Growth Management Act Reform: Past, Present, and Future

GMA Celebration in 2015 Photo credit: David Ginther

by Joe Tovar, FAICP, Email: [email protected]

In 2015, APA Washington convened a forum in Tacoma to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Growth Management Act. Several panels recounted the history, successes, and ongoing challenges with implementing our state’s landmark land use law. There was broad sentiment that it would be timely to undertake an effort to update the GMA, build on its strengths, address its weaknesses, and make it relevant to urgent emerging crises.

That same year, the Washington Legislature asked the William D. Ruckelshaus Center to conduct an assessment of whether and how such an update might be undertaken. With seed money from APA Washington and other organizations, the Ruckelshaus Center outlined how such an update could be done. With funding by the Legislature, a two-year effort was undertaken, resulting in a June 2019 report titled A Road Map to Washington's Future. The Road Map identified six transformational and systemic reforms to the growth planning framework needed to achieve the desired future for Washington.

Because the Road Map did not include specific legislative language to implement its key findings, the Legislature allocated funds during the 2020 session to convene a workgroup to do so. However, due to the pandemic, the Governor vetoed that funding. To carry forward the 2020 Legislature’s intent, the Department of Commerce and the University of Washington designed a project Updating Washington's Growth Policy Framework to convene a collaboration of multiple parties to attempt to craft broadly supported legislation for consideration in the 2021 session. Funding was provided by Commerce, APA Washington, and Amazon.

Participants in UW’s Updating Washington’s Growth Policy Framework project

Participants in UW’s Updating Washington’s Growth Policy Framework project 

Although the six-month UW project did not result in broad agreement, it did generate quite a bit of potential legislative language. See Appendix G, which begins on page 163 of the Final Report linked above. Much of this draft language was reflected in bills that were introduced in the 2021 legislative session.

Three notable bills that would have amended the GMA did not pass this session but will return in 2022. The following hyperlinks will take you to the Legislature’s pages identifying each bill’s primary sponsors, its history, and links to the versions reviewed by house and senate committees and a Bill Report that provides a summary. Bills of particular interest include ESSHB 1099 addressing climate change, ESHB 1241 amending the plan update cycle and providing for tribal inclusion, and ESSHB 1117 promoting salmon restoration.

Two substantive bills that did pass are ESSHB 1220 regarding Housing Element and Emergency Housing and ESHB 1189 Authorizing Tax Increment Financing. ESSHB 1220 adds requirements to the comprehensive plan Housing Element to be included in the next round of comprehensive plan updates. ESHB 1189 creates a new tool for local governments to fund infrastructure improvements. In the coming months, there will be a number of workshops, publications, and APA conference sessions exploring how to incorporate these new requirements and tools into planning practice. Watch for the information posted in future issues of this newsletter.

The 2021 Legislature also approved $450,000 in the coming biennium budget to fund a GMA workgroup to carry forward the earlier collaborative work of the Road Map and the UW projects. APA Washington will again be one of the stakeholder groups invited to participate in the important task of identifying needed improvements to our state’s Growth Policy Framework. If you would like to learn more about that effort and/or volunteer to serve on the Chapter’s Legislative Committee, contact Paula Reeves, AICP, the incoming Committee Chair at [email protected]