seattle City Council unanimously adopted Council Bill 117585 comprising the first comprehensive update of Seattle’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) since 1987.

"These new regulations aim to meet the daunting goal of balancing three competing interests: the needs of our vital maritime industries, the public’s right to shoreline access, and the state law to protect plant and animal habitat along our waters," said Councilmember Richard Conlin, Chair of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability committee . "After five years, two drafts, hundreds of hours of staff work, and several phases of public involvement, this package of SMP amendments is a positive and proactive step in the right direction – protecting our precious shoreline resources for all."

The SMP is an important and complex set of regulations that govern development and uses on and adjacent to shorelines. In 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 over water coverage, public access requirements and construction practices related to bulkheads, docks and piers.

Working extensively with the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and the City Attorney’s Office, the Council addressed most of the actions required under state law. In addition to that work, the Council held a public hearing along with public comment sessions at each of our seven Committee deliberations on the SMP, met with representatives of key affected constituencies, including people who live on boats and floating homes and water dependent businesses, and took field trips to visit houseboat communities and affected businesses. As a result of that work, the Council initiated and approved nearly 50 amendments to the legislation.

Many of these amendments were technical modifications and most of theothers clarify various situations involving water dependent businesses. The Planning, Land Use and Sustainabilitycommittee also strengthened some provisions relating to environmental protection and modified provisions relating to future regulation of people living on vessels.

The Council made the following amendments to the SMP:

  • Created a provision in the proposed allowed height and setback provisions for water dependent businesses to match the requirements for a Seattle company to modify their structure for building boats for Washington State Ferries. The improvements will not only make it possible to construct our ferries locally in a more efficient and economical way, but will reduce environmental impacts on the waterway.
  • A provision defining fueling stations as water dependent uses inadvertently omitted the qualifier that these stations must only be for boats.
  • A provision regulating single family homes in the shoreline environment did not exclude the use of historic lot lines that were not intended to definebuildable lots. We modified thelot definition.
  • Language limiting signs in the shoreline area was strengthened.
  • A provision prohibiting artificial reefs in functioning habitats was added.
  • Language was added that directs DPD to prohibit the use of pesticides and fertilizers that impact ecological functions in the shoreline environment.
  • In several cases, language was added that recognized that water dependent businesses can depend on certain non water related activities to sustain them financially. We allowed some exceptions to the use standards as long as there was no ecological impact and the property owner made a proportional investment in ecological restoration.

SMP update documents may be accessed onDPD’s website at:

The most challenging aspect of the SMP amendments has to do with figuring out how to address residences on the water. State law specifies that residential uses over water are not preferred uses of the shoreline/water environment. The City cannot change that law – it is based on the SMA initiative, and only the Legislature could modify it. The State did grant exceptions to allow some 480 recognized floating homes and 34 house barges, but has made it clear that there will be no new exceptions.

The Council has formed a stakeholder group to develop and consider alternatives for providing certainty and an orderly process for people currently residingon the water whose status is uncertain because they are not identified as legal existing floating houses or legal barges and are not clearly identified as vessels.

[View in Council Newsroom]