Washington's Shoreline Management Act

Washington’s Shoreline Management Act

Under the Washington State Shoreline Management Act enacted in 1971, all building or development in marine waters, streams, rivers or lakes or within the immediate vicinity of these waters is subject to the Act’s regulations and permitting requirements. The Shoreline Management Act was designed as a partnership between state and local government. The Act gave local government the authority to plan, permit and enforce the Act. When building an addition to a home that is located close to the shoreline, following and adhering to the Shoreline Management Act’s regulations and restrictions can be a lengthy and costly process.

Single Family Resident Exemption

Single family residence construction can be exempt from the Act’s regulations. This construction, however, “must be by an owner, lessee or contract purchaser for their own use.”

Additions, or garages, that are attached to a single-family residence can also be exempt. However, other permit requirements and environmental regulations might still apply.

Burden of Proof

According to the Shoreline Management Act, the burden of proof lies with the applicant as to whether or not a project is exempt from the permitting process.

The Role of Local Government

The Act holds local governments responsible for implementing and administering the provisions of the Act. Building permits are issued by local government agencies. Before planning an addition to your home it is advisable to consult with your local planning or building department. Local governments also have the authority to grant deviations from the Act, such as variances or conditional use permits.

Non-Exempt Permitting Process

For projects that are not exempt from the Shoreline Management Act’s provisions, building permits are issued by local government, with the approval, however, of the Washington State Department of Ecology. The permitting process includes:

(1) Pre-application conference between staff and applicant.

(2) Application, including site plan, map and corresponding information on shoreline environment.

(3) Public notice

(4) Department of Ecology review

(5) Revisions and appeals.


The primary purpose of the Shoreline Management Act is to protect the environment and avoid “piecemeal development of the state’s shorelines.” While provisions have been made to accommodate single-family homes and additions, it is advisable to confer with your local building department before planning construction near a shoreline in Washington State.

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