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Director:
J.E. “Sam” Ryan, CBO

5280 Northwest Drive
Bellingham, Washington 98226
Telephone: (360) 676-6907
E-mail: pds@co.whatcom.wa.us

 
Frequently Asked Questions

 

Below you will find a variety of Frequently Asked Questions we get here at PDS. Click on the question and it will scroll down to the answer below. Many of the answers will contain links to other areas of our website that will be helpful.

If you have any further questions, please visit, call or
email our office and our staff will assist you.

Questions:

General Questions

What is your office address and telephone number?
What are your office hours?
How can I find an email address for a staff member?
Where can I find my parcel number and legal description?
Where can I find my parcel number and legal description?
How do I get a copy of a recorded survey of my property?
How do I find out who owns a property?
What are the dimensions and square footage of my property?
Where are my property lines?
Where may I obtain information about septic systems, wells, water and sewer lines, and water testing?
Where may I obtain information about flood zones and frequently flooded areas?
How do I obtain copies of a file?
I will be digging on my property. How do I locate the underground utilities?

Building Services Questions

How do I start the process of applying for a residential building permit?
Where do I apply for an electrical permit?
How do I apply for a mechanical permit?
Is a permit required for tearing down a structure on my property? Where do I get a demolition permit?
Whom do I contact about asbestos removal?
How do I find out if an existing structure has a building permit?
If I buy a piece of property and find out that the previous owner did work without permits, what do I do?
How do I apply for a residential building permit and how long does it take to get one?
How long is a residential building permit good for?
How do I determine the building permit fees?
Are inspections required after permits have been obtained for residential projects?
How and when do I call for a building inspection?
What types of building inspections do I need to request?
Do I have to be present when the inspector arrives?
Who do I contact if I have questions about building codes?
When can I "occupy" or use my house/structure?
Do you have a copy of my building plans?
What projects are exempt from the permitting/review process?
Do I need a permit to build a storage shed or deck?
How do I verify if a contractor is licensed?
I would like more information on Green Building

Fire Marshal Questions

Is a burn ban in effect?
How do I obtain a burn permit?
How do I obtain fire-related permits such as for sprinkler and alarm systems?
How do I obtain permits for commercial and consumer fireworks displays and fireworks stands?
I am building a structure how do I find fire code information that may apply to my project?

Current Planning Questions

How do I find out the zoning of my property?
I have questions about what can be done with my property?

Natural Resources Questions

What are critical areas and resource lands?
How do I determine if this property has any critical areas, such as wetlands?
What are shoreline regulations?
Am I in a "shoreline jurisdiction"?
When do I need a shoreline permit and what is the shoreline permit process?
Do I need a permit to cut down trees on my property?
What is a hazard tree? What can I do if I have hazard trees located on my property?

Code Enforcement Questions

What should I do if I am having a dispute with a neighbor over a property line or their vegetation is encroaching onto my property?
If I think that a property owner is violating Whatcom County code, what should I do?

GIS/Map Questions

How do I get a copy of an assessor plat map?
Do you provide zoning maps and other county maps?
How do I obtain a map of Whatcom County showing all of the roads?

More Questions

What if I still have questions?

Answers:

General Questions

Q: What is your office address and telephone number?

A: 5280 Northwest Dr., Bellingham, WA 98226 (at the corner of Northwest Dr. and Smith Rd.); (360) 676-6907.

Q: What are your office hours?

A: The office is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Q: How can I find an email address for a staff member?

A: Visit our email list webpage.

Q: Where can I find my parcel number and legal description?

A: The Whatcom County Assessor's office has property information.  You can also find your parcel number and legal description by looking at your current tax statement or using the Assessor’s online Real Property Search.  You may call them at (360) 676-6790, or click here for the Assessor’s website.

Q: How do I get a copy of a recorded survey of my property?

