Critical Areas Ordinance Update

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Critical areas act as valuable assets to our community, through enhancing environmental quality, providing critical ecological functions, and protecting the community and public and private property from threats resulting from natural hazards. Some beneficial functions that critical areas provide include water quality protection and enhancement; fish and wildlife habitats; flood storage, conveyance, and attenuation; groundwater recharge and discharge; protection of drinking water quality; and erosion and sediment control. Once the functions of existing critical areas are depleted, attempting to restore them is often costly and sometimes impossible.

The City of Vancouver is updating its critical areas ordinance (CAO), which is located in Chapters 14.26 and 20.740 of the Vancouver Municipal Code. The City’s CAO update will be concurrent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan update, “Our Vancouver,” but will likely finish earlier. At this time, the City expects the CAO to be completed by early 2024.


Progress to Date

The City recently completed a review of its CAO using Best Available Science (BAS) and updated guidance from State agencies. The findings of this review are included in the draft BAS Report and the Critical Areas Checklist. The public engagement process for the CAO update identified key groups and organizations that may be particularly interested in addition to the citizens and property owners of Vancouver generally.


What's Happening Next?

A series of focus groups with key stakeholders were recently completed to gain input on the proposed approach. Summaries of these stakeholder interviews can be found under the "documents" section of this page. At a future date, work sessions will be held with the City Council and City's Planning commission, respectively to discuss the proposed regulatory concepts. Following these touch points, the City will begin drafting a set of revised regulations, which will be released for public comment towards the end of this year.

  • City Council Meetings
    • December 18, 2023 - 4pm - 5pm
  • Planning Commission Meetings
    • December 12, 2023 - 5pm - 6pm
  • Meetings are held in City Council Chambers at 415 W 6th Street, Vancouver, WA 98660, or streamed live on CVTV.

Frequently Asked Questions

The State requires local governments, such as Vancouver, to protect five types of environmental areas:

  • Important fish and wildlife habitats
  • Wetlands
  • Floodways
  • Geologically hazardous areas (e.g., landslides, erosion hazards, and earthquake hazards)
  • Areas that are critical to replenishing drinking water in aquifers

Washington’s Growth Management Act (GMA) requires local jurisdictions, like Vancouver, to review and update their CAOs every ten years (RCW 36.70A.130). The CAO must be updated with BAS. One of the characteristics of BAS is that it is peer reviewed (WAC 365-195-905).

Learn more about how Critical Areas are regulated in the State of Washington.

The City will audit its CAO and review Best Available Science to determine what updates need to be made. In light of new State guidance, the City anticipates the following updates:

  • Changes to stream buffer widths for fish and wildlife habitat
  • Changes to wetland buffer widths and required mitigation when wetlands are impacted
  • Changes to critical aquifer recharge requirements to better protect Vancouver’s drinking water quality
  • Additional updates are to be identified as necessary from review of the CAO and public and agency engagement.

The City’s goal is to balance its CAO by providing flexibility to property owners. This will aid development projects and individual residential property owners who propose small impacts to critical areas.

The updates will improve and streamline the permitting process for low-impact projects, such as small expansions to a single-family home. If you live next to a stream or wetland, protective buffers on your property may change by becoming larger or smaller. The effect of this change depends on where your property is located and the type of stream or buffer nearby.

The draft critical area maps for this project are located above. These maps show the general location of critical areas in Vancouver based on available information from state and federal agencies but are not site-specific delineations. If you propose development in or near a critical area, a formal delineation is required to confirm exact locations.

Questions or Comments?

Send the project team a question or comment by filling out the online form below. Sign up to receive project updates using the form at the top of the page.

Critical areas act as valuable assets to our community, through enhancing environmental quality, providing critical ecological functions, and protecting the community and public and private property from threats resulting from natural hazards. Some beneficial functions that critical areas provide include water quality protection and enhancement; fish and wildlife habitats; flood storage, conveyance, and attenuation; groundwater recharge and discharge; protection of drinking water quality; and erosion and sediment control. Once the functions of existing critical areas are depleted, attempting to restore them is often costly and sometimes impossible.

The City of Vancouver is updating its critical areas ordinance (CAO), which is located in Chapters 14.26 and 20.740 of the Vancouver Municipal Code. The City’s CAO update will be concurrent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan update, “Our Vancouver,” but will likely finish earlier. At this time, the City expects the CAO to be completed by early 2024.


Progress to Date

The City recently completed a review of its CAO using Best Available Science (BAS) and updated guidance from State agencies. The findings of this review are included in the draft BAS Report and the Critical Areas Checklist. The public engagement process for the CAO update identified key groups and organizations that may be particularly interested in addition to the citizens and property owners of Vancouver generally.


What's Happening Next?

A series of focus groups with key stakeholders were recently completed to gain input on the proposed approach. Summaries of these stakeholder interviews can be found under the "documents" section of this page. At a future date, work sessions will be held with the City Council and City's Planning commission, respectively to discuss the proposed regulatory concepts. Following these touch points, the City will begin drafting a set of revised regulations, which will be released for public comment towards the end of this year.

  • City Council Meetings
    • December 18, 2023 - 4pm - 5pm
  • Planning Commission Meetings
    • December 12, 2023 - 5pm - 6pm
  • Meetings are held in City Council Chambers at 415 W 6th Street, Vancouver, WA 98660, or streamed live on CVTV.

Frequently Asked Questions

The State requires local governments, such as Vancouver, to protect five types of environmental areas:

  • Important fish and wildlife habitats
  • Wetlands
  • Floodways
  • Geologically hazardous areas (e.g., landslides, erosion hazards, and earthquake hazards)
  • Areas that are critical to replenishing drinking water in aquifers

Washington’s Growth Management Act (GMA) requires local jurisdictions, like Vancouver, to review and update their CAOs every ten years (RCW 36.70A.130). The CAO must be updated with BAS. One of the characteristics of BAS is that it is peer reviewed (WAC 365-195-905).

Learn more about how Critical Areas are regulated in the State of Washington.

The City will audit its CAO and review Best Available Science to determine what updates need to be made. In light of new State guidance, the City anticipates the following updates:

  • Changes to stream buffer widths for fish and wildlife habitat
  • Changes to wetland buffer widths and required mitigation when wetlands are impacted
  • Changes to critical aquifer recharge requirements to better protect Vancouver’s drinking water quality
  • Additional updates are to be identified as necessary from review of the CAO and public and agency engagement.

The City’s goal is to balance its CAO by providing flexibility to property owners. This will aid development projects and individual residential property owners who propose small impacts to critical areas.

The updates will improve and streamline the permitting process for low-impact projects, such as small expansions to a single-family home. If you live next to a stream or wetland, protective buffers on your property may change by becoming larger or smaller. The effect of this change depends on where your property is located and the type of stream or buffer nearby.

The draft critical area maps for this project are located above. These maps show the general location of critical areas in Vancouver based on available information from state and federal agencies but are not site-specific delineations. If you propose development in or near a critical area, a formal delineation is required to confirm exact locations.

Questions or Comments?

Send the project team a question or comment by filling out the online form below. Sign up to receive project updates using the form at the top of the page.

Page last updated: 06 Dec 2023, 02:23 PM