What is covered by this code update?

1. An update to the Critical Areas code (also called the Critical Areas Ordinance or CAO), which contains standards for development in and near certain types of areas, including wetlands, geologically hazardous areas (e.g. areas susceptible to landslides), and fish and wildlife habitat. The update is required by state law and ensures that the code remains consistent with the current policy direction provided by the City’s comprehensive plan and the latest science on these areas. 


Why is the code being updated now?

State law requires periodic updates to the Critical Areas code (typically every four years). The update ensures that the Critical Areas code remains consistent with the policy direction provided by the City’s comprehensive plan and the latest science. 

The Shoreline Master Program is also required to be updated periodically. The next update is due to be completed in 2019.

Since both of these code sections are scheduled to be updated and are related topic-wise, the City is updating them both at the same time.

What will the review process look like?

The first phase of the review will be with the City’s Planning Commission. The Commission will review the latest science on critical areas and, together with policy direction from the comprehensive plan and input from the public, draft an updated Critical Areas code and Shoreline Master Program. 

The Critical Areas code was last updated in 2005, meaning there has been more time for changes in scientific knowledge and the City’s comprehensive plan to have taken place, so this is where the bulk of the Planning Commission’s time will be spent. 

The Shoreline Master Program was updated in 2015, so only minor updates and clarifications are expected to be needed.

After the Planning Commission develops their recommended draft of the code updates, this recommendation will be transmitted to the City Council. The City Council is the body that adopts the new codes.

When will I have an opportunity to provide input? Will there be a public hearing?

Input is invited throughout the process! You are invited to attend Planning Commission meetings to listen to the Commission’s discussion and to provide input if you wish. You are also welcome to email staff with questions or comments at: CAUpdate@mercergov.org.

How can I provide comments that will be useful to the process? How do I make sure my comments will be heard?

A helpful tipsheet on providing comment is available here.  Getting involved early and providing clear input, including specific ideas on what you would like to see in the new regulations, is the best way to make your voice heard in the code update process.

How is the science considered in the code update? Is the city required to make code changes based on the science?

State law requires that cities “the best available science in developing policies and development regulations to protect the functions and values of critical areas” (RCW 36.70A.172). The best available science, together with the City’s comprehensive plan and public comment, are the key inputs in developing the new Critical Areas code.

If the City’s regulations depart from the best available science on a given issue, information in the record needs to identify the potential risks to the functions and values of the critical area and the measures taken to limit those risks.

Where can I get more information if I have questions?

If you have a question that is not addressed here, please use the Ask a Question tool or email staff at CAUpdate@mercergov.org.