A: Whatcom County Public Works Engineering is the repository for all recorded surveys. Long plats, short plats, and binding site plans are also available and may provide useful survey information. Some historical mapping and surveying information is also available for inspection. You may call Public Works Engineering at (360) 676-6730, or click here for their website. Plat maps and surveys can also be found by using the Auditor’s online Recorded Documents Search.

Q: How do I find out who owns a property?

A: The Whatcom County Assessor's office has property/owner information.  Please visit their online Real Property Search, where you can search by parcel number, address, or owner name.  You may also call them at (360) 676-6790, or click here for the Assessor’s website.

Q: What are the dimensions and square footage of my property?

A: The Whatcom County Assessor's office has property information. You may call them at (360) 676-6790. You may contact the Whatcom County Public Works Engineering office to request a copy of a recorded survey if they have one on file.

Q: Where are my property lines?

A: To have the property lines physically established or located on the ground, you will need to contact a surveyor.  Whatcom County does not provide surveying services.

Q: Where may I obtain information about septic systems, wells, water and sewer lines, and water testing?

A: Contact the Whatcom County Health Department at (360) 676-6724, or click here for the Health Department website.

Q: Where may I obtain information about flood zones and frequently flooded areas?

A: Contact Whatcom County Public Works – River and Flood at (360) 676-6876, or click here for the River and Flood website.

Q: How do I obtain copies of a file?

A: Contact the Whatcom County Public Records Officer at (360) 676-7694, or view online the Public Records Request form and Public Records Disclosure Information.  If you are requesting a minimal amount of information or copies please contact Planning and Development Services.

Q: I will be digging on my property.  How do I locate the underground utilities?

A: Contact the Utility Notification Center at www.callbeforeyoudig.org or call "811" or (800) 424-5555.

Building Services Questions

Q: How do I start the process of applying for a residential building permit?

A: Visit our Permit Center Frequently Asked Questions page.

Q: Where do I apply for an electrical permit?

A: Whatcom County does not issue electrical permits.  Contact the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I);  1720 Ellis St., Bellingham, WA; (360) 647-7300.

Q: How do I apply for a mechanical permit?

A: Mechanical permits are issued over the counter at Whatcom County Planning and Development Services.  Click here for an application. Applications may also be faxed, mailed or emailed in. However, the permit must be picked up in person, unless a payment (cash or check only) and return address accompanies a mailed in application.

Q: Is a permit required for tearing down a structure on my property?  Where do I get a demolition permit?

A: Demolition Permit applications are required if you are removing an existing structure. You must contact the Northwest Clean Air Agency at 360-428-1617 or 1-800-622-4627 prior to the submittal of your demolition application.

Q: Whom do I contact about asbestos removal?

A: Contact the Northwest Clear Air Agency, (360) 428-1617 or review NWCAA asbestos information at www.nwcleanair.org/aqprograms/asbestos.htm

Q: How do I find out if an existing structure has a building permit?

A: For properties located in the unincorporated areas of Whatcom County, you may call or visit our office.  We will need the parcel number in order to assist you.  If you don't know the parcel number, please visit the Assessor's Real Property Search where you can search by parcel number, address, or owner name.  You may also call them at (360) 676-6790.

Q: If I buy a piece of property and find out that the previous owner did work without permits, what do I do?

A: You, as the current owner, are responsible for obtaining the proper permits and having the work inspected.  Contact Whatcom County Planning and Development Services to determine which permits and inspections will be necessary.

Q: How do I apply for a residential building permit and how long does it take to get one?

A: Click here for the residential building permit submittal process. 

Q: How long is a residential building permit good for?

A: Permits expire if more than 180 days (approx. 6 months) have passed since the last inspection. When you have an inspection, the expiration date is automatically extended 180 days from the date of the inspection. A permit may be extended for 180 days if you send a written request to the Building Services Division. The written request should include the permit number, the site address, your name, address and phone number, and the reason for the request. The request should be on the Building Permit Extension Request form.

