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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

 
Zoning
County Base Map

How do I locate the zoning of my property?
You can locate a properties zone designation by viewing the online Zoning Maps. These maps are broken down by township and are updated regularly whenever the zone and/or jurisdictional boundary changes. Each map, if applicable, will consist of zone designations, city limits, watershed boundaries, urban growth areas (UGA) and mineral resources lands (MRL).

The zoning maps will designate a district boundary by an abbreviation. The following is a list of zone district abbreviations and associated terms that you will find on the Whatcom County zoning maps.

INDUSTRIAL/MANUFACTURING

GI Gateway Industrial
LII Light Impact Industrial
GM General Manufacturing
HII Heavy Impact Industrial
RIM Rural Industrial Manufacturing
AO Airport Operations

COMMERCIAL

NC Neighborhood Commercial
STC Small Town Commercial
RGC Rural General Commercial
TC Tourist Commercial
RC Resort Commercial
GC General Commercial

RURAL RESIDENTIAL

RR1 Rural Residential - 1 Units/Acre
RR2 Rural Residential - 2 Units/Acre
RR3 Rural Residential - 3 Units/Acre
RRI Rural Residential Island
RR5A Rural Residential - 1 Unit/5 Acres
RR10A Rural Residential - 1 Unit/10 Acres
TZ Point Roberts Transitional

RURAL

R2A Rural - 1 Unit/2 Acres
R5A Rural - 1 Unit/5 Acres
R10A Rural - 1 Unit/10 Acres


URBAN RESIDENTIAL

UR3 Urban Residential - 3 Units/Acre
UR4 Urban Residential - 4 Units/Acre
URM6 Urban Residential Medium Density - 6 Units/Acre
URM12 Urban Residential Medium Density - 12 Units/Acre
URM18 Urban Residential Medium Density - 18 Units/Acre
URM24 Urban Residential Medium Density - 24 Units/Acre
URMX Urban Residential Mixed Use
URMX6-10 Urban Residential Mixed Use - 6-10 Units/Acre
URMX6-12 Urban Residential Mixed Use - 6-12 Units/Acre
URMX10-24 Urban Residential Mixed Use - 10-24 Units/Acre

RESOURCES

AG Agriculture
CF Commercial Forestry
RF Rural Forestry
MRL Mineral Resource Lands

OTHER

ROS Recreation Open Space
EI Eliza Island
PUD Planned Unit Development

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What does that zone
designation mean?

Once you have determined the zone designation of your property, you can search the applicable code by clicking Whatcom County Zoning Ordinance (Title 20).  For example, the zoning requirements for a property zoned R5A or Rural 1 unit/5 acres can be located by clicking the above link, Title 20 ZONING and finally Chapter 20.36 Rural (R) District. Dependent on the zone, each district will describe the allowable uses and development standards (building height, setbacks/buffers, lot coverage, density requirements, etc.).

How can I find the building setbacks for my property?

Building setbacks are found in Chapter 20.80.210 – Supplementary Requirements of the Whatcom County Zoning Ordinance. Please note that each property may have more restrictive setbacks than those that are stated within the Whatcom County Zoning Ordinance (Chapter 20.80.210). More restrictive setbacks may include fire protection setbacks (which may be stated on the plat that created the lot), landscape buffers (for commercial developments), on-site sewage systems, well protection zones and/or critical areas (i.e. setbacks from shorelines, wetlands and/or geological hazards).

Please contact a Natural Resource Planner at 360-676-6907 to discuss setbacks from critical areas and/or the Whatcom County Health Department at 360-676-6724 to discuss setbacks from septic systems and wells.

What is the difference
between a legal lot of record and a taxable lot?

A legal lot of record means a lot which is described by final plat, short plat, or metes and bounds, and is established pursuant to applicable local and state regulations at the date a legal instrument creating the lot is recorded at the Whatcom County Auditor’s office.  Whatcom County code states that only legal lots of record are allowed to be built on with permitted, accessory, administrative and/or conditional uses.

A determination of legal lot of record status is made by staff from Whatcom County Planning and Development Services. If in question, you can contact a Current Planner at 360-676-6907 to discuss if your parcel is a legal lot of record. A Lot of Record Application and associated fees will need to be submitted if staff is unable to quickly determine how your described parcel was created. Please note that a determination of how your parcel was created is required prior to the submittal of any building permit application.

