Chapter 20.88


20.88.010    Purpose.

20.88.100    Major project permits.

20.88.200    Procedure.

20.88.010 Purpose.

To establish standards and procedures that will provide for special review of those projects or developments that because of their magnitude and impact will tend to affect the public at large.

20.88.100 Major project permits.

.110 All major developments shall, prior to any construction, obtain a major project permit.

.120 A major project permit will be required for mitigation banks proposed in accordance with the provisions of Chapter 16.16 WCC and for any proposed development that meets any two of the following conditions:



(estimated construction cost exclusive of land value)







75,000 square feet



office or industrial (gross leasable floor space)

200,000 square feet




300 dwelling units




200 units



Number of Employees




SEPA Review

An EIS is required

In addition the zoning administrator may make an administrative determination after receiving a recommendation from the technical review committee that any project be considered a major development, if in the opinion of the administration it is of a nature that council review would be appropriate.

.130 The major project permit shall be issued by the county council when the applicant has established that the proposed major development:

(1) Will comply with the development standards and performance standards of the zone in which the proposed major development will be located; provided where a proposed major development has obtained a variance from the development and performance standards, standards as varied shall be applied to that project for the purposes of this act.

(2) Where the project is conditionally permitted in the zone in which it is located, the project must satisfy the standards for the issuance of a conditional use permit for the zone in which the project is located.

(3) Will be consistent with applicable laws and regulations.

(4) Will not substantially interfere with the operation of existing uses.

(5) Will be served by, or will be provided with essential utilities, facilities and services necessary to its operation, such as roads, drainage facilities, electricity, water supply, sewage disposal facilities, and police and fire protection. Standards for such utilities, facilities and services shall be those currently accepted by the state of Washington, Whatcom County, or the appropriate agency or division thereof.

(6) Will not impose uncompensated requirements for public expenditures for additional utilities, facilities and services, and will not impose uncompensated costs on other property owned.

(7) Will be appropriately responsive to any EIS prepared for the project.

.140 In addition, the county council may impose any reasonable conditions precedent to the establishment of the major development as may be required to mitigate impacts of the proposal on the natural environment of the county, and to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the people of the county consistent with the policies for environmental protection set forth in the Comprehensive Plan.

.150 The county council may also approve alternative mitigation plans for major project permits in accordance with WCC 16.16.260(E) which may be used to satisfy the requirements of Chapter 16.16 WCC and provide relief from the specific standards and requirements thereof. (Ord. 2005-068 § 2, 2005; Ord. 98-083 Exh. A § 66, 1998; Ord. 96-056 Att. A § A2, 1996; Ord. 91-075, 1991).

20.88.200 Procedure.

.205 If a major project permit is determined to be required, an application shall be completed and filed along with the appropriate fees with the land use division of planning and development services. A master plan is required as part of the application for a major project permit. The master plan shall include at a minimum the following elements:

(1) General statement – a narrative description that in general terms identifies the purpose and intended use(s) for the site.

(2) Conceptual site development plan – showing to the appropriate level of detail, buildings and other structures, existing mature trees and landscaping, the pedestrian and vehicle circulation system, parking areas, open space and critical areas, buffers, and other required items.This information must cover the following:

(a) All existing improvements that will remain after the development of the proposed site;

(b) All improvements planned in conjunction with the proposed use;

(c) Conceptual plans for possible future uses; and

(d) General locations of usable open space, any land proposed to be dedicated for open space; pedestrian and transit connection between the site and public or private streets serving the development and connecting to off-site open space; internal circulation (both auto and pedestrian), location of proposed gates and fencing.

(3) Land Use. The master plan must include proposed functions, uses and boundaries of uses by phase. The description must include information as to the general amount and type of functions of the use, hours of operation and the approximate number of members, employees, visitors and special events. For projects which include residential units, proposed minimum and maximum floor area densities, number of units and building heights must be indicated. For office/commercial and light impact industrial projects, minimum and maximum floor area ratios must be indicated.

(4) Phasing Plan. The master plan must include the proposed development phases, probable sequence for proposed developments, estimated dates, and interim uses of the property awaiting development. In addition, the plan should address any proposed temporary uses or location of uses during construction periods.

(5) Circulation, Transportation and Parking. The master plan must include but is not limited to projections by phase of traffic impacts, probable safety concerns, internal circulation layout, parking requirements, ingress/egress locations and proposed road standards for each phase. Specific requirements for transportation and parking include:

(a) The expected number of trips (peak daily), an analysis of the impact of those trips on the adjacent street system, and proposed mitigation measures to limit any projected negative impacts. Mitigation measures may include improvements to the street system or specific programs to reduce traffic impacts such as encouraging the use of public transit, carpools, vanpools, and other alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles.

(b) Projected peak parking demand, an analysis of this demand compared to proposed on-site and off-site supply, potential impacts to the no-street parking system and adjacent land uses, and mitigation measures.