Q: How do I determine the building permit fees?

A: Building permit fees are largely based on the valuation of the proposed structure, the project’s proximity to critical areas and the number of proposed mechanical and plumbing fixtures. Click here for instructions on calculating building permit fees.

Q: Are inspections required after permits have been obtained for residential projects?

A: Yes.  Click here for further information.

Q: How and when do I call for a building inspection?

A: Click here for information about the building inspection request process.

Q: What types of building inspections do I need to request?

A: Each project requires a different set of inspections, especially if the project is located in a regulated watershed. Typically, the first inspection you will need to call in for is the pre-construction meeting. The pre-construction meeting is conducted with one of our building inspectors who will respond to you by visiting the site in person or by phone. During the pre-construction meeting the inspector will discuss your required inspections, along with important information about permit conditions that will be required as your project moves toward final occupancy. Click here for all of the building inspection instructions.

Q: Do I have to be present when the inspector arrives?

A: No, except for the pre-construction meeting.   If you are unavailable to be on site for any other inspections you must make provisions to allow for inspector entry (i.e., instructions on where the key is located, etc.).  If there are corrections necessary prior to signing off on a particular inspection, a correction notice will be left on site.  When an inspection is approved, the appropriate portion of your Inspection Record will be signed and dated. NOTE: The Inspection Record is your permanent record, so don't lose it!

Q: Who do I contact if I have questions about building codes?

A: A plans examiner is on duty Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.  Building inspectors are available from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. before they leave to do their inspections.

Q: When can I "occupy" or use my house/structure?

A: Occupancy and use of the structure begins only after the final inspection has been signed off.  You are in violation of code if you occupy the premises prior to that, unless the inspector has granted you temporary occupancy (i.e. approval to habitat the structure subject to a list of outstanding requirements that must be completed prior to final occupancy). 

Q: Do you have a copy of my building plans?

A: Planning and Development Services keeps structural plans for houses during the construction of the house and for 180 days after the final inspection.  After 180 days, the plans are destroyed.

Q: What projects are exempt from the permitting/review process?

A: Click here to see exceptions to building permit requirements.  If your project is not on this list and you have questions regarding whether or not you need a permit, please call (360) 676-6907.

Q: Do I need a permit to build a storage shed or deck?

A: Click here for requirements in order for the storage shed or deck to be exempt.

Q: How do I verify if a contractor is licensed?

A: Contractors are licensed through Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.  Call (800) 647-0982 or click here.

Q: I would like more information on Green Building

A:  Visit our Green Building webpage for frequently asked questions.

Fire Marshal Questions

Q: Is a burn ban in effect?

A: Call the burn information line at (360) 676-6934 or click here.

Q: How do I obtain a burn permit?

A: Click here for residential and commercial burn permit information and the Burn Permit Application Form.

Q: How do I obtain fire-related permits such as for sprinkler and alarm systems?

 A: Click here for information on fire-related permits.

Q:  How do I obtain permits for commercial and consumer fireworks displays and fireworks stands?

A: Click here for professional fireworks display information.  Click here for consumer fireworks information.  Click here for information about fireworks stand permits.

Q: I am building a structure how do I find fire code information that may apply to my project?

A: Click here for residential fire code information.

Current Planning Questions

Q: How do I find out the zoning of my property?

A: Whatcom County Planning and Development Services can provide zoning information for all unincorporated areas of the county.  ("Unincorporated" means that the property is not within the boundaries of a city.) Visit, call, or email our office for this zoning information.  For zoning information about properties in the incorporated areas of Bellingham, Lynden, Ferndale, Blaine, Everson, Nooksack, and Sumas contact the appropriate jurisdiction.  Click here to view county zoning maps. 

Visit our Zoning Frequently Asked Questions page for more information about zoning designations, building setbacks, legal lot of record vs. taxable lot, subdividing your property, second home on your property, information about administrative use permit, conditional use permit, scheduling a zoning pre-application meeting, and rezone of your property.

