Legislation Would Preempt City Authority Over Development

March 2, 2020

Several Senate bills would limit city decision-making authority for planning, zoning, permitting, and inspections of new development.

Note: There is updated information on this topic. Read the latest article.

A number of bills were recently introduced in the Senate that would limit local control when it comes to planning, zoning, permitting, and inspections for new development.

The Senate has scheduled hearings for three of these bills, and the House is expected to introduce many of the same bills in the upcoming weeks.

Limitations on building permit fees

On March 3, the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Policy Committee is going to hear SF 3793 (Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch), a bill that would change the basis for building permit fees from construction value (the estimated cost of labor and materials) to cost per square foot.

The bill would also require posting of the city’s fee schedule for permits and inspections on the city’s website, providing a copy of it by mail if requested, and keeping it for review at city hall.

Modification of annual reporting requirements

On March 4, the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee is going to hear SF 3795 (Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake), a bill that would change the annual reporting requirements for construction and development-related fees. It would require cities that collect over $7,000 in construction and development-related fees to report to the state the costs for labor, transportation, office space, and any other expenses incurred as a result of conducting inspections.

Currently, the threshold is $5,000, and the annual report does not require this separation of costs. The Department of Labor and Industry would be required to include a list of common definitions for all fees collected.

Limitation on zoning authority

On March 5, the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Policy Committee is going to hear SF 3886 (Sen. Draheim), a bill that would:

    • Require that the 60-day rule apply to building permits.
    • Prohibit municipalities from requiring a planned unit development (PUD) agreement if the proposed residential development complies with existing zoning ordinances, subdivision regulation, or qualifies as a conditional use.
    • Prohibit PUD conditions from exceeding State Building Code requirements.
    • Prohibit conditioning approval of a building permit, subdivision development, or PUD on the use of specific materials, design, amenities, or other aesthetic conditions not required by the State Building Code.
    • Prohibit municipalities from requiring more than one garage for single-family dwellings.
    • Require cities and counties to allow temporary family health care dwellings.
    • Encourage municipalities to facilitate development of unsubsidized affordable housing into their comprehensive plan, which could include smaller lot sizes for single-family homes, allow duplexes through fourplexes on lots that would otherwise be zoned only for single-family houses, and allow mixed-used development.

Other bills on development

Several other bills preempting local authority over development were also introduced in the Senate. These introductions include:

  • Cap on park dedication fees. SF 3794 (Sen. Draheim) would limit a park fee to 5% of the fair market value of the development (no such cap currently exists in state law). Cities would be required to allow payment of the park fee to be paid by donating land, building recreational facilities, or a combination of these options. The bill also requires cities to record the purposes for the money collected and the manner in which it was spent to further those purposes, including how each cash payment was used.
  • Prohibition of city building inspectors and liability for negligent inspections. SF 3796 (Sen. Koran) would generally prohibit city building inspectors, unless cities adopt an ordinance requiring the use of them. If municipalities adopt such an ordinance, the bill would also make municipalities liable for negligent inspection if the building inspector acted within their scope of work and the inspector’s act/omission caused injury, loss of property, personal injury, or death.
  • Limitations on building permit fees and whistleblower protection for independent contractors. SF 3816 (Sen. Koran) would limit building permit fees, as described above, and these fees could be tailored by geographic region but would be required to be based on the direct cost of the permit review and inspection services in that area. These fees could not be more than the amount adopted by the Department of Labor and Industry. The bill would also create whistleblower protection for independent contractors who report a violation, suspected violation, or planning violation of planning or zoning by municipalities.

What city officials can do

Cities are encouraged to review the above legislative proposals and provide comment to the League and their legislators. Send comments to LMC staff members Irene Kao at ikao@lmc.org or Ted Bengtson at tbengtson@lmc.org. Comments and concerns on the proposals are crucial as we continue our advocacy efforts to preserve local control.