Growth Management Act

Update the Growth Management Act to respond to needs for affordable housing, climate mitigation, and environmental justice

Background

The Growth Management Act (GMA) requires state and local governments to manage Washington's growth by identifying and protecting critical areas and natural resource lands, designating urban growth areas, preparing comprehensive plans and implementing them through capital investments and development regulations. It was adopted by the Legislature in 1990, and there are plans to update it in the upcoming legislative session.

Rather than centralize planning and decision-making at the state level, the GMA focuses on local control. It establishes state goals, sets deadlines for compliance, offers direction on how to prepare local comprehensive plans and regulations and sets forth requirements for early and continuous public participation. Within the framework provided by the mandates of the Act, local governments have many choices regarding the specific content of comprehensive plans and implementing development regulations.

Updating the GMA – HB 1099

HB 1099, sponsored by Duerr, Fitzgibbon and Dolan would add a new climate element to the GMA, that would then require counties to incorporate climate change into their planning process in their comprehensive plans. It calls for comprehensive plans to help achieve statewide goals of emissions reductions, and reductions in vehicle miles driven per capita. It requires that environmental justice be given special consideration, and that the comprehensive plan avoid policies that would create or worsen environmental health disparities. It requires that comprehensive plans to raise pedestrian and bicycle transportation to


The new elements advocates would like to add are to strengthen the housing provisions to allow for more affordable housing, to add a climate element, and also one for environmental justice. There is also a desire to give the GMA more teeth so that counties may be taken to court if they don't follow the rule. These new updates are being sponsored by Rep. Joe Fitzgibbons and Rep. Davina Duerr, and a grassroots campaign Washington Can't Wait, organized by Futurewise.

There was an attempt to add a climate element that went before the legislature in the last session as HB 2427 and SB 6453.

Why Now

Eighteen counties are required to comply fully to the GMA, ten more have opted to comply fully, and eleven more are subject only to the critical areas and natural resource land requirements. Of those that comply, King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties are all due to update their comprehensive plan by 2024. These comprehensive plan updates are the outcome of a multi-year planning process, and in order for them to take into account new elements, the GMA would have to be updated to require them.

Comprehensive Plans

King County Comprehensive Plan

Except for small routine or technical changes, King County only updates its comprehensive plan every four years. In 2020, there was a a limited scope "four-year midpoint" update, and in 2024 a statutory update is required.

Seattle Comprehensive Plan

In the Media

Current GMA Elements

The GMA lays out a list of "elements" that comprehensive plans are required to include, and a second list of optional elements. The mandatory requirements are:

  • Land Use

  • Housing

  • Capital Facilities Plan

  • Utilities

  • Rural Development (counties only)

  • Transportation

  • Economic Development

  • Parks and Recreation

  • Ports (mandatory for cities with annual maritime port revenues exceeding $60 million)

The optional elements are:

  • Conservation

  • Solar Energy

  • Recreation

  • Subarea Plans (neighborhoods, rural villages, urban growth areas, tribal areas, etc.)

  • Ports (optional for cities with annual maritime port revenues of $20 million to $60 million, RCW 36.70A.085)