Smart Growth

Ensure smart development and protect intact habitats and processes by channeling population growth into attractive, transit-oriented urban growth areas (UGAs) with easy access to natural spaces.
Forested lands, open spaces, agricultural fields, and wetlands absorb water and are the home for an integrated and biodiverse web of life. These same systems are at the heart of a vibrant economy of working lands for forestry and agriculture. They also serve multiple uses as the backdrop for cities, the location of roads and utility lines, and desired places to recreate and explore nature.

Development of natural areas throughout Puget Sound has disrupted natural hydrologic processes and habitat functions. If we continue along our path towards adding 1.7 million additional residents, or the equivalent of an additional two and a half Seattles, expected in the Puget Sound area by 2050, we must balance affordable infill development and infrastructure improvements with protection of the important functions provided by forested and riparian areas as well as agricultural lands.

This strategy focuses on protecting ecologically important lands by channeling population growth into affordable and vibrant urban growth areas and reducing conversion of forests, farms, and natural areas into developed uses. To foster smart development and protect habitats, the recovery community will need to work alongside transportation authorities; affordable housing agencies, nongovernmental and community-based organizations; state and local decision-makers, natural resource and land use planners, investors and developers, and vulnerable populations and underserved communities and representatives to improve implementation of regulations and incentives that channel development into preferred growth areas. To prevent conversion of ecologically important lands, we must improve implementation of, and make modifications to, the Growth Management Act (GMA) to foster the protection of these natural areas and working lands. These protections should be incorporated into regional infrastructure planning and supported by creating incentives for new market demands for growth in city centers.

Implementing the Land Development and Cover and other Implementation Strategies supports the success of this strategy.
  • Protect habitat from conversion, fragmentation

Build Puget Sound-wide support to prevent conversion of forests, farms, and natural areas and increase funding for conservation incentives. (ID #1)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Improve the education and incentives for public and decision-makers on opportunities to direct growth away from ecologically important areas;
  • Significantly improve the implementation of the GMA within local jurisdictions land use planning and decisions, and across jurisdictions, to include the protection of natural areas and working lands;
  • Incorporate protections into regional infrastructure planning;
  • Support permanent protection of high value nearshore habitat;
  • Support protections through incentivizing new market demands for growth in city centers with emphasis on public transportation to accommodate growth.

Reduce barriers to infill and redevelopment in high-growth areas. (ID #2)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Improve planning and zoning within UGAs that includes protection of existing habitat;
  • Improve the wellbeing of people living in high-growth areas by clearly defining needs for and increasing access to amenities, services, green space, and affordable housing;
  • Ensure transparent, effective, clear, and consistent implementation of regulations to provide consistency and improved conditions for developers and investors within preferred high-growth areas.

Improve the Growth Management Act and local land use planning to effectively channel growth and prevent conversion of ecologically important lands. (ID #178)

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 include:

  • Integrate climate change mitigation and resilience and salmon restoration goals and strategies into the GMA and local land use plans;
  • Incorporate a measurable net ecological gain standard into the GMA and local land use plans and establish methods and tools to ensure accountability for achieving this standard;
  • Improve incentives and reduce barriers for channeling growth and development into preferred high-growth areas;
  • Ensure tribal sovereignty is recognized in local land use planning and decisions and that tribal nations are adequately consulted and engaged;
  • Consider opportunities where multiple-benefit aspects of recovery projects may increase affordable housing options for communities including supporting efforts that move low-income housing stock outside climate- vulnerable areas or reducing the cost of developing green infrastructure that serves vulnerable populations and underserved communities.
Implementation Considerations

Key opportunities for 2022-2026 to integrate human wellbeing considerations and climate change responses into efforts include:

Human Wellbeing

  • Consider the public health, recreation, and local food benefits of maintaining and increasing trees, green space, and habitats in and around urban areas.
  • Engage communities, specifically vulnerable populations and underserved communities, community-based organizations, and youth in urban areas, in equitable and smart growth planning process design, decision-making, and implementation. Co- develop anti-displacement principles in collaboration with these communities to support equitable and environmentally protective development.
  • Incorporate consideration of culturally significant spaces (for example, community gardens) into the design of new development.
  • Increase understanding of effects and cost-benefits of development, particularly on the wellbeing of human populations including vulnerable populations and underserved communities.
  • Implement practices that demonstrate effective ways to maximize benefits and minimize adverse impacts of growth and development when undertaking new projects that intentionally support natural resource industries.

Climate Change

  • Develop and right-size stormwater infrastructure using projections for future precipitation regimes.
  • Consider sea level rise and flooding projections to emphasize the need for smart development, discourage new building in or near existing floodplains or existing shorelines, and consider sea level rise retreat.
  • Transit-oriented development should reduce vehicle miles traveled by single-occupancy vehicles, as well as the need for large parking lot and other impervious surfaces in urban areas, which contribute to urban heat island effect, and stormwater runoff and pollution.
  • New development should prioritize renewable energy and low-carbon design elements during construction and building use (materials, LEED-type design), including equitable distribution of broadband to incentivize working at home.
Ongoing Programs

Ongoing programs provide regulatory oversight, technical support, implementation resources, funding, or guidance and serve as the critical foundation for Puget Sound recovery. The following is a list of example state and federal ongoing programs that help to implement this strategy. Many more local, tribal nations, and nongovernmental programs exist that support this strategy.


What We're Measuring

We are achieving our recovery goals of increasing functioning habitat through restoration and improving water quality in the Puget Sound region by protecting ecologically important lands, including beaches, estuaries, forests and wetlands, streams, and floodplains, from conversion. Preferred high growth areas are becoming increasingly dense, while urban tree canopy is increased as development is channeled away from ecologically important lands. Residents of UGAs are thriving with equitable access to natural spaces. Working lands are intact and thriving, and water infiltration and holding capacity of upland areas are maintained. Indicators of success include:

Extent of forest cover in the upper, middle, and lower areas of watersheds

This indicator measures the extent of forest cover (vegetation approximately 8 feet or taller) within the upper, middle, and lower watershed areas.

Extent of forest cover in the upper, middle, and lower areas of watersheds

No reported data available