Small Project Waiver

What Is It?

We restrict development in environmentally critical areas (ECAs) and areas around ECAs called buffers. Examples of ECAs include landslide-prone areas, wetlands, land next to rivers and streams (riparian management areas), and fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas. 

A small project waiver allows you to do some limited development in some ECAs and ECA buffers, as long as you meet certain criteria in the code based on the particular critical area.

For riparian management areas (the land within 100 feet on either side of a water course), a small project waiver is possible for fences, rockeries, or similar features or temporary disturbance for installation of utility lines as long as they:

  • Do not exceed 150 square feet
  • Do not contain floor area
  • Do not remove trees or native vegetation
  • Do not block wildlife movement through the riparian management area
  • Do provide mitigation  for habitat impacts.

For wetland buffer areas, a small project waiver is possible for additions to existing structures or for temporary disturbance for installation of utility lines. The waiver is possible as long as no construction occurs over or in a riparian watercourse, water body, or wetland. The development must:

  • Not exceed 150 square feet
  • Be on a lot where it is not practicable to build the addition to an existing principal structure for its purpose outside the wetland buffer
  • Be located so the addition minimizes impact on the wetland and wetland buffer

For steep slope areas or buffers, a small project waiver is possible for additions to existing structures or for accessory structures as long as:

  • The development (including all ground disturbance and overhangs) does not exceed 750 square feet with no more than 300 square feet located in the steep slope erosion hazard area
  • It is not practical to build the accessory structure or addition to an existing principal structure for the intended purpose outside of the steep slope erosion hazard area or buffer
  • The location of the accessory structure or addition minimizes the impact on the steep slope hazard area and/or buffer
  • The new accessory structure or addition to an existing principal structure is on a lot that has been in existence as a legal building site since before October 31, 1992

These limits on the area that will be disturbed include the excavation area needed for construction and the area of the proposed structure, including any eaves and overhangs. These limits on disturbance are calculated cumulatively from October 31, 1992. The calculations include all types of development in the critical area and/or buffer due to other small project waivers, relief from prohibition on steep slope development, ECA variances, and ECA exceptions.  

If we approve your small project waiver application, you may still need an ECA review.

You can’t get a small project waiver for:

  • Peat-settlement prone areas, which are sites containing peat and organic soils that may settle when the area is developed or the water table is lowered
  • Shoreline habitat buffers
  • Retaining walls and rockeries in landslide-prone areas
  • Utilities
  • Shoreline setback areas
  • Treehouses

You must meet these criteria to qualify for a small project waiver:

  1. Your lot was a legal building site, in existence, before October 31, 1992
  2. The only place you can build your addition or structure on your lot is in the ECA or buffer
  3. Your project minimizes the impact on the ECA or buffer

Note: In landslide-prone areas, we may require a geotechnical report showing it is safe to build on your site.

How Much Does It Cost?

Fees for most small project waivers are based on our hourly review rate.

Steps to Get Your Waiver

You must receive a small project waiver decision from us before you apply for a building permit or master use permit. Your application for a small project waiver needs to be part of a specific project. You need to complete a pre-application site visit before you submit your application. We determine if you qualify during the permit application review.

  1. Log into your Seattle Services Portal
  2. Apply by clicking the "Request for Exemption" link on the left side of the portal
  3. Attach support documentation as needed (e.g. site plan, survey, geotechnical report, wetland report, and SDOT street grade profiles)


Construction and Inspections

Nathan Torgelson, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 34019, Seattle, WA, 98124-4019
Phone: (206) 684-8600
Phone Alt: Violation Complaint Line: (206) 615-0808
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SDCI issues land use, construction, and trade permits, conducts construction and housing-related inspections, ensures compliance with our codes, and regulates rental rules. SDCI is committed to an antiracist workplace and to addressing racism through our work in the community.