House Bill 1717, which passed the House unanimously on March 8 just passed the Washington Senate unanimously in a 48-0 vote with 1 excused absence. This bill will allow counties, cities, and towns to recover reasonable expenses for the preparation of Environmental Impact Statements (“EIS”) that are prepared on behalf of infill or planned actions under SEPA and GMA.
Most development activity, unless specifically exempted, requires the submittal of a SEPA checklist and could require additional mitigation for project impacts. The Washington legislature authorizes that counties, cities, and towns can prepare an EIS and essentially exempt additional development from SEPA requirements provided they are done under a planned action and do not exceed the thresholds set in that planned action. House Bill 1717 would make it easier for local governments to pursue planned actions because it provides a mechanism to recoup expenses.
Specifically, the expense recovery can occur through 1) financial assistance from the Washington Growth Management Planning and Environmental Review Fund, 2) through funding from private sources, or 3) through the assessment of fees consistent with the specified requirements and limitations. This last item is what should drive the use of more planned actions because local governments could assess fees on developments coming under the planned action to make up the costs of the planned action.
All in all, the goal of this bill is to find ways to streamline the permitting process to make it faster and more predictable. We are likely to see more planned action ordinances as a result of this bill. It will be interesting to see whether these planned actions will speed up the permit time frame in a significant manner.