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WAC 365-196-425

Rural element.

Counties must include a rural element in their comprehensive plan. This element shall include lands that are not designated for urban growth, agriculture, forest, or mineral resources. The rural element shall permit land uses that are compatible with the rural character of such lands and provide for a variety of rural densities.
(1) Developing a written record. When developing the rural element, a county may consider local circumstances in establishing patterns of rural densities and uses, but must develop a written record explaining how the rural element harmonizes the planning goals in the act and meets the requirements of the act. This record should document local circumstances the county considered and the historic patterns of development in the rural areas.
(2) Establishing a definition of rural character.
(a) The rural element shall include measures that apply to rural development and protect rural character. Counties must define rural character to guide the development of the rural element and the implementing development regulations.
(b) The act identifies rural character as patterns of land use and development that:
(i) Allow open space, the natural landscape, and vegetation to predominate over the built environment;
(ii) Foster traditional rural lifestyles, rural-based economies, and opportunities to both live and work in rural areas;
(iii) Provide visual landscapes that are traditionally found in rural areas and communities;
(iv) Are compatible with the use of land by wildlife and for fish and wildlife habitat;
(v) Reduce the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development;
(vi) Generally do not require the extension of urban governmental services; and
(vii) Are consistent with protection of natural surface water flows and ground water and surface water recharge and discharge areas.
(c) Counties should adopt a locally appropriate definition of rural character. Rural areas are diverse in visual character and in density, across the state and across a particular county. Rural development may consist of a variety of densities and uses. It may, for example, include clustered residential development at levels consistent with the preservation of rural character. Counties should define rural development both in terms of its visual character and in terms of the density and intensity of uses. Defining rural development in this way allows the county to use its definition of rural development both in its future land use designations and in its development regulations governing rural development.
(3) Rural densities.
(a) The rural element should provide for a variety of densities that are consistent with the pattern of development established in its definition of rural character. The rural comprehensive plan designations should be shown on the future land use map. Rural densities are a range of densities that:
(i) Are compatible with the primary use of land for natural resource production;
(ii) Do not make intensive use of the land;
(iii) Allow open space, the natural landscape, and vegetation to predominate over the built environment;
(iv) Foster traditional rural lifestyles, rural-based economies, and opportunities to both live and work in rural areas;
(v) Provide visual landscapes that are traditionally found in rural areas and communities;
(vi) Are compatible with the use of the land by wildlife and for fish and wildlife habitat;
(vii) Reduce the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development;
(viii) Generally do not require the extension of urban governmental services;
(ix) Are consistent with the protection of natural surface water flows and ground water and surface water recharge and discharge areas; and
(x) Do not create urban densities in rural areas or abrogate the county's responsibility to encourage new development in urban areas.
(b) Counties should perform a periodic analysis of development occurring in rural areas, to determine if patterns of rural development are protecting rural character and encouraging development in urban areas. This analysis should occur along with the urban growth area review required in RCW 36.70A.130 (3)(a). The analysis may include the following:
(i) Patterns of development occurring in rural areas.
(ii) The percentage of new growth occurring in rural versus urban areas.
(iii) Patterns of rural comprehensive plan or zoning amendments.
(iv) Numbers of permits issued in rural areas.
(v) Numbers of new approved wells and septic systems.
(vi) Growth in traffic levels on rural roads.
(vii) Growth in public facilities and public services costs in rural areas.
(viii) Changes in rural land values and rural employment.
(ix) Potential build-out at the allowed rural densities.
(x) The degree to which the growth that is occurring in the rural areas is consistent with patterns of rural land use and development established in the rural element.
(4) Rural governmental services.
(a) Rural governmental services are those public facilities and services historically and typically delivered at intensities usually found in rural areas, and may include the following:
(i) Domestic water system;
(ii) Fire and police protection;
(iii) Transportation and public transportation; and
(iv) Public utilities, such as electrical, telecommunications and natural gas lines.
(b) Rural services do not include storm or sanitary sewers. Urban governmental services that pass through rural areas when connecting urban areas do not constitute an extension of urban services into a rural area provided those public services are not provided in the rural area. Sanitary sewer service may be provided only if it:
(i) Is necessary to protect basic public health and safety and the environment;
(ii) Is financially supportable at rural densities; and
(iii) Does not permit urban development.
(c) When establishing levels of service in the capital facilities and transportation element, each county should establish rural levels of service, for those rural services that are necessary for development, to determine if it is providing adequate public facilities. Counties are not required to use a single level of service for the entire rural area and may establish varying levels of service for public services in different rural areas. Where private purveyors or other public entities provide rural services, counties should coordinate with them to establish and document appropriate levels of service.
(d) Rural areas typically rely on natural systems to adequately manage stormwater and typically rely on on-site sewage systems to treat wastewater. Development in rural areas also typically relies on individual wells, exempt wells or small water systems for water. Counties should ensure the densities it establishes in rural areas do not overwhelm the ability of natural systems to provide these services without compromising either public health or the vitality of the surrounding ecosystem.
