The State of Washington adopted the Growth Management Act (GMA) in 1990. The Growth Management Act (GMA) is a series of state statutes that requires cities and counties to develop a comprehensive plan to manage their population growth. It is codified under Chapter 36.70A RCW and Chapter 365-196 WAC. Under GMA, septic systems are not considered to be an urban service. Urban services, including municipal sewers, are required in order to have the type of development typically associated with urban areas. Jefferson County designated the Port Hadlock/Irondale area as an Urban Growth Area (UGA) because it was an area already “characterized by urban growth” (36.70A.110(1)).
The County adopted land uses and zoning that would allow additional urban development densities and intensities when public sewer connections are available. The urban zoning permitted under GMA when all urban services are available is contained in the Jefferson County Code (JCC) and allows for greater development density and more intensive land use. In the transition period until sewer connections are available, achievable densities are largely limited by the minimum space requirements needed to meet the on-site septic code, typically a 12,500 square foot lot. A sewer also takes up less property area than a septic tank, drain field, and reserve drain field, allowing development and redevelopment at urban densities.
The Table below has web links to land use and zoning maps, and JCC land use tables for both the current (without sewer) scenario and future (with sewer) scenario. By comparing the before and after condition, it is possible to see how a sewer would create more land use potential and land value in the Port Hadlock Urban Growth Area.
By referring to the maps and code sections in the table above, one can see from the Transitional Rural Zoning map that without sewer availability, much of Port Hadlock is covered by an interim zoning of Rural Residential RR-5. By way of example, RR-5 means that a 5-acre parcel could not be subdivided, and only one house and one Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) could be constructed on it. All land is subject to meeting separate septic regulations, so even smaller lots of record (lots that were subdivided prior to GMA) would typically need to be at least 12,500 square feet or a consolidation of a number of smaller lots to meet the minimum size requirement in order to be developed. This also means that in a best-case scenario, the current zoning would support 3 houses per acre if the property had been subdivided into minimum sized lots of 12,500 square feet prior to GMA. Alternatively, once a sanitary sewer is constructed, Port Hadlock has residential zoning of Low Density Residential (LDR 4-6 dwelling units per acre), Moderate Density Residential (MDR 7 to 12 units per acre) or High Density Residential (HDR 13 to 18 units per acre), making multifamily and apartment units possible in the MDR and HDR zones.
Without sewer, Port Hadlock’s commercial core has a Transitional Rural Zone of Rural Village Center (RVC). The commercial zone along SR 19 has a Transitional Rural Zone of General Crossroads. This allows for some small-scale commercial use but there are limitations on building size, height, and lot coverage. For example, under RVC zoning the maximum building size is 20,000 square feet and maximum building height is 35 feet. Alternatively, under Urban Commercial zoning with sewer, building size is dictated by site conditions with no specified maximum building size, and building height can be up to 70 feet to allow for and accommodate increased densities. There is also some Urban Light Industrial zoning in part of the UGA once a sewer is available.
Most of the buildings and businesses in Port Hadlock were developed prior to GMA and are primarily served by private septic systems. Although there is no “bright line” established in GMA regarding what residential densities are urban and what is rural, decisions from Growth Management Hearings Board cases in Jefferson County have accepted at least four (4) dwelling units per acre to be considered an urban density. A significant amount of the current development pattern in Port Hadlock had been planned around meeting the 12,500 square foot minimum parcel size for septic systems, and would not have been allowed under current GMA regulations. The existing uses are “grandfathered”, meaning that as long as no significant changes are proposed, the current uses can continue. Until a sanitary sewer facility is available, however, redevelopment of land to accommodate higher densities cannot occur.
In the meantime, property owners must inspect and maintain their septic systems in accordance with State and County law, and when these systems fail they must be replaced with a new septic system meeting the most current on-site septic waste treatment standards. The requirements related to septic system installation continue to become more stringent. In some cases when faced with replacing a failing septic system, property owners have had difficulty applying a conventional system under current site conditions and requirements and have had to install more expensive alternative systems at a much higher cost. Eventually, most property owners in Port Hadlock will be faced with performing a significant overhaul or complete replacement of their septic systems unless a sanitary sewer facility is constructed. This has prompted significant interest by some property owners in the UGA for a sanitary sewer facility.