Critical Areas Ordinance Update

What are Critical Areas?

Shoreline at Priest Point ParkCritical areas are environmentally sensitive areas that require special protections. Olympia has been protecting critical areas for decades through management of land it owns, educational programs, and regulations on building and development.

Olympia's Critical Areas Ordinance (CAO), OMC 18.32, is the primary set of regulations on development that protects critical areas. Other critical areas are addressed in OMC 16.70, frequently flooded areas; OMC 18.20, marine and freshwater shorelines as defined by the Shoreline Management Act; and OMC 13.16, erosion hazards.

The City completed its CAO update (which we are calling Phase 1) required by the Growth Management Act (GMA) on July 19, 2016, when the City Council approved the Critical Areas Ordinance.       

Phase 2 - Locally Important Species and Habitat


On January 23, 2017, The Planning Commission held a public hearing on the (revised) proposed amendments to OMC 18.32.300; OMC 18.02.180 definitions; OMC 18.32.500 and 515 to provide consistency with the City's Shoreline Management Program (SMP); and amendments to the SMP to adopt the amended Critical Areas Ordinance by reference and to correct minor errors. 

NOTE: The Planning Commission will accept written testimony on these proposed amendments until Friday, January 27, 2017 at noon. 


In addition to the required update (Phase 1), the City opted to study the issue of "locally important species and habitats" in more depth. We are calling this study Phase 2. The City and consultant ESA, in conjunction with a small, technical advisory committee, identified locally important species and their habitats and looked at ways to protect them. 

The consultant's first technical memo identified...

  • gaps in current federal, state and local regulatory protections
  • legal bases for protecting species and habitats
  • current best practices in comparable cities
  • recommendations for best ways to protect our species and habitat

... and the follow up memo recommended 1) general protections for priority species and habitats, and 2) protections specific to great blue heron

The following draft documents were presented to the Planning Commission at a briefing on January 9, 2017:

On January 18, 2017, the City held a public meeting to present and discuss the concepts outlined in the documents referenced above.

Phase 3 - Shoreline Master Program Update

Under provisions of the Washington State Shoreline Management Act, all amendments to the City's CAO must also be adopted into the City's Shoreline Master Plan (SMP) and approved by the Department of Ecology (DOE) before the amended CAO is effective within designated shoreline areas (generally the land area within 200 feet of the water).

As part of Phase 2 we will amend the SMP and forward to the Department of Ecology for approval. Once we receive DOE approval, the amended CAO and SMP will become effective. Until that time, we will continue to use the current CAO and SMP.



Contact Linda Bentley at 360.570.3746 or