Natural Resources Questions

Q: What are critical areas and resource lands?

A: "Critical Areas" include all wetlands, frequently flooded areas, aquifer recharge areas, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas, and geologically hazardous areas.  Click here for more information.  "Resource Lands" include areas designated as agricultural, forest, and mineral lands.

Q: How do I determine if this property has any critical areas, such as wetlands?

A: Please contact our Natural Resources Department to see if a wetlands study has been conducted on a property. In most cases, a Natural Resources Assessment may need to be applied for to determine by staff if wetlands and/or other critical areas exist on a property.  Click here for the application paperwork and further information about the process.  For general inquiry about a property that you are interested in possibly buying, our Pre-Development Site Inspection may be more applicable.

Q: What are shoreline regulations?

A: Whatcom County's Shoreline Management Program governs uses and activities on all county marine shorelines; and lake, river, and stream channel shorelines; and their related wetlands.  Click here for permit application information.

Q: Am I in a "shoreline jurisdiction"?

A: The best way to find out if your property is within this regulated area is by visiting or calling Planning and Development Services.  Make sure to have the parcel number and address and/or site directions available.  Click here to view shoreline maps.

Q: When do I need a shoreline permit and what is the shoreline permit process?

A: Click here for shoreline standards and jurisdiction.  Click here for the permit process.

Q: Do I need a permit to cut down trees on my property?

A: It depends. When removing trees (located outside of regulated critical areas, shoreline management jurisdiction, Lake Padden Watershed, Lake Samish Watershed and/or protected native growth areas) for personal firewood purposes (less than 5,000 board feet) or if a tree poses immediate and direct danger to residences or other structures, then a permit is generally not required provided the stump is left. Removing the stump constitutes a grading activity (or conversion) that triggers the need for a critical areas and resource lands evaluation/permit (click here for instructions). When converting forest land (pulling stumps) or clearing land for development a clearing permit authorization (and generally a State Environmental Protection Act - SEPA checklist) is required from Whatcom County and possibly the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Clearing or logging that does not result in conversion may require a permit from DNR but is typically exempt from county review (WCC 20.80.733.2).

Q: What is a hazard tree? What can I do if I have hazard trees located on my property?

A: “Hazard tree” means any tree that is susceptible to immediate fall due to its condition (damaged, diseased, or dead) or other factors, and which because of its location is at risk of damaging permanent physical improvements to property or causing personal injury. (Ord. 2013-043 §1 Exh. C, 2013)

Before cutting a hazard tree make sure the tree is located on your property; if not, you will need to contact the owner of the property. When cutting a hazard tree, you will not be required to obtain a permit from Whatcom County Planning and Development Services but you will be required to leave the stump intact. For more information or questions concerning danger trees, please visit or call our office.

Code Enforcement Questions

Q: What should I do if I am having a dispute with a neighbor over a property line or their vegetation is encroaching onto my property?

A: This is a civil matter.  You may need to contact an attorney if you are unable to reach an agreement with your neighbor.

Q: If I think that a property owner is violating Whatcom County code, what should I do?

A: Click here for the procedure to submit a Code Violation Report.  Click here to learn how Whatcom County handles reported code violations.

GIS/Map Questions

Q: How do I get a copy of an assessor plat map?

A: Assessor plat maps are available through the Whatcom County Assessor's office.

Q: Do you provide zoning maps and other county maps?

A: Click here to view general Whatcom County GIS information.  On the left side of the GIS Home Page, click on the Data or Maps links.

Q: How do I obtain a map of Whatcom County showing all of the roads?

A: Click here for Whatcom County Public Works Engineering general information. Click on the Whatcom County Map link on the left.

More Questions

Q: What if I still have questions?

A: Please visit, call (360-676-6907), or email our office and our staff will assist you.