Residential Development Options

Choosing how to develop a property can be a difficult exercise. The regulatory framework is often very complex to navigate and does not provide a clear or best path forward to achieve one's goals. To assist prospective property developers seeking to pursue residential development, Snohomish County has published a Residential Development Options Matrix that synthesizes differing development approaches by zone.

How This Is Helpful

Snohomish County permits a ranging residential housing types in unincorporated areas. Development regulations differ based upon site zoning, proposed residential use, or development method. The Residential Development Options Matrix highlights residential development options by zone, and provides high-level development regulations that will likely be applicable. Each of these pieces of information can be critical in developing a concept for development potential. It can also be helpful in marketing a piece of property. The Residential Development Options Matrix was designed to assist property owners, developers, land use consultants, real estate brokers, and financial institutions.

How The Residential Development Options Matrix Works

The Residential Development Options Matrix is designed to provide side-by-side comparisons of options by zone. The matrix identifies ordinary density limits, minimum setbacks, maximum lot coverage, maximum height limits, ownership options, and special regulations for development. This can be helpful to prospective developers in deciding which option(s) may be best to proceed with for development. The matrix is broken into three general sections:

  • Urban Low Density Residential (ULDR) zones, which include the R-9,600, R-8,400, and R-7,200 zones;
  • Urban Medium Density Residential (UMDR) and Urban High Density Residential (UHDR) zones, which include the T, LDMR, and MR zones; and
  • Urban Commercial (UCOMM) and Urban Center (UCENTER) zones, which include the NB, CB, PCB, GC, and UC zones.

This format allows prospective developers to better understand the relationship of development types and uses across similar zoning types. The following is an excerpt of the matrix:

Residential Development Options Graphic Opens in new window

Using the R-7,200 zone, as an example, Snohomish County permits several residential uses and development options in the zone. These residential uses include single-family detached, single-family attached, duplexes, townhouses, and cottage housing. Several special development approaches are also authorized in the zone, such as Lot Size Averaging, Mixed Townhouse, and Planned Residential Developments, which may provide more advantageous development standards over traditional methods for residential development in Urban Low Density Residential zones like the R-7,200 zone. 

As another example, if a property has R-9,600 zoning and the prospective developer wants to do a cottage housing development, it may be advantageous to seek a rezone to R-7,200 to achieve a higher density, as indicated in the matrix, even though cottage housing is permitted in the R-9,600 zone. Both R-9,600 and R-7,200 zoning are considered to be implementing zones of the ULDR future land use designation. Under Snohomish County's comprehensive plan, a property with an ULDR future land use designation can usually be zoned R-7,200.

In short, all residential uses and development options have their pros and cons, depending upon the objectives of the prospective developer, and understanding the regulatory difference can help ensure that the prospective developer is able to develop his or her property in the best manner that he or she sees fit.

Additional Resources

This is one tool among many to be used in the course of developing a strategy or plan to develop a site for residential use. Examples of other useful resources include:

  • PDS Map Portal (interactive map with a variety of themes, such as zoning, future land use, flood hazard, critical areas, airport compatibility and road types);
  • Title 30 SCC (Snohomish County's development code); 
  • EDDS (Snohomish County's engineering standards); and
  • Comprehensive Plan (Snohomish County's future land use and transportation policies guide some decision-making on development proposals).