Rural Urban Transition Area

Snohomish County is currently reviewing its policies on the Rural Urban Transition Area (RUTA) which may result in changes to the RUTA map designation, policies, and codes. The Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) is seeking input on potential changes.


The RUTA is a special map designation, comprised of approximately 17,500 acres of rural land throughout unincorporated Snohomish County. The RUTA is not a zone; it is a land use map designation generally overlaid on certain rural lands within approximately one-half mile of Urban Growth Areas (UGAs). 

View RUTA on the Future Land Use Map (PDF)

Future Land Use Map Icon

The county developed the RUTA in 1996 in response to an order by the Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board requiring the county to allow flexibility in RUTA areas for future UGA expansions. Policy language in the Snohomish County Growth Management Act Comprehensive Plan (GMACP) currently states that the purpose of the RUTA is to “reserve a potential supply of land for possible future inclusion in a UGA.”

The only regulations that exist in county code related to the RUTA apply to the open space tract of rural cluster subdivisions located within the RUTA boundary. Under these regulations, the open space tract in rural clusters within the RUTA is interim and can be designed for future development but outside of the RUTA, the open space tract is permanent and must be conserved. Without these provisions, the RUTA has no regulatory affect.

Policy direction for rural areas next to UGAs was very limited in 1996. However, with passage of the Washington State Growth Management Act in 1990, local and regional growth policies have evolved over time to provide very specific criteria for UGA expansions in the Countywide Planning Policies for Snohomish County.

Project Description

On July 15, 2015, in Amended Motion No.15-226, the Snohomish County Council directed PDS to either eliminate or amend the RUTA map overlay and RUTA policy language as part of a larger project to amend the County’s GMACP in 2016.

In response, PDS began researching background information on the RUTA and pieced together three options to address council’s request:

  1. Maintain and Clarify Purpose of the RUTA: Amend RUTA policies in an effort to educate and clarify the purpose of the RUTA, adding Countywide Planning Policies (CPPs) as needed. This option may also include updates to the RUTA boundary removing it in places where urban growth is unlikely due to changes in use and/or topography.
  2. Eliminate the RUTA and Amend Code: Full repeal of the RUTA overlay on the FLU and associated policies, but also extends rural cluster open space tract provisions to all rural clusters throughout unincorporated county, not just those within the RUTA.
  3. Eliminate the RUTA and Policies: Full repeal of the RUTA overlay on the FLU and all associated policies and codes.

On January 26, 2016, PDS transmitted a memo notifying the Snohomish County Council that it recommends eliminating the RUTA map overlay and associated policies and code provisions. Read the PDS Memo (PDF) to to Council.

Community Outreach

County PDS staff anticipate questions from RUTA landowners about the effects of any potential changes being considered. PDS would like to hear from the public prior to developing a draft proposal clarifying the RUTA map overlay and policies.

PDS hosted three community meetings throughout the county prior to the Planning Commission briefing on this topic. The purpose of the community meetings was to provide more information to stakeholders about the RUTA, discuss the options being considered, and learn about issues within each individual community.

Community Meetings on the RUTA
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
6:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Brightwater Community Center
22505 Hwy 9, Woodinville
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
6:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Arlington High School Commons Area
18821 Crown Ridge Blvd, Arlington
Thursday, April 7, 2016
6:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Garden City Grange
800 2nd Street, Snohomish
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
6:30 - 7:30 p.m.*
County Administration Building
3000 Rockefeller Ave, Everett
*Open House prior to Planning Commission

Process for Adopting Changes

The amendments to the GMACP that are being considered with this proposal require a public hearing before the County Council and the Snohomish County Planning Commission.


April 26, 2016 – Planning Commission Briefing 5:30 pm

The Snohomish County Planning Commission received an informational briefing by Snohomish County Planning and Development Services (PDS) staff to discuss the draft proposal. Members of the public were welcome to observe this discussion but public testimony was not accepted at this meeting.

May 24, 2016 – Planning Commission Public Hearing 5:30 pm

The Snohomish County Planning Commission held a public hearing on the draft proposal and accepted public testimony. Following the close of public testimony, commissioners made a recommendation to the Snohomish County Council.

The Snohomish County Executive transmitted recommended Comprehensive Plan policy amendments, including the Planning Commission recommendation (PDF), to the County Council on the GPP14 RUTA proposal for legislative action on September 1, 2016. The proposed amendments were not formally introduced during the Council Planning Committee meeting for legislative action at this time. Therefore, no public hearing or action was scheduled on this specific proposal. Since the County can only take final action once per year to amend the Comprehensive Plan (which occurred concerning other matters before the council on October 12, 2016), no further action will occur this year on these amendments. PDS is very grateful for the oral and written testimony received on this important subject. If a revised proposal is added to a future County-Initiated Comprehensive Plan Amendment cycle, PDS will update this website as new information becomes available.

Get Involved

Submit Comments
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Related Links

Motion 15-226 (PDF)
MCC 30.41C

PDS Staff Contact

Alison Hodgkin, Senior Planner
(425) 388-3311, ext. 2975
Email Alison Hodgkin

Snohomish County
Planning and Development Services
3000 Rockefeller Ave, M/S 604
Everett, WA 98201