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Updated State Law Allows for Siting of Schools in Rural Areas

Publications - Client Alert | January 3, 2018


In 2017 the Washington State Legislature passed legislation addressing the Growth Management Act (the “GMA”) and school siting issues.

The Legislature first passed ESHB Bill 1017 to permit the siting of schools in rural areas and in portions of Pierce County. Governor Inslee, however, vetoed the portion of ESHB 1017 dealing with the siting of schools in rural areas.

The Legislature later adopted HB 2243, effective as of October 19, 2017, to allow for the extension of capital facilities and utilities to a school in a rural area as well. HB 2243 provides that the GMA does not prohibit a county planning fully under the GMA from authorizing the extension of public facilities and utilities to serve a school located in a rural area that serves students from a rural area and an urban area, so long as certain requirements are met. Those requirements are: 

  1. The school district adopts a policy addressing educational program requirements and school service area and facility needs; 
  2. The school district makes a finding that is concurred by the county legislative authority and any affected city that the district’s proposed site is suitable and any associated recreational facilities cannot be sited on an existing school site; 
  3. The county and affected cities agree to the extension of the facilities and utilities; 
  4. The extension of the public facilities or utilities beyond the urban growth area serve only the sited school and the costs are born by the district based upon a nexus of the school’s impacts; and 
  5. All other impacts are mitigated as required by the State Environmental Policy Act of 1971.

HB 2243 further requires a report from the Department of Commerce to the Governor and Legislature regarding the siting of schools outside of Urban Growth Areas by December 1, 2023.

Many counties in Washington are subject to the requirements of the GMA. The GMA requires jurisdictions to develop land use comprehensive plans and establish urban growth boundaries. Within these urban growth boundaries jurisdictions are required to encourage urban development. Outside these boundaries, jurisdictions can permit only rural development. The GMA generally discourages the extension of urban governmental services, including sewer and water, outside of urban growth areas unless needed to protect basic public health and safety and the environment and such services are financially supportable at rural densities. Prior to the adoption of HB 2243, this would, in part, prohibit the siting of schools outside of urban growth areas.

Spokane County is currently undertaking steps to implement the criteria in HB 2243 (i.e., to allow for the siting of schools outside of urban growth areas). Spokane County recently prepared a draft amendment to Table 618-1 of the Zoning Code to establish that nursery schools through junior high schools are “limited” uses provided the applicable criteria are met. High schools continue to be permitted through Spokane County’s conditional use permit process with the additional requirements of HB 2243 being incorporated into the code.

For more information regarding HB 2243, this update to the Spokane County Zoning Code and its effect, or similar updates in other counties, please contact Kutak Rock attorney Brian Kistler or Nathan Smith.