A taxable lot is a parcel which appears on the Whatcom County Assessor's map and has been assigned a tax parcel (geographic) number by the Assessor. Tax parcel (geographic) numbers are typically assigned for billing purposes. These parcels are not necessarily an indication that the lot was legally created and/or able to be developed on.

Can my property be subdivided?

By knowing the zoning of the property, its size, wastewater type (septic/public sewer), water (public/private well) and how it was created (legal lot of record) you can determine if your property is eligible to be subdivided.  To determine the allowable density (the number of dwelling units/lots allowed per acre or acreage) please refer to the maximum density and minimum lot size section of the applicable zone district.  If shown, the number associated with the zone designation is also an indicator to determine the allowable density. For example, a property that is zoned R5A is Rural and has a base density of 1 dwelling unit per five (5) acres. This can be verified by reviewing the maximum density and minimum lot size table for the Rural district, which is found in section 20.36.253 of the Whatcom County Zoning Ordinance. Please be aware that each zone district is different and it is always best to refer to that specific zone district’s maximum density and minimum lot size section.

Other factors can affect the ability to subdivide such as the availability of water, the ability to obtain an on-site septic system or public sewer hookup, the property’s access to public roads, the presence of critical areas and the type of soils (i.e. agricultural protection overlay). In some cases it may be best to consult with a Whatcom County Current Planner at 360-676-6907 or at our office to discuss the possibility of subdividing a particular property. A pre-application meeting is required prior to the submittal of all subdivision applications.

Can I have a second home
on my property?

Most residential zone districts, through an administrative use permit, allow for either permanent or temporary (i.e. for medical purposes) secondary dwelling units. In order to qualify, the proposed development and property must meet a list of criteria which is specific to that zone district.  For example, the criteria stated for an accessory dwelling unit within the Rural zone can be located under Whatcom County 20.36.132 (1) – (13). Please be aware that the minimum lot size for permanent detached units is different in each zone district.

What is an
administrative use permit?

An administrative use permit is a land use permit that authorizes an applicant to establish or conduct a specific activity or use on a property. The proposed use, as stated within the administrative approval uses section of that zone district, is reviewed by staff for conformance to all applicable development regulations, standards, adopted plans, programs and policies of Whatcom County. If the proposed use conforms to the approval criteria then administrative approval for that specific use may be granted by staff subject to conditions. Some common uses that require an Administrative Approval Permit may include secondary dwellings (temporary medical and permanent), cottage industries, wireless communication facilities and wind energy systems.

What is a zoning conditional use permit?

A zoning Conditional Use Permit is a land use permit that is approved by the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner and authorizes an applicant to establish or conduct a specific use on a property. The application is reviewed by staff and the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner for conformance to all applicable development regulations, standards, adopted plans, programs and policies of Whatcom County.  If the proposed use conforms to the applicable regulations then approval of that specific use may be granted by the Whatcom County Hearing Examiner, subject to conditions.

Can I schedule a zoning
pre-application meeting?

You may schedule a Pre-Application meeting by contacting a Current Planner at 360-676-6907 and/or by submitting a
Pre-Application Meeting (application) and associated fees at our office. 

Pre-application meetings are held between the applicant and staff members from various county departments and agencies that may be involved in the review of your proposed project. Our goal in a pre-application meeting is to help identify any areas of concern, to inform you of the applicable code requirements, to answer any questions you may have and to help you avoid costly delays during the permit process.

How do I rezone my property?

Rezoning property is different than getting a permit. Rezoning is changing the law applicable to your property, while getting a permit involves applying the existing law to your property. Rezoning property involves submitting an application, paying applicable fees, review by the County Planning & Development Services staff, Planning Commission review (which includes a public hearing), and a final decision by the County Council.

Sometimes a comprehensive plan amendment is required along with the rezone. For example, if you are proposing to rezone property in the Rural comprehensive plan designation for urban land uses, it would needed to be added to an urban growth area. Other times, a rezone application can be submitted without an associated comprehensive plan amendment. For example, if you are proposing to rezone property in the Rural comprehensive plan designation from Rural one dwelling/ten acres to Rural one dwelling/five acres.

You can call Long Range Planning Staff at (360) 676-6907 to discuss whether a comprehensive plan amendment would be needed along with your proposed rezone.

If a comprehensive plan amendment is required with your rezone, the forms can be accessed at our Long Range Division Comprehensive Plan page.

If a comprehensive plan amendment is not required with your rezone application, the forms can be accessed below:

Procedures for Amending Zoning Text and Official Map

Zoning Amendment Application

Suggested Zoning Amendment Application

SEPA Environmental Checklist