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Shoreline Management

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The City of Auburn traces its origin in our rivers and streams. We take great pride in preserving the environment in which we live, work, and play. As such, there are several regulations pertaining to shoreline management within the City of Auburn. This web page provides assistance in summarizing these shoreline regulations.

Shoreline Management Act (SMA)
Washington’s Shoreline Management Act (SMA) was passed by the State Legislature in 1971 and adopted by the public in a referendum. The SMA was created in response to a growing concern among residents of the state that serious and permanent damage was being done to shorelines by unplanned and uncoordinated development. The goal of the SMA was to “prevent the inherent harm in an uncoordinated and piecemeal development of the state’s shorelines.” While protecting shoreline resources by regulating development, the SMA is also intended to provide for appropriate shoreline use by encouraging land uses that enhance and conserve shoreline functions and values.

Two bodies of water in Auburn, the Green River and the White River, are regulated under the SMA and the City’s Shoreline Master Program. The Green and White River are both designated as “shorelines of statewide significance.”

Auburn Shoreline Master Program
The City of Auburn adopted its first Shoreline Management Master Program on January 21, 1974. The Auburn City Council adopted an update to Auburn Shoreline Master Program (SMP) on June 2, 2008, Ordinance No. 6095. The most recent update to the SMP was adopted on May 7, 2020 under Ordinance No. 6733 (PDF). The Auburn SMP applies to:

  • Areas that are 200 feet landward of the ordinary high water mark (OHWM) (PDF) of the Green and White River; and
  • Shorelands and associated uplands extending 200 feet in all directions from the OHWM; and 
  • Floodways and contiguous floodplain areas (landward 200 feet from such floodways); and
  • Associated wetlands and river deltas (Chapter 90.58 RCW).
The SMP provides both policies and regulation to govern development and other activities in the City’s shorelines. The City’s municipal code also regulates shoreline development by requiring shoreline substantial development permits. Chapter 16.08 Auburn City Code (ACC) (not supported in Internet Explorer browser) provides guidelines for issuance of shoreline permits that implement the State SMA.

Shoreline Environments
Shoreline environment designations work like a zoning overlay. Each designation has standards for development and allowed uses that apply in addition to the zoning regulations. The purpose of these shoreline environment designations are to provide a uniform basis for applying policies and regulations within similar environmental conditions. There are three environment designations for the White River and Green River shorelines in Auburn: Natural, Urban Conservancy, and Shoreline Residential. The three shoreline environment designations may be viewed on the Shoreline Environmental Designation Map (PDF). Please note that areas found to be within shoreline jurisdiction that are not mapped and/or designated are automatically assigned the “Urban Conservancy” designation until re-designated through a master program amendment process.

Shoreline Residential Designation

shoreline imageSingle family residential is considered a permitted use under the State Shoreline Management Act. The purpose of the Shoreline Residential designation is to preserve shoreline areas for residential development. An additional purpose is to provide appropriate public access and recreational uses. The allowed uses and activities and required buffer width within the Shoreline Residential designation is included in the Shoreline Residential (PDF). 

Urban Conservancy Shoreline Designation
The purpose of the Urban Conservancy Shoreline designation is to protect and restore ecological functions of open space, floodplain, and other critical lands where they exist in urban and developed settings, while allowing a variety of compatible uses consistent with Auburn’s Comprehensive Plan and the SMP. The allowed uses and activities, and required buffer width within the Shoreline Residential designation is included in the Urban Conservancy (PDF). 

Natural Shoreline Designation
The purpose of the Natural Shoreline Designation is to protect area that are relatively tree of human influence or urban development. Only a few, very low intensity uses are allowed in this designation in order to protect and maintain the shoreline ecology. The allowed uses and activities, and required buffer width within the Natural Shoreline designation is included in the Natural Shoreline (PDF).

Shoreline Exemption and Permits

All activities within the shoreline master program jurisdiction must meet the goals, policies, and regulations in the program regardless of whether or not a shoreline permit is required. The SMP requires that property owners apply for and obtain an exemption or permit for all development activities within the shoreline area. All activities with the shoreline jurisdiction over $7,047 (as modified by WAC 173-27-040(2)(a) and RCW 90.58.030(3)(e)) require a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit (PDF), unless a conditional use permit or variance is more appropriate. In general, the following activities are exempt from the Shoreline Substantial Development Permit:

  • Owner-occupied construction of a single family home that does not exceed 35 feet in height
  • Emergency construction needed to protect property from imminent danger
  • Normal bulkheads common to single family residences
  • Normal maintenance and repair

If the activity is exempt from the Shoreline Substantial Development Permit, then a Shoreline Exemption (PDF) must be applied for. 

A Shoreline Conditional Use Permit (PDF) should be required for all uses and activities allowed within a property’s shoreline designation by use permit only. See each type of shoreline environment’s PDF for the description of uses that require a conditional use permit. 

A Shoreline Variance Permit (PDF) is strictly limited to granting relief from specific bulk, dimensional or performance standards set forth in this SMP, and where extraordinary or unique circumstances relating to the physical character or configuration of property such that the strict implementation of the SMP would impose unnecessary hardships on the applicant or thwart the SMP polices as stated in RCW 90.58.020. 

The process for obtaining a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit, Shoreline Conditional Use Permit or Shoreline Variance Permit is provided for in each permit application. 

Need Assistance?
If you have questions, City of Auburn Planning Services staff are an excellent resource to help answer questions. We can be reached by [email protected] or 253-931-3090. Please put the nature of your inquiry in the subject line, and include the parcel number or address of the site (if applicable) and your contact information in the email.

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