Code Amendments

Code Amendments

The Planning Department is responsible for amending and updating the City's land development regulations.  Development regulations in the Snohomish Municipal Code are found within Title 14.

Development regulations are intended to implement and be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan goals and policies.  Proposed amendments to the development code are first considered at a public hearing by the Planning Commission, which makes a recommendation to the City Council.  The City Council typically holds a second public hearing before taking action on a code amendment.  All development code amendments are adopted by City Council ordinance.

Amendments to the development code may be initiated by the City Council, the Planning Commission, staff, or citizens. 

Find links to our current codes on the Code Compliance page.


Chapter 14.100 of the Snohomish Municipal Code is devoted to definitions that apply to Title 14 (the land use code).  But definitions can also be found in several other chapters of Title 14.  While it may have made sense at the time to adopt all these subject-specific definitions sections, in practice it can result in redundant definitions, confusion, and potentially conflicting information.  The following chapters currently contain individual definitions sections: 

Click here to see what it looks like with all the definitions together.  As you can see there is a lot of redundancy and confusion.

This code amendment will consolidate all definitions back into Chapter 14.100 and update language for clarity and consistency, removing unnecessary definitions and adding some that really should be included.  Each chapter listed above will be amended to remove the definitions section, except the Shoreline Management chapter, so we avoid triggering review by the Department of Ecology.  Some other chapters will also require minor amendments to accommodate removal of the subject-specific definitions.  For example, Chapters 14.295 and 14.300 will need to be amended to clarify that the review authority is the Public Works Department and not the Planning Director.  

Staff is continuing to work on this project, however the most current draft of proposed changes can be found in this document.  Text is in strikethrough and underline format to show what is proposed to be deleted (strikethrough), and what is proposed to be added (underline).  In most cases, the added text comes from one of the chapters listed above.

The Planning Commission discussed the proposal at their regular meetings in February and March 2020, and will continue to work on this project at an upcoming meeting before holding a public hearing.

If you have questions or comments on this code amendment, contact Planner Brooke Eidem at 360-282-3167 or via email.

Flood Hazard Areas

Special flood hazard areas (SFHAs), also called floodplains, are areas that are subject to a 1 percent or greater chance of flooding in a given year.  They are also referred to as 100-year floodplains.  SFHAs are categorized as critical areas and as such have specialized regulations for any development that will occur on the floodplain.  Those regulations are codified in Snohomish Municipal Code 14.270 – Flood Hazard Areas.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has finalized a Flood Insurance Study (FIS) for our area along with the associated Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) which go into effect June 30, 2020.  In order to maintain participation in the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and allow City of Snohomish property owners to obtain flood insurance and to be eligible to receive certain types of federal disaster aid when the need comes, the City must adopt an updated floodplain ordinance that meets current state and NFIP standards and includes the new FIS and FIRM as the basis for establishing SFHAs.  Per the Code of Federal Regulations, a community that does not adopt updated regulations along with the new FIS and FIRMs becomes automatically suspended from the NFIP until the updated ordinance is adopted and approved by FEMA.

To ensure property owners remain eligible for participation in the NFIP, the current regulations in Chapter 14.270 SMC will be repealed and replaced with new regulations based on a model ordinance drafted by FEMA and the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The most significant differences between the existing Chapter 14.270 SMC and the proposed new chapter are the new chapter specifically references the latest FIS and FIRMs.  Other changes include reorganizing and simplifying the chapter so it is easier to understand and administer.

If you want to look at the new FIRMs to check whether a property is in the floodplain or not go to the Flood Insurance Rate Maps web page.

To view and download the draft for the proposed new chapter click here.

If you have questions or comments please contact Planning Director Glen Pickus at 360-282-3173 or via email.

Increased SEPA Thresholds for Minor New Construction

The State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) requires issuance of development permits to go through an environmental review process unless they are small enough to not pose an environmental threat.  Such projects are exempt from SEPA review as “minor new construction”.  State law mandates municipalities exempt from SEPA review all projects that fall below certain minimum levels.  The law also provides municipalities with the option to adopt higher thresholds up to a specified maximum, allowing more projects to qualify as minor new construction.  Currently, the City of Snohomish has not taken advantage of this option.

The Planning Commission is recommending amending Chapter 14.90 Snohomish Municipal Code, to raise the SEPA thresholds for minor new construction to the maximum allowed by state law.  The City is able to consider this because with recent updates to shoreline and wetland regulations and the adoption of a new archaeological and cultural resources protection code the City’s development regulations fully protect the environment from negative impacts associated with development.  When this is the case, for most projects SEPA review becomes redundant and an unnecessary additional step in the development review process.

The proposed new thresholds that the Planning Commission is recommending are as follows

  • Single-family residential = 30 units (up from the current 4)
  • Multi-family residential = 60 units (up from the current 4)
  • Commercial/Industrial buildings = 30,000 square feet (up from the current 4,000 square feet)
  • Parking facilities =90 parking spaces (up from the current 20 spaces)
  • Grading = 1,000 cubic yards (up from the current 100 cubic yards)

Even with adoption of the high thresholds, the number of projects that will require noticing to allow public comment will not change thanks to a code amendment adopted last year. Now, in Snohomish all projects other than construction of one detached single-family residence requires a published notice of application and a public comment period whether or not they require SEPA review.

Click here to see the City’s current SEPA regulations.

To view the proposed code amendments that the Planning Commission is considering click here.  The changes are in red text with new language underlined and deleted language struck through.

When the City Council is able to resume regular meetings they will consider an ordinance to adopt the maximum allowed SEPA thresholds for minor new construction.

If you have questions or comments contact Planning & Development Services Director Glen Pickus at 360-282-3173 or via email.

Code Interpretations

The Land Use Development Code, Title 14 of the Snohomish Municipal Code (SMC), authorizes the Planning Director to interpret the code where it is unclear or contradictory and to determine whether a land use is allowed when the land use tables don’t anticipate that use.  The Director must issue a written interpretation to formalize that determination in order to establish a clear precedent.  This authority and relevant rules for code interpretations are found in SMC 14.05.050 and SMC 14.207.060.

Vacation Rentals

The Director has issued a code interpretation to clear up confusion regarding the difference between a Bed & Breakfast establishment and a vacation rental (sometimes referred to as an “Airbnb”).  While Bed & Breakfast establishments are regulated in Title 14 and have been since 1983, the code did not anticipate the popularity of vacation rentals so the term isn’t defined nor is the use identified in the land use tables.

The code interpretation defines “Vacation Rental” to mean the same as “Short-term Rental”.  

A “Vacation Rental” is a furnished dwelling unit, or room within a dwelling, or an Accessory Dwelling Unit, that is rented out on a daily or weekly basis for periods of less than 30 days.  When the entire dwelling unit is rented it shall be occupied by no more than five (5) people who are travelling together as a group. 

When a portion of the dwelling unit is rented, only one room may be rented at one time and that room may be occupied by no more than three (3) people.

Vacation Rentals will be allowed in any dwelling unit and do not require any City permits; however a City business license is required.

Download the full code interpretation.