(e) Rural road systems are not typically designed to handle large traffic volumes. Local conditions may influence varying levels of service for rural road system, and level of service standards for rural arterials should be set accordingly. Generally, level of service standards should reflect the expectation that high levels of local traffic and the associated road improvements are not usually associated with rural areas.
(f) Levels of public services decrease, and corresponding costs increase when demand is spread over a large area. This is especially true for public safety services and both school and public transportation services. Counties should provide clear expectations to the public about the availability of rural public services. Counties should ensure the densities it establishes in rural areas do not overwhelm the capacity of rural public services.
(5) Innovative zoning techniques.
(a) Innovative zoning techniques allow greater flexibility in rural development regulations to create forms of development that are more consistent with rural character than forms of development generated by conventional large-lot zoning. Innovative zoning techniques may allow forms of rural development that:
(i) Result in rural development that is more visually compatible with the surrounding rural areas;
(ii) Maximize the availability of rural land for either resource use or wildlife habitat;
(iii) Increase the operational compatibility of the rural development with use of the land for resource production;
(iv) Decrease the impact of the rural development on the surrounding ecosystem;
(v) Does not allow urban growth; and
(vi) Does not require the extension of urban governmental services.
(b) Rural clusters. One common form of innovative zoning technique is the rural cluster. A rural cluster can create smaller individual lots than would normally be allowed in exchange for open space that preserves a significant portion of the original parcel.
(i) When calculating the density of development for zoning purposes, counties should calculate density based on the number of dwelling units over the entire development parcel, rather than the size of the individual lots created.
(ii) The open space portion of the original parcel should be held by an easement, parcel or tract for open space or resource use. This should be held in perpetuity, without an expiration date.
(iii) If a county allows bonus densities in a rural cluster, the resulting density after applying the bonus must be a rural density.
(iv) Rural clusters may not create a pattern of development that relies on or requires urban governmental services. Counties should establish a limit on the size of the residential cluster so that a cluster does not constitute urban growth in a rural area. A very large project may create multiple smaller clusters that are separated from each other and use a different access point to avoid creating a pattern of development that would constitute urban growth.
(v) Development regulations governing rural clusters should include design criteria that preserve rural visual character.
(6) Limited areas of more intense rural development. The act allows counties to plan for isolated pockets of more intense development in the rural area. These are referred to in the act as limited areas of more intense rural development or LAMIRDs.
(a) LAMIRDs serve the following purposes:
(i) To recognize existing areas of more intense rural development and to minimize and contain these areas to prevent low density sprawl;
(ii) To allow for small-scale commercial uses that rely on a rural location;
(iii) To allow for small-scale economic development and employment consistent with rural character; and
(iv) To allow for redevelopment of existing industrial areas within rural areas.
(b) An existing area or existing use is one that was in existence on the date the county became subject to all of the provisions of the act:
(i) For a county initially required to fully plan under the act, on July 1, 1990.
(ii) For a county that chooses to fully plan under the act, on the date the county adopted the resolution under RCW 36.70A.040(2).
(iii) For a county that becomes subject to all of the requirements of the act under RCW 36.70A.040(5), on the date the office of financial management certifies the county's population.
(c) Counties may allow for more intensive uses in a LAMIRD than would otherwise be allowed in rural areas and may allow public facilities and services that are appropriate and necessary to serve LAMIRDs subject to the following requirements:
(i) Type 1 LAMIRDs - Isolated areas of existing more intense development. Within these areas, rural development consists of infill, development, or redevelopment of existing areas. These areas may include a variety of uses including commercial, industrial, residential, or mixed-use areas. These may be also characterized as shoreline development, villages, hamlets, rural activity centers, or crossroads developments.
(A) Development or redevelopment in LAMIRDs may be both allowed and encouraged provided it is consistent with the character of the existing LAMIRD in terms of building size, scale, use, and intensity. Counties may allow new uses of property within a LAMIRD, including development of vacant land.
(B) When establishing a Type I LAMIRD, counties must establish a logical outer boundary. The purpose of the logical outer boundary is to minimize and contain the areas of more intensive rural development to the existing areas. Uses, densities or intensities not normally allowed in a rural area may be allowed inside the logical outer boundary consistent with the existing character of the LAMIRD. Appropriate and necessary levels of public facilities and services not otherwise provided in rural areas may be provided inside the logical outer boundary.
(C) The logical outer boundary must be delineated primarily by the built environment as it existed on the date the county became subject to the planning requirements of the act.
(I) Some vacant land may be included within the logical outer boundary provided it is limited and does not create a significant amount of new development within the LAMIRD.
(II) Construction that defines the built environment may include above or below ground improvements. The built environment does not include patterns of vesting or preexisting zoning, nor does it include roads, clearing, grading, or the inclusion within a sewer or water service area if no physical improvements are in place. Although vested lots and structures built after the county became subject to the act's requirements should not be considered when identifying the built environment, they may be included within the logical outer boundary as infill.
