News Flash

News Flash/Press Releases

Posted on: May 2, 2019

Share your thoughts: One-year review of the Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) update

It has been a year since the City's updated Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO) became effective -- and we'd like your feedback.

Critical areas regulations help to preserve the natural environment, maintain fish and wildlife habitat, protect drinking water and reduce exposure to risks, such as landslides or flooding. 

The CAO includes regulations for critical aquifer recharge areas, steep slopes, wetlands, and streams. The 2018 CAO update included significant additions and revisions to regulatory and permitting requirements. Below is what changed in the update:

  • Aquifer recharge areas: Development meeting certain size criteria requires designation of an aquifer recharge protection area (ARPA). The ARPA is a tool to protect groundwater recharge.
  • Steep slopes: Requirements for steep slopes are generally less restrictive: Buffers are "capped" at a maximum of 75 feet and factors of safety are reduced for non-habitable structures (e.g. stairs).
  • Wetlands: More detail is provided for reporting requirements (buffer widths for wetlands did not change).
  • Streams: Buffer widths for most streams got bigger.

 Staff is now doing a review and assessment of the CAO to review ways in which it is working well and ways in which it is ineffective or difficult to use. A "do-over" of the CAO is not proposed.  Staff anticipates any proposed revisions will be specific and targeted rather than broad or policy-oriented. The review will not include revisiting best available science or revising specific standards (e.g. buffers).

The CAO review is currently in the data-gathering phase. Staff will be reviewing the regulations and gathering user input throughout May.

You may provide input the following ways:

  • Take a survey: Please take a few minutes to answer nine questions about the CAO. Results will be summarized in an assessment report provided to the Planning Commission and City Council. Click here to start the survey now.
  • General comments? Send an email to

The next steps are outlined in the Workplan and Timeline.

Key dates: 

Planning Commission study sessions and City Council business meetings provide the opportunity for public comment.

Questions? Contact Senior Planner Christy Carr at 206.780.3719 or

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