Critical Areas Ordinance

​ On February 23, 2016 the updated Critical Areas Ordinance, BMC 16.55, went into effect. These updates were meant to improve overall administration by staff and predictability for both customers and the general public while maintaining protection of the city’s critical areas. The updated Critical Areas Ordinance is now available online at our “Bellingham Municipal Code” link found here:​.

The purpose of this periodic update was to ensure that the CAO remained in compliance with the Growth ​Management Act (GMA) requirements. The GMA, RCW 36.70A, defines critical areas as: wetlands, frequently flooded areas, fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas (includes streams), geologically hazardous areas, and aquifer recharge areas. The city regulates all of these through the BMC 16.55 except aquifer recharge areas because there are none within city limits. 

City Council Review Process

  • February 8, 2016 – The City Council held their final work session and adopted the updated Critical Areas Ordinance.
  • December 7, 2015 – The City Council held a work session on the draft Critical Areas Ordinance as presented by staff on November 9, 21015. Staff gave a presentation that res​ponded to the oral and written comments made before the close of the hearing. At the evening Council session, staff were directed to prepare an ordinance and bring it to the Council for a vote. This will likely happen in January 2016.
  • November 9, 2015 – The City Council held a public hearing to consider changes made to the draft Critical Areas Ordinance. The public comment period was closed at the conclusion of the hearing.

Planning Commission Review Process

  • August 27, 2015 – The Planning Commission held its final public hearing to consider the changes made to the draft Critical Areas Ordinance as a result of comments received from the public and the Department of Ecology since the first public hearing in January. At the conclusion of the public hearing, the Planning Commission recommended approval of the proposed changes by a vote of 4-0 and directed staff to present the draft CAO to the City Council.
  • January 15, 2015 the Planning Commission held the first public hearing on the draft Critical Areas Ordinance and left the public comment period open to allow for additional written comment. Staff reviewed the comments, including those from the Department of Ecology, and subsequently made revisions to the Critical Areas Ordinance.
  • June 4, 2015 the Planning Commission held a work session to consider the revised draft and gave staff direction to incorporate the revisions and schedule a public hearing

Staff Contacts: City’s Planning and Community Development Department
Steve Sundin – 360-778-8359 or email: or ​Kim Weil – 360-778-8356 or email:


Planning & Community Development