(6) Utilities. The master plan must include evidence of service availability from primary service providers (water, sewer, power, cable, natural gas, telephone) and address stormwater drainage management both on and off-site.

(7) Environment. The master plan must identify critical areas as defined in Chapter 16.16 WCC and areas of special concern as defined by WCC 24.05.230. Mitigating measures for all environmental impacts identified by the applicant through a SEPA checklist, or EIS process and/or identified by agency staff, including but not limited to special development standards, modification of site layout, dedicated open space and mitigation replacement areas must be identified. Identification of any hazardous wastes anticipated, special handling techniques and/or site designs required for containment must also be addressed. If an EIS is required, the EIS and master plan may, upon approval by the director, be combined into a joint document.

(8) Development Standards. The master plan may propose standards that will control development of the possible future uses that are in addition to, or substitute for, requirements of this chapter. These may be such things as height limits, setbacks, frontage, landscaping requirements, parking requirements, signage, view corridors or facade treatments. Proposed standards that do not meet the minimum county standards must obtain the appropriate variance prior to county approval of the proposed standards. If the proposed design standards will apply to property located partially or totally within an urban growth area, concurrence of the affected city will be required.

(9) Procedures. Master plan review shall be conducted under current review procedures. Other land use reviews may be conducted concurrently with the master plan review.

(a) Any modifications, additions or changes to an approved master plan are subject to the following:

(i) Minor changes shall be reviewed for compliance and compatibility with the approved master plan. A determination is made by the director.

(ii) Major changes shall be subject to the original procedural application type, subject to the fees as contained in the unified fee schedule.

(iii) Master plans may include, as a condition of their approval, a requirement for periodic progress reports and mandatory updates on a predetermined interval.

.210 The hearing examiner shall hold one public hearing in accordance with Chapter 20.92 WCC and the requirements set below. This shall be an open record hearing and, per RCW 36.70B.050(2), the county shall hold no subsequent open record hearings.

.215 A written notice of the scheduled public hearing shall be mailed not less than 10 working days prior to the hearing as follows:

(1) For sites within urban growth areas: Notice shall be mailed to each property owner within 300 feet of the external boundaries of the subject property as shown by the records of the county assessor;

(2) For sites outside urban growth areas: Notice shall be mailed to each property owner within 1,000 feet of the external boundaries of the subject property as shown by the records of the county assessor.

Also notice of the hearing shall be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the area of the proposed project at least 10 working days prior to the public hearing. Notice shall consist of time and date of hearing, and brief description of the property and the proposed project. Further, signs meeting the approval of the zoning administrator shall be erected on each frontage of the project site by the applicant not less than 10 working days prior to the hearing.

.220 The recommendation of the hearing examiner shall be based upon the criteria set forth in WCC 20.88.130(1) through (7).

.225 Within 45 calendar days after the hearing examiner’s recommended decision has been filed, the county council shall do one of the following:

(1) Refer the project to the planning commission for a recommendation.

(2) Hold a public meeting to deliberate on the project application and, within 20 calendar days of the meeting, issue a final written decision.

.230 If the project is referred to the planning commission, that body shall within 45 calendar days hold all necessary public meetings and file with the county council a written recommendation for approval or denial and may include conditions of approval, together with the findings upon which the recommendation is based. The applicant may waive the 45 calendar day time limitation.

.235 A written notice of the public meeting before the planning commission or the county council shall be mailed to all parties of record, on file with the clerk of the county council not less than five calendar days prior to the hearing.

.240 The deliberation and recommendation of the planning commission shall be based solely upon consideration of the record, the hearing examiner’s recommendation and the criteria set forth in WCC 20.88.130(1) through (7).

.245 Upon receipt of the planning commission recommendation, the county council shall within 45 calendar days hold a public meeting to deliberate on the application and within 20 calendar days of the meeting issue a final written decision on the application considering the recommended decisions of the hearing examiner and planning commission.

.250 Reserved.

.255 The county council’s final written decision may include conditions when the project is approved and shall state the findings of fact upon which the decision is based.

.260 Deliberation at any public meeting before the county council or planning commission may be limited in scope to particular issues or problems at the discretion of either body.

.265 The deliberation and decision of the county council shall be based solely upon consideration of the record, the recommendations of the hearing examiner and the planning commission (when applicable), and the criteria set forth in WCC 20.88.130(1) through (7).

.270 Where a project requires a major project permit, that project shall be exempt from the requirement of obtaining a conditional use permit.

.275 Major project permits: Where an applicant has applied for a planned unit development, that project shall be exempt from the requirement to obtain a major project permit. (Ord. 2016-011 § 1 (Exh. H), 2016; Ord. 2003-039 Exh.

A, 2003; Ord. 99-081, 1999; Ord. 96-056 Att. A § A2, 1996; Ord. 93-091, 1993; Ord. 91-075, 1991; Ord. 87-12, 1987; Ord. 87-11, 1987; Ord. 86-16, 1986).