(III) The logical outer boundary is not required to strictly follow parcel boundaries. If a large parcel contains an existing structure, a county may include part of the parcel in the LAMIRD boundary without including the entire parcel, to avoid a significant increase in the amount of development allowed within the LAMIRD.
(D) The fundamental purpose of the logical outer boundary is to minimize and contain the LAMIRD. Counties should favor the configuration that best minimizes and contains the LAMIRD to the area of existing development as of the date the county became subject to the planning requirements of the act. When evaluating alternative configurations of the logical outer boundary, counties should determine how much new growth will occur at build out and determine if this level of new growth is consistent with rural character and can be accommodated with the appropriate level of public facilities and public services. Counties should use the following criteria to evaluate various configurations when establishing the logical outer boundary:
(I) The need to preserve the character of existing natural neighborhoods and communities;
(II) Physical boundaries such as bodies of water, streets and highways, and land forms and contours;
(III) The prevention of abnormally irregular boundaries; and
(IV) The ability to provide public facilities and public services in a manner that does not permit low-density sprawl.
(E) Once a logical outer boundary has been adopted, counties may consider changes to the boundary in subsequent amendments. When doing so, the county must use the same criteria used when originally designating the boundary. Counties should avoid adding new undeveloped parcels as infill, especially if doing so would add to the capacity of the LAMIRD.
(ii) Type 2 LAMIRDs - Small-scale recreational uses. Counties may allow small-scale tourist or recreational uses in rural areas. Small-scale recreational or tourist uses rely on a rural location and setting and need not be principally designed to serve the existing and projected rural population.
(A) Counties may allow small-scale tourist or recreational uses through redevelopment of an existing site, intensification of an existing site, or new development on a previously undeveloped site, but not new residential development. Counties may allow public services and facilities that are limited to those necessary to serve the recreation or tourist uses and that do not permit low-density sprawl. Small-scale recreational or tourist uses may be added as accessory uses for resource-based industry. For accessory uses on agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance, see WAC 365-196-815.
(B) Counties are not required to designate Type 2 LAMIRDs on the future land use map and may allow them as a conditional use. If using a conditional use process, counties should include in their development regulations conditions that address all the statutory criteria for the location of a Type 2 LAMIRD. Conditions must assure that Type 2 LAMIRDs:
(I) Are isolated, both from urban areas and from each other. Conditions should include spacing criteria to avoid creating a pattern of strip development;
(II) Are small in scale;
(III) Are consistent with rural character;
(IV) Rely on a rural location or a natural setting;
(V) Do not include new residential development;
(VI) Do not require services and facilities beyond what is available in the rural area; and
(VII) Are operationally compatible with surrounding resource-based industries.
(iii) Type 3 LAMIRDs - Small-scale businesses and cottage industries. Counties may allow isolated small-scale businesses and cottage industries that are not principally designed to serve the existing and projected rural population and nonresidential uses, but do provide job opportunities for rural residents, through the intensification of development on existing lots or on undeveloped sites.
(A) Counties may allow the expansion of small-scale businesses in rural areas as long as those small-scale businesses are consistent with the rural character of the area as defined by the county in the rural element. Counties may also allow new small-scale businesses to use a site previously occupied by an existing business as long as the new small-scale business conforms to the rural character of the area. Any public services and public facilities provided to the cottage industry or small-scale business must be limited to those necessary to serve the isolated nonresidential use and shall be provided in a manner that does not permit low-density sprawl.
(B) Counties are not required to designate Type 3 LAMIRDs on the future land use map and may allow them as a conditional use. If using a conditional use process, counties should include in their development regulations conditions that address all the statutory criteria for the location of a Type 3 LAMIRD. Conditions must assure that Type 3 LAMIRDs:
(I) Are isolated, both from urban areas and from each other. Conditions should include spacing criteria to avoid creating a pattern of strip development;
(II) Are small in scale;
(III) Are consistent with rural character;
(IV) Do not include new residential development;
(V) Do not require public services and facilities beyond what is available in the rural area; and
(VI) Are operationally compatible with surrounding resource-based industries.
(d) Major industrial developments and master planned resorts governed by other requirements. Counties may not use the provisions of RCW 36.70A.070 (5)(d)(iii) to permit a major industrial development or a master planned resort. These types of development must comply with the requirements of RCW 36.70A.360 through 36.70A.368. For more information about major industrial developments, see WAC 365-196-465. For more information about master planned resorts, see WAC 365-196-460.
[Statutory Authority: RCW 36.70A.050 and 36.70A.190. WSR 15-04-039, § 365-196-425, filed 1/27/15, effective 2/27/15; WSR 10-22-103, § 365-196-425, filed 11/2/10, effective 12/3/10; WSR 10-03-085, § 365-196-425, filed 1/19/10, effective 2/19/10.]
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