HIP Tool: Regulatory Streamlining

Unpredictability, delay and excessive process in project review and approval can drive up the cost of housing. Regulatory complexity or rigidity can also restrict a jurisdiction’s ability to attract certain types of desired development or may discourage developers from building in a community. To ensure that local regulations are supportive of adopted development and housing goals, jurisdictions should consider reviewing and streamlining their permitting processes and development regulations to eliminate unnecessary costs and barriers and facilitate development of affordable or innovative housing types.


The state of Washington’s Local Project Review law (RCW 36.70B) requires a predictable and timely review process by setting time limits on application review and permit decisions, providing public notices and consolidating hearings.

In addition to implementing permit procedures consistent with the state law, jurisdictions can also establish other streamlined permitting techniques such as:

  • Centralized counter services. Minimizes coordination time.
  • Pre-application conferences. Allows applicants to understand the rule upfront before submitting expensive permit applications.
  • Permit checklists. Helps the jurisdiction make timely determinations on the completeness of a submitted application.
  • Reducing the number of residential zoning districts. Allows the jurisdiction to simply development standards and reduce the potential for interpretations.
  • Reducing complicated administrative procedures. Minimizes the number of persons involved in reviews, the number of rounds of review, or allows more permits to be administrative rather than discretionary if standards are clear and specific.
  • Permit expediters. A “team” can be assembled to review permits of a certain type or certain location.
  • Fast tracking routine applications. For example, issue routine building permits over the counter or online.

Projects that trigger review by multiple divisions should have coordinated review process that allows a project to move efficiently through approval, avoiding duplicate work. As new policies aimed at increasing diverse and affordable housing are added to the building and zoning codes, bear in mind the administrative load that can add time to a project’s approval. When constructing incentive programs like density bonuses or increasing regulatory flexibility through flexible development regulations, make sure that additional review involved with these programs fits in with other approval processes. Jurisdictions may also use additional permit expediting as an incentive for affordable housing development through an incentive zoning program.

Alternative zoning codes suggested in this toolkit, including form-based codes and performance zoning, take longer to implement, but can provide means of streamlining regulations themselves. Traditional zoning codes may also be streamlined through allowing suitable uses, both affordable and diverse, to be permitted, which reduces the need for a property owner to obtain a conditional use permit or variance. This may be done through an overlay district or a global change to a zone’s permitted uses.

Tool Profile

Focus Areas

  • Urban Centers
  • Transit-Oriented Development
  • Expensive Housing Markets
  • Innovative Single Family Techniques

Project Types

  • Single Family
  • Multifamily
  • Ownership
  • Rental
  • Market Rate
  • Subsidized

Affordability Level

  • 80 to 120% AMI
  • Less than 80% AMI

Housing Goal

  • Affordability
  • Diversity