Shoreline Master PRogram Amendment Ordinance

The Pierce County Council adopted Ordinance 2022-37s, Amending the Pierce County Shoreline Master Program Prohibiting New Water Access Facilities in Specific Marine Shoreline Locations; Clarifying Provisions Related to Aquaculture, Fencing, and Paths to Shorelines and Incorporating Previously adopted Amendments to Pierce County Code Title 18E, "Development Regulations - Critical Areas" into the Pierce County Shoreline Master Plan; Amending Title 18S of the Pierce County Code, "Development Policies an Regulations - Shorelines"; Adopting Findings of Fact; and Setting an Effective Date., on December 13, 2022.
  Next Steps

The County has submitted the ordinance to the Department of Ecology for their review and approval, in accordance with RCW 90.58.090. The ordinance does not become effective date until 14 days from the date of Ecology's written notice of final action to the County stating either approval or denial.  

More information can be found on the Department of Ecology's amendment update page.

  Connect with us

Pierce County Staff is available to discuss the shoreline master program updates and what it could mean for you. Please leave a message at the following number and a staff member will return your call. 

Ph. 253-798-7210, option 5


The State Shoreline Management Act (SMA) ensures coordination and efficient management of activities along the State's shorelines. The Pierce County Shoreline Master Program (SMP) is the set of local policies and regulations that implement the SMA and applies to development activity along the County's fresh and marine shorelines.

The County completed a major update to its SMP in 2018.  Through experience and observations in applying the regulations, the County has identified a need to revisit certain topics outlined on this page.

  Update Overview

A series of amendments to the SMP were considered that, if passed, would:

  • Prohibit new residential pier and dock construction along portions of residential and conservancy shoreline
  • Clarify permitting requirements for non-commercial aquaculture intended to restore native fish and shellfish stocks
  • Clarify fencing allowances within buffer and setback areas
  • Update Title 18S - Shoreline Master Program to reflect a number of previously approved amendments to Title 18E - Development Regulations - Critical Areas.
  • Make one revision to Pierce County Code (PCC) 18S 30.030 (Ecological Protection) related to compliance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program.
A closer look at the adopted ordinance

Amendment 1: Prohibit pier and dock construction along portions of Residential and Conservancy marine shoreline

Piers and docks impact shoreline habitat, affect views and recreational opportunities, and may conflict with Tribal fishing rights. Pierce County routinely hears pier and dock construction concerns related to these impacts, prompting a review of the current allowances. 

In 2020, consultants were retained to re-evaluate earlier studies and identify shoreline attributes applicable to piers and docks. The study concluded that additional restrictions should be implemented to maintain consistency with the Washington State Department of Ecology Public Trust Doctrine and the County's adopted SMP.

Exhibit B to Ordinance No. 2022-37s provides a chronology of events related to the residential dock prohibtion.

Use the interactive map to view the ESA report recommendation (38.8 miles of shoreline) and earlier department reccomendations (7.3 miles affected).  It does not at this time reflect the 52 miles affected pending the Department of Ecology's review. 

Click on the image to enlarge.

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Amendment 2: Clarify permitting requirements for non-commercial aquaculture intended to restore native fish and shellfish stocks

Commercial aquaculture operations (for-profit) and those focused on restoration or species recovery currently both have the same application requirements. The proposed amendment acknowledges the difference between these two types of aquaculture and reduces permitting requirements for restoration and enhancement aquaculture. The intended outcome is to remove hurdles for restoration or enhancement projects. The proposed amendment also updates definitions to include finfish and shellfish aquaculture for the enhancement or restoration of native stocks, and revises allowances for aquaculture in marine waters where aquatic reserve areas are in place. 

