County seeks public’s ideas on updating comprehensive plan for growth management

Timeline of the comprehensive plan’s update process.

Snohomish County is asking for public comments to help develop its 2024 Comprehensive Plan update. The county is currently gathering feedback to assist with creating an overarching vision statement and also regarding the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) scoping process for the environmental review portion of the update.

The county’s population is estimated to experience an increase of approximately 308,000 people by 2044, which is consistent with the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Vision 2050 plan for growth.

Snohomish County is in the early stages of updating its comprehensive plan as required by Washington’s Growth Management Act. The plan is comprised of four separate documents designed to help the county meet its long-term vision for land use and growth management in unincorporated areas of the county. It guides decisions on a wide range of topics and services over a 20-year time period.

Crafting the update is a measured process that will conclude in June 2024. It’s intended to plan for anticipated population increases along with meeting state and local requirements — in particular for locating over 80% of the population growth to cities and high-capacity transit areas while preserving rural areas and enhancing natural areas.

The updated elements will reflect community input as well as new data and information for transportation, parks, and recreation, housing, economic development, land use, natural environment and capital facilities.

The comprehensive plan:

– Allocates population and employment growth to various areas of the county, with a majority of growth occurring in urban growth areas

– Reduces sprawl in rural areas and maintains rural character

– Addresses housing needs of all economic segments of the population

– Supports economic development

– Conserves agricultural, forest and mineral lands of long-term commercial significance

– Protects open space, cultural and scenic resources

– Provides for parks, recreation, and capital facilities and utilities

– Develops a transportation network necessary to serve the population and employment

During the “scoping” phase of the plan’s update process, Snohomish County is soliciting feedback from the public about the environmental review topics, alternatives or mitigation measures that should be explored in its environmental impact statement (EIS).

An EIS is an informational document that provides the county, other agencies and the public with environmental information to be considered in the decision-making process.

The document describes proposed actions and alternatives, identifies potentially significant and unavoidable impacts, existing conditions of the study area, adverse environmental impacts that may occur if certain proposals are implemented and mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate harmful impacts.

Its emphasis is on adverse impacts and avoiding them, but the EIS can also identify potential beneficial outcomes where alternatives may improve environmental characteristics. The update can produce policies and regulations able to mitigate impacts and/or provide environmental enhancements – such as low-impact development standards that improve water quality and improving pedestrian/bike facilities.

In its current stage, the update process is intended to focus the scope of the EIS on the probable significant adverse environmental impacts and reasonable alternatives, including mitigation measures. After a draft EIS is issued, residents will also be able to comment on alternatives and their related impacts, potential mitigation and approvals required.

Those alternatives will be developed with public input to help identify different ways to meet Snohomish County’s forecasted population and employment growth — such as where to focus growth in urban centers and high-capacity transit areas.

Orienting map of Snohomish County

The draft will test three proposals using 2020 Census data for the county’s population of 827,957 as a point of reference.

One proposal would retain the current adopted plans for lower growth. It requires no action and assumes no changes to future land-use designations — there will be no policy, zoning or regulation changes associated with this scenario. The transportation network is as described in the current comprehensive plan’s adopted transportation element. It allows for possible new projects to accommodate growth occurring between 2035-2044, and accounts for the possibility that the county’s population growth could be lower than projected.

An alternative for medium growth would focus on high-capacity transit communities. It accommodates a large share of growth in the county’s southwest urban growth area with an emphasis around high-capacity transit stations and also encourages a wider variety of housing types in single-family neighborhoods within that area. In addition, it redesignates and rezones some locations from urban low-density residential to urban medium density residential in unincorporated areas that are within the regional geography of high-capacity transit communities.

The third alternative accounts for the possibility that population growth could be higher than anticipated. It would also focus a large share of growth in the core of the county’s southwest urban growth area near high-capacity transit stations, encourage a variety of housing types in single-family neighborhoods and allow for more medium-density zoning within the area.

Within the range of alternatives, Snohomish County can choose a preferred alternative that will be evaluated in the final document. The scoping process seeks input from the community on what topics will be included in the statement and the county anticipates addressing the following areas for discussion in the EIS:

– Earth/soil/erosion

– Air quality/climate change

– Water resources,

– Fish/wildlife/vegetation/wetlands

– Land and shoreline use

– Plans and policies

– Population/housing/employment

– Environmental justice

– Cultural resources

– Transportation

– Energy and natural resources

– Public services

– Utilities

– Parks and recreation

The EIS process will be integrated along with the planning process to inform development of the county’s updated comprehensive plan goals and policies.

Public comments on the scope of the EIS can be submitted here. They can also be emailed to or Residents have until Dec. 3 to provide the county with feedback regarding the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) scoping process for the environmental review of the county’s 2024 comprehensive plan update.

The county is also gathering feedback until March 2022 in order to draft an overarching vision statement for the updated plan. A vision statement with guiding principles is intended to reflect the values and aspirations of the community. It also directs goals and policies laid out in the county’s comprehensive plan and public comments can help refine the statement along with its guiding principles.

Some main themes the vision statement will consider concerning what Snohomish County and its anticipated population growth may look like in 2044 are:

– Inclusive and equitable communities

– Light rail

– Parks

– Growth targets and available buildable lands

– Climate change

– Housing

– Economic development

– Mobility

Snohomish County is asking residents for their priorities and concerns as the population grows along with their vision of the area in 2044 regarding housing, economic development, capital facilities, parks, transportation/mobility, land use and the natural environment.

Comments on the vision statement can be submitted here.

All public comments received on environmental scoping and the vision statement will be collected and summarized in a document in the first quarter of 2022. Final decisions concerning the policies and objectives of the updated 2024 comprehensive plan will ultimately be made by the Snohomish County Council.

More information about the plan’s update, including interactive maps of the county, can be viewed here.

— By Nathan Blackwell

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