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Understanding Vancouver's land use review process

Vancouver, along with virtually all municipalities in Washington, has enacted a comprehensive procedure for reviewing land use applications. The process is based upon the city's comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance and zoning map. An application for a land use permit will be handled by one of four different procedures that are spelled out in the city's zoning laws.

The city's comprehensive plan sets forth the long-term goals for development and use of real estate in the city. The zoning code contains the text of land use regulations and describes the kinds of uses permitted in various parts of the city and any conditions those uses must satisfy. The zoning map is a graphic representation of the zoning classification for every tract of land in the city.

The city uses four types of procedures to process zoning permit applications. Type I procedures are used to process ministerial permits. This classification includes minor site plan reviews, minor variances and the like. Type II Procedures include quasi-judicial permits that require the exercise of a small amount of official discretion. The planning official decides Type II applications after public notice and an opportunity for public comment. Type III procedures comprise those applications that require significant official discretion, such as conditional use permits, subdivision approval, and rezoning. Type III application are decided by a hearings examiner after public notice and a public hearing. Type IV procedures are legislative matters, such as amendment of the zoning code or map. The planning commission makes the initial decision in the form of a recommendation to the City Council. The City Council makes the final decision in all Type IV procedures.

Type I procedures are relatively simple and can ordinarily be undertaken by the property owner. Types II, III, and IV are usually more complex, and many involve matters of significant public dispute. Anyone wishing to undertake a Type II, III or IV procedure may wish to consult a knowledgeable real estate attorney for advice on the city procedures and the information that must be provided to obtain the desired result.

Source: City of Vancouver, "Land Use Review Types," accessed on July 17, 2017