Councilmember Abel Pacheco (District 4, Northeast Seattle) and Councilmember Mike O’Brien (District 6, Northwest Seattle) plan to introduce legislation that would align Seattle’s environmental review process with recent changes made to the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), and better focus the process on its original intent of protecting the environment.
The legislation, Council Bill 119600, updates City codes to reflect recent changes to state law, made by E2SHB 1923, that exempt some Land Use Code changes from appeals under SEPA. It would also implement time limits for SEPA appeals to reduce process delays, clarify which Environmental Impact Statement topic areas are subject to SEPA appeals, and update the thresholds in Urban Villages at which SEPA is required.
“For too long, SEPA, a well-intended tool originally designed to protect our environment, has been used to delay policies and projects that are desperately needed to address our joint climate and housing crises,” Pacheco said. “By proposing this legislation, environmental organizations and City leaders are coming together to recognize that SEPA should not be a tool used to prevent dense, environmentally-friendly development and walkable, livable neighborhoods.”
“Thanks to changes this year in state law related to SEPA, the city has the opportunity to update our SEPA policies to better match state regulations,” O’Brien said. “I remain committed to having very strong environmental protections, and also want to prevent that same process from delaying or blocking strong environmental policy.”
Councilmembers Pacheco and O’Brien are proposing this legislation in response to local environmental groups, including Climate Solutions, Futurewise, Sightline, and Transportation Choices Coalition, calling for changes to improve SEPA.
In a letter sent to members of the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee on Monday, July 28, the groups wrote:
“Climate Solutions, Futurewise, Sightline, and Transportation Choices Coalition are writing to encourage the City of Seattle to adopt recent state law changes related to implementing the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) in their regulations and requirements that guide the development of infill housing…
“Adopting the exemptions outlined in the bill will provide greater housing diversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, and other environmental impacts created by sprawl and car-based land use policies…
“Futurewise and (partners) support the City of Seattle in making needed changes to support housing diversity.”
Councilmember Pacheco set out a preliminary schedule for consideration of the legislation by the Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee:
- August 7, 9:30 AM: Committee briefing and discussion of proposal
- September 4, 9:30 AM: Additional Committee briefing and discussion
- September 9, 5:30 PM: Public Hearing on proposed changes
- September 11, 12:00 PM: Committee vote on proposal
- October 7, 2:00 PM: Full Council vote on proposal
What the legislation does:
- Aligns City code with new state law E2SB 1923 that exempts some City Land Use Code changes from SEPA appeals
- Limits Hearing Examiner SEPA appeal hearings to 120 days, with an option to extend to 150 days if all parties agree
- Clarifies that additional and voluntary subjects covered in an Environmental Impact Statement are not subject to appeal
- Updates SEPA thresholds for Urban Villages to exempt projects with less than 200 units and 12,000 square feet
- Allows the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to create a SEPA Handbook that provides guidelines for consistent analysis