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 a single chapter (which will be relocated to Chapter 14.25) 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. 

A Public Hearing was held by the Planning Commission in July, 2020.  The City Council will consider their recommendation at the regular meeting on July 21st at 6pm.  The meeting will be held via zoom; the information about how to log in and participate in the meeting will be provided on the agenda cover sheet, when published.  

Because of the number of chapters and amount of work involved in the project, there will be three separate ordinances for consideration - Ordinances 2391, 2392, and 2401.  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.

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.

During their regular meeting 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 21, 2020, the Snohomish City Council will be considering an ordinance to repeal and replace Chapter 14.270.  The meeting will be an “online” meeting only.  Information about how to log on will be available when the City Council agenda packet is published on Friday, July 17, 2020.

Click here to download the final draft of the new Chapter 14.270 SMC that the City Council will be considering.  If you want to comment on the draft please email Planning Director Glen Pickus or mail comments to Glen’s attention at City of Snohomish, P.O. Box 1589, Snohomish, WA  98291.

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.

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

Special Design and Bulk Dimensional Requirements for PRDs

The purpose of Planned Residential Developments (PRDs) is to promote creativity in site layout and design for residential projects.  The special PRD regulations help preserve critical areas and create useful open space for recreation and the aesthetic enjoyment of residents.  They allow developers to use innovative methods – such as providing for choices in the layout of streets and other public improvements – that are not available under conventional land use regulations.

The development regulations for PRDs are codified in Chapter 14.220, Snohomish Municipal Code (SMC).

SMC 14.220.100 provides for the special design and bulk dimensional requirements for PRDs, such as setbacks.  Currently, this section has ambiguous language and some provisions which make administering the code difficult.  The proposed code amendments are intended to clear up the ambiguities and to delete the problematic provisions.


  • In Subsection A language is added to clarify that density regulations are determined by the underlying land use designation area.
  • Subsection C replaces the undefined and uncommon reference to a building line with “front setback line” which is a common term in all land use codes.
  • Subsection D is modified for two reasons:
    1. To provide clarity by using consistent language when referring to setback areas as building setback areas and not as yard areas which is an imprecise term; and
    2. To remove two provisions that add unnecessary complexity to the code in one instance and an unfair rule in another.

The unnecessary complexity is the allowance for reduced setbacks.  This becomes especially problematic during the construction phase when lots in a PRD have inconsistent setbacks.

The unfair provision is the requirement that structures must be at least 10 feet from a structure on an adjacent lot.  This can result in the last lots being developed having greater setback requirements, that could be burdensome, than the other lots in the PRD.

Click here to review the proposed changes to SMC 14.220.100.

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

Variances from Maximum FAR in PRDs

The purpose of variances is to grant relief from certain requirements of Title 14, Snohomish Municipal Code (SMC) in order to permit construction in manner that would otherwise be prohibited.  Variances are only allowed if there are special physical circumstances regarding a specific site that prevent the property owner from enjoying the same property rights as owners of similar properties.

The rules for variances are found in Chapter 14.70 SMC

SMC 14.70.030A lists the things variances may not be used for.  Variances may not be used to seek relief from:

  • Administrative provisions;
  • SEPA regulations;
  • Provisions related to allowed land uses;
  • Maximum residential densities; and
  • Provisions related to protecting critical areas unless specifically provided for in the relevant critical area chapter.

Staff is proposing to add a prohibition on using variances to seek relief from the maximum allowed FAR (Floor Area Ratio) in PRDs (Planned Residential Developments).

SMC 14.220.100E establishes a maximum floor area ratio of 0.5 in PRD developments.  FAR is calculated by dividing the gross floor area of structures on a lot by the area of the lot.

Staff believes allowing variances to provide FARs greater than 0.5 in PRDs circumvents an essential condition for successful PRDs.  Staff also believes that in most cases it would be almost impossible to meet the required criteria for variances when seeking an increase in FAR.

This proposal includes amending SMC 14.70.020 to add a subsection to clarify that the same list of provisions that variances cannot be used for to provide relief from applies to both minor and major variances.

Click here to review the proposed changes to SMC 14.70.

If you have questions or comments please contact Planning 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.