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State Law Allows for Local Reform of the Washington State Environmental Policy Act

Reform of the Washington State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) is underway at the local level after a new state bill offered "safe harbor" under the law for a menu of land use and development reforms.
August 13, 2019, 8am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Olympic Mountains

Natalie Bicknell reports on the local response in Seattle to the passage of House Bill 1923, state level legislation passed earlier this year that "provides cities with a menu of options for increasing their housing density and then provides 'safe harbor,' or protections from SEPA lawsuits, for actions taken from that menu."

In response to the breathing room provided by the new state law, Seattle councilmembers Mike O'Brien and Abel Pacheco have introduced Council Bill 119600, "which would align Seattle’s environmental review process with recent changes state level changes made to SEPA," according to Bicknell.

Bicknell lists some of the important changes proposed by Council Bill 119600:

  • Align City code with new state law House Bill 1923 that exempts some City Land Use Code changes from SEPA appeals;
  • Limit Hearing Examiner SEPA appeal hearings to 120 days, with an option to extend to 150 days if all parties agree;
  • Clarify that additional and voluntary subjects covered in an Environmental Impact Statement are not subject to appeal;
  • Update SEPA thresholds for Urban Villages to exempt projects with less than 200 units and 12,000 square feet; and
  • Allow the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to create a SEPA Handbook that provides guidelines for consistent analysis.

Bicknell speculates that the bill is likely to pass by October, which is when "things will really become interesting."

An article by Dan Bertolet, published in November 2017, details the obstructionist effect of SEPA.

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Published on Monday, August 12, 2019 in The Urbanist
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