Shoreline Planning Commission meets Thursday, February 3

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Shoreline Planning Commission will hold its regular meeting on Thursday, February 3 at 7 pm in the Council Chambers at Shoreline City Hall, 17500 Midvale Ave N.

  • City Staff will update the Commission on the Stormwater Project.
  • The Commission will study the question of whether the Commission or the Hearing Examiner should decide all the development-related action. See detailed explanation below.

The Planning Commission consists of seven volunteers, who are Shoreline residents and/or property owners appointed by the City Council to address land use and planning issues.

Meetings are generally held the first and third Thursdays of each month at 7:00 p.m. in the Council Chamber at the Shoreline City Hall, 17500 Midvale Avenue N.

Study Session Issue

This week the Commission will hold a study session to hear about a proposed amendment to the City’s processes that would make the interim change permanent. (The Planning Commission public hearing on the proposal is tentatively scheduled for March 3). Under the draft proposal, all the development related actions that have historically been assigned to the Planning Commission would be permanently transferred to the Hearing Examiner.  The only exceptions are the Master Development Plan Permits for Shoreline Community College and Fircrest.  When the owners of these properties are ready to submit for Master Plans, these will be heard by the Planning Commission which will make a recommendation to the City Council for action.

Another component of the draft proposal is to have other actions that previously required City Council review and decision to instead be heard and decided by the Hearing Examiner.  This is a change from the current practice, in which the Planning Commission (and in some cases the Hearing Examiner) make a recommendation to the City Council, and the Council makes the final decision.   A number of cities have moved to this process, including cities as small as Sultan and as large as Tacoma.    One reason to consider such a system in Shoreline is to help implement City Council Goal #1, which calls for making our permit processes more clear, timely and predictable.   Another reason is that the Washington Cities Insurance Authority has encouraged its member cities (including Shoreline) to limit their exposure to large adverse legal judgments by move fully relying on the hearing examiner system for decisions on quasi-judicial permits.

Not all planning commissions are involved in the development review function. In Washington State, when planning commissions perform this role, typically the commission recommends a decision that the local governing body can approve or disapprove of, or approve of with modifications. However, since the advent of regulatory reform in the 1990s, some jurisdictions authorize the planning commission or hearing examiner to hold the public hearing and make a decision on certain types of land use actions. In these cases, the planning commission's decision would be subject to appeal to the local governing body.


Planning commissions historically have had two distinct functions.  
The first involves preparation and revision of the community's comprehensive plan and local land use regulations, such as the zoning or subdivision code.    These plans and codes constitute the rules under which all development permit applications are measured.   The process of conducting public hearings and making decisions about these land use plans and development codes is referred to as a “legislative” process, meaning that the city is “legislating” the rules themselves, as opposed to the application of those rules to specific permit applications.

The second traditional planning commission function involves review of certain development proposals rezones and subdivisions for compliance with the appropriate criteria.   This second function is described as “quasi-judicial” because both the planning commissioners who conduct the hearings and the city council members who make the final decisions, act in a “judge-like” or judicial manner.   In such a quasi-judicial role, the commissioners and council members may only consider public comment about quasi-judicial permit proposals that is made during the public hearing and on the written record.   This is very unlike the situation with “legislative” matters, where citizens have an opportunity to address or lobby individual commissioners or council members off the record.

In the last 20-30 years, in Washington State, the second function has, in many cities, been assigned to a Hearing Examiner.  The Examiner is a person with expertise in land-use and zoning code issues, often an attorney.  Examiners consider the facts of a case and whether the laws, ordinances, and codes are applied correctly.

In Shoreline, some land use matters (such as rezones) have historically been routed through the Planning Commission, while other matters (such as Critical Area permits) have been sent to the Hearing Examiner.  In recent years, in order to provide the Planning Commission more time to focus on long-range issues such as the City’s long-range vision and other planning questions, the Council made an interim change and directed most of the development-related actions (such as rezones, street vacation, preliminary formal subdivisions) to the Hearing Examiner.

--thanks to the planning department for this explanation   


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