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 360-778-5900 to discuss setbacks from critical areas and/or the Whatcom County Health Department at 360-778-6000 to discuss setbacks from septic systems and wells.
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Use the Whatcom County GIS Tax Parcel Viewer to find your property and the zoning designation.
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 going to Title 20 and selecting 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.).
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 360-778-5900 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.
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 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 360-778-5900 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.
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.
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.
You may schedule a pre-application meeting by contacting a Current Planner at 360-778-5900 and/or by submitting a pre-application meeting (application) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.