Critical Areas Report Process

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The Critical Areas Report process is a way certain Critical Areas Ordinance requirements may be modified for proposals that meet specific conditions (Land Use Code 20.25H.230). The ordinance regulates the use, development, disturbance or modification of critical areas, buffers and structure setbacks to protect the functions and values of these areas and public health, safety and welfare.

Your project must meet two conditions to pursue the CAR process.

  1. Critical areas on the site are degraded to the point that they no longer provide the functions for which they are protected.
  2. The proposed project will result in equivalent or better protection of critical area functions than the standard application of the code.

You must document through your report how your project meets both of these conditions. Your report must be prepared by a qualified professional and submitted as part of an application for a specific development proposal. Based on the analysis provided in your report, the city will determine whether critical areas functions will be better protected and/or restored through your proposal or through a standard application of the code.


Critical Areas Reports should include the following elements, per LUC 20.25H.250.B. (The Development Services director may waive any of the report requirements where, in the director’s discretion, the information is not necessary to assess the impacts of the proposal and the level of protection of critical area function and value accomplished.)

Critical Area Identification

You must clearly and accurately identify, classify, and characterize all critical areas and buffers on site and in vicinity and characterize their existing condition. This requires that you evaluate the condition and function of each critical area based on scientifically valid methods. This characterization will form the basis for the city’s comparative evaluation of functions under your proposal and functions under standard application of the code.

Standards Proposed for Modification

Clearly identify each standard your proposal seeks to modify. This section of your CAR should include specific code section references. Typical standards that may be modified include buffer widths, structure setbacks, and performance standards for habitats for species of local importance. Not all elements of the code can be modified (LUC 20.25H.240). For example, you cannot modify the determination that a critical area exists or modify its type or category, nor can you propose direct impacts on streams, wetlands, or shorelines below the ordinary high water mark.

Habitat and Cumulative Impacts Assessments

Complete a habitat assessment (LUC 20.25H.165A) to determine if habitats for species of local importance are present. It must address:

  • Vegetation and habitat conditions
  • Whether site conditions meet the needs of any species of local importance
  • Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) management recommendations for any such species
  • A discussion of potential direct and indirect impacts on habitat and water quality from your proposal
  • Measures to avoid, minimize, and mitigate such impacts;
  • Measures to preserve and restore any existing degraded habitat
  • A discussion of ongoing management and maintenance practices to protect habitat after project construction, including a monitoring program

Also, complete a cumulative impacts assessment to consider probable cumulative impacts on critical areas from your proposal. Cumulative impacts result from the individually “minor” effects of multiple actions over time.

The city has created a functional assessment model to provide a standardized means of evaluating and assessing the potential, presence, function and value of habitat on a given site. The city may require that an applicant provide an evaluation of their site using this model.

Functional Lift Analysis

Complete a comparative analysis of the potential functional lift, which should include:

  • Existing and anticipated functions on the site, assuming no development or disturbance
  • Functions likely under a standard application of the code
  • Functions anticipated under your proposal

The analysis must demonstrate equivalent or better protection of critical area functions—functional lift— resulting from your proposal. A functional lift analysis is qualitative, and must be based on a scientifically valid characterization of existing conditions and critical areas functions. The analysis should consider changes to the most important functions that the critical area performs for your local area—its watershed context—over the anticipated life of your project.

Wildlife Management Plan Standards

If your proposal will impact habitat for a species of local importance, your CAR must indicate how your project meets the provisions of the WDFW habitat management plan for that particular species. Habitat management plans typically include provisions to protect breeding/nesting areas, foraging areas, or other areas species depend on for cover or migration.

Mitigation and Restoration

Unavoidable impacts must be mitigated and temporary impacts restored according to the specific requirements contained in the code for each type of critical area.

Your CAR must:

  • Discuss why the impacts cannot be avoided or further minimized
  • Identify the mitigation requirements
  • Describe how your mitigation plan will specifically compensate for the critical area functions lost as a result of your proposal
  • Identify all areas expected to be temporarily disturbed and how these areas will be restored to a condition similar to the preexisting condition
  • Explain how the performance of the mitigation will be measured through monitoring

Additional Information Specific to Type of Critical Area

Additional provisions specific to each critical area type must also be addressed in the CAR. These provisions describe protections such as limits on modification, evaluation requirements for adjacent critical areas, and mitigation sequence requirements. Be sure to check the end of the CAO subsection for your critical area type to find these additional provisions.