Amendment 3: Clarify fencing allowances within buffers and setback areas

There are currently no standards (height, location, disturbance allowances) for fences in a shoreline environment outlined in code. The proposed update provides the following standards would apply when proposing a fence in a shoreline buffer or Lake Tapps setback:

  • Fences four feet or less in height 
  • They are landward of ordinary high water or, (for Lake Tapps) 543 feet elevation
  • Cause no loss of trees
  • Meet the allowances of 18S30.030 E.4.c (disturbance allowances).
    •  Up to 500 square feet or 25 percent of the area encompassed within the first 50 feet measured from the ordinary high water mark (OHWM) may be disturbed to accommodate shoreline access, landscaping, or minor construction associated with a water dependent use upon review and approval of a Vegetation Planting Plan pursuant to subsection G.2. of this Section. Such disturbance shall not be concentrated nor span the extent of the shoreline at the water's edge.

Amendment 4: This amendment has two parts. The first part acknowledges amendments to the Shoreline Master Program previously approved by the State. The second part incorporates locally adopted amendments to Pierce County Code Title 18E – Development Regulations – Critical Areas into the Shoreline Master Program.   

The first part of the proposal acknowledges amendments to the Critical Area regulations adopted by the County through Pierce County Ordinances 2019-59, and 2020-49, and approved by the Department of Ecology and the Growth Management Hearings Board (Case Number 18-3-0013c). These previously state approved amendments include:

  • Clarify that regulated activities related to Forage Fish Spawning and Herring Holding Areas waterward of the ordinary high-water mark, in areas of confirmed spawning habitat, are not prohibited but are instead temporarily suspended during spawning periods
  • Acknowledge that invasive and native eelgrass exist within the Pierce County marine waters, and clarifies that only native eelgrass is protected
  • Reduce the required undisturbed area widths for Shellfish Aquaculture to 16 feet

This amendment does not involve any substantive change to PCC18S or PCC18E. It is limited to the inclusion of reference to approved Pierce County Ordinances 2019-59 and 2020-49 into PCC18S.

The second part of the proposal acknowledges changes to PCC18E done as part of a series of code changes the County adopted in 2018, through Ordinance 2018-68S. This Ordinance affected Titles: 17B, "Construction and Infrastructure Regulations - Road and Bridge Design and Construction," Title 17C, "Construction and Infrastructure Regulations - Building and Fire Codes," Title 18A, "Development Regulations - Zoning," Title 18E, "Development Regulations - Critical Areas," Title 18F, "Development Regulations - Land Divisions and Boundary Changes," Title 18J, "Development Regulations - Design Standards and Guidelines," and the "Manual on Design Guidelines and Specifications for Road and Bridge Construction in Pierce County” Related to Low Impact Development.  

The changes to PCC18E were intended to:

  • Clarify wetland buffer width conditions for wetlands that score moderate or high for habitat
  • Specify that no unauthorized vehicles, construction materials, fuel, or other materials shall be allowed in the tree protection area related to Priority Oregon White Oak Woodlands
  • Clarify requirements for modifying buffer width requirements for lakes

Amendment 5:  One revision to Pierce County Code (PCC) 18S 30.030 (Ecological Protection) related to compliance with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Flood Insurance Program.

Pierce County recently passed an emergency ordinance (ordinance 2021-90) to address FEMA comments related to Pierce County's participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.   

In addition to the changes contained within that ordinance, FEMA requires one specific change to the existing language of PCC18S, underlined below.

Item 1.  PCC 18S.30.030 E4   Uses and Development Allowed within Standard Shoreline Buffer. 
a.   Water dependent uses and public shoreline access are allowed within the standard shoreline buffer subject to applicable regulations of the Master Program. 
b.   An unpaved access path from a residential dwelling to the shoreline is allowed if: 
     (1)   The path width is limited to 4 feet; 
     (2)   The length of the path is minimized by keeping the path at a right angle to the shoreline to the degree feasible; and  
     (3)   No trees are removed; and 
     (4)   No fill is placed in a floodplain.

This change is required in order to stay in compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program.

  Project Timeline