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A Subtle Change Makes A Huge Difference in New SEPA Exemptions
February 14, 2013
As previously reported on this blog, the Washington Legislature directed the Department of Ecology to revise and amend the SEPA rules to streamline permitting processes.  The first process concluded on December 31, 2012, and included changes to SEPA exemptions.  These exemptions just went into effect on January 28, 2013.  Buried within the revised or new exemptions is a very important nuance that I will discuss below.

The changes to the exemptions are positive for the building community.  This table reflects the changes for fully planning GMA counties and demonstrates the new rules for all other non-GMA counties.
 
Jurisdiction Type Incorporated and Unincorporated Urban Inside UGA Unincorporated Rural Areas All Other Counties Incorporated or Unincorporated Areas
Single-Family Residential New 30 UnitsPrior 20 Units New 20 UnitsPrior 4 Units 20 Units
Multi-Family Residential Units New 60 UnitsPrior N/A New 25 UnitsPrior N/A 25 Units
Agricultural Structures New  40,000 Square FeetPrior 10,000 Square Feet New 10,000 Square FeetPrior 10,000 Square Feet 40,000 Square Feet
Office, School, Commercial New 30,000 Square Feet and 90 Parking SpacesPrior 12,000 Square Feet and 40 Parking Spaces New 12,000 Square Feet and 40 Parking SpacesPrior 4,000 Square Feet and 20 Parking Spaces 12,000 Square Feet and 40 Parking Spaces
Landfill or Excavation New 1,000 Cubic YardsPrior 500 Cubic Yards New 1,000 Cubic YardsPrior 500 Cubic Yards 1,000 Cubic Yards
 
As the table demonstrates, this represents a significant win for the business community.  From a policy standpoint this makes sense with all the additional regulations promulgated since the inception of SEPA 1971.  But practically speaking, it is even a smaller change that makes a big difference in the last category.  For instance, if you were building 20 single-family units and moved more than 500 cubic yards of dirt you would still trigger SEPA (even if you were exempt before).  Therefore, SEPA was triggered regardless of the exemption as 500 cubic yards of dirt is not much in a construction site.  WAC 197-11-800(2)(d) provides that “grading, excavating, filling, septic tank installations, and landscaping necessary for any building or facility exempted. . . . ” and according to the table above does not require SEPA.   This is great news that actually makes the increases of these exemptions functional.
 



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