Growth Management Act

“Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how.”

– Edward T. McMahon, Author and Sustainability Expert


Preserving the Growth Management Act is Critical

My name is Val Alexander, and I am a founding Board Member of Friends of Clark County.  I moved to Clark County in 1965 into an area that was remote at the time, with large lots. We owned 60 acres and no neighbors were close by. Soon, all of the large lots around us were subdivided and sold off into 5 acre lots. Many manufactured homes were placed on these lots, wells drilled and septic systems put in. It seemed like having a kid on a motorcycle was almost a requirement, so the peace and quiet was a thing of the past. With all this unplanned development comes resource imbalance, especially where water is involved.  My well at the north end of the property went dry. I tried several expensive measures to bring it back and nothing succeeded. I had a well at the south end of the property, so we had to pipe water all the way to the north end.

This was the land rush that preceded the approval of the Growth Management Act in Washington State in 1990. Counties, like ours, that were developing quickly were compelled to create a Comprehensive Plan for development, limiting the number of acres per lot.  At the time many 1 and 2 acre lots had already been formed. The purpose of the GMA was to ensure effective city and county planning for a better future that protects farmland, forest, natural resources and open spaces.


As I had lived through the problems that had arisen with unregulated growth, I started attending meetings with a group called Rural Clark County Preservation Association, a group of farmers who had become alarmed at the rapid expansion of rural lots. I could see that the problem was not only county wide, but state wide, and so in 1996, several of us decided to form Friends of Clark County to try to salvage some of the valuable farm land that was being divided up for housing in the rural areas. We partnered with 1000 Friends of Washington, now called Futurewise, and they helped us form our group, apply for 501 (c) 3  status, and work to convince the commissioners to preserve the remaining farmlands for agriculture and open spaces for habitat, forests and parks.

Clark County has to revise its plan every 10 years or more as needed, to accommodate the growth. To uphold the mandates of the Growth Management Act, Friends of Clark County has had to challenge the groups who have tried to push for irresponsible growth at every revision, requiring us to attend multiple hearings, testify, and eventually sue to force compliance with the GMA state law.  This is our primary work:  to defend the GMA.

In addition to protecting our rural lands from urban sprawl, Friends of Clark County advocates for livable cities, where development can be managed with adequate roads, water and sewage systems, schools, parks and other amenities that protect the quality of life for all citizens.

Planning Goals

GMA Planning Goals and How We Support Them

The Growth Management Act (GMA) is a series of state statutes first adopted in 1990.  These statutes require fast-growing cities and counties to develop a comprehensive plan to manage their population growth. It is primarily codified under Chapter 36.70A RCW, although it has been amended and added to in several other parts of the RCW.

Under RCW 36.70A.020, the GMA establishes a series of 13 goals that should act as the basis of all comprehensive plans. The legislature added the goals and policies of the Shoreline Management Act as the fourteenth GMA goal (RCW 36.70A.480). The shoreline goals may be found at RCW 90.58.020.

The following goals are adopted to guide the development and adoption of comprehensive plans and development regulations of those counties and cities that are required or choose to plan under RCW  36.70A.040. The following goals are not listed in order of priority and shall be used exclusively for the purpose of guiding the development of comprehensive plans and development regulations:

GMA Goal (1) Urban Growth. Encourage development in urban areas where adequate public facilities and services exist or can be provided in an efficient manner. Friends of Clark County appeals to councilors to only expand the urban growth boundaries when there is no more room for housing or business.

GMA Goal (2) Reduce Sprawl. Reduce the inappropriate conversion of undeveloped land into sprawling, low-density development. Friends of Clark County works hard to protect valuable farmland that borders the urban growth boundaries, so that Clark County residents can have fresh, local food.

GMA Goal (3) Transportation. Encourage efficient multimodal transportation systems that are based on regional priorities and coordinated with county and city comprehensive plans. Friends of Clark County supports affordable mass transit systems that help low income residents move about to work and shop.

GMA Goal (4) Housing. Encourage the availability of affordable housing to all economic segments of the population of this state, promote a variety of residential densities and housing types, and encourage preservation of existing housing stock. Friends of Clark County works to ensure that housing is available for all income groups. Low density rural housing is not affordable.

GMA Goal (5) Economic Development. Encourage economic development throughout the state that is consistent with adopted comprehensive plans, promote economic opportunity for all citizens of this state, especially for unemployed and for disadvantaged persons, promote the retention and expansion of existing businesses and recruitment of new businesses, recognize regional differences impacting economic development opportunities, and encourage growth in areas experiencing insufficient economic growth, all within the capacities of the state’s natural resources, public services, and public facilities. This is important to what we stress in hearings.  Unemployed, low income people cannot afford to look outside of urban growth areas for work, as affordable transportation does not exist there.

GMA Goal (6) Property Rights. Private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation having been made. The property rights of landowners shall be protected from arbitrary and discriminatory actions. Friends of Clark County recognizes the rights of property owners to protect their own properties, and does not advocate for taking of private property by anyone. Making huge profits from sales of private property is not a protected right, however.

GMA Goal (7) Permits. Applications for both state and local government permits should be processed in a timely and fair manner to ensure predictability. Friends of Clark County encourages Clark County Planning to issue permits for developments that help affordable housing in a timely manner.

GMA Goal (8) Natural Resource Industries. Maintain and enhance natural resource-based industries, including productive timber, agricultural, and fisheries industries. Encourage the conservation of productive forestlands and productive agricultural lands, and discourage incompatible uses.Some of Friends of Clark County Board Members are rural landowners who also use sustainable agriculture and forest production and work to enhance fish habitats.

(9) Open Space and Recreation. Retain open space, enhance recreational opportunities, conserve fish and wildlife habitat, increase access to natural resource lands and water, and develop parks and recreation facilities. Friends of Clark County Board Members support fish conservation, habitat protections, and work to ensure that parks are part of any housing development project.

GMA Goal (10) Environment. Protect the environment and enhance the state’s high quality of life, including air and water quality, and the availability of water. Friends of Clark County Board Members have testified repeatedly about the importance of protecting the water supply for existing rural landowners and farmers. The Hirst decision is a positive step in forcing elected officials to prove that there is water available for existing rural landowners before issuing permits for new homes in rural areas. This has held up the finalization of the state budget.  Several Board Members are on the boards of other groups who work hard to protect our air, water and wildlife habitats.

GMA Goal (11) Citizen Participation and Coordination. Encourage the involvement of citizens in the planning process and ensure coordination between communities and jurisdictions to reconcile conflicts. Friends of Clark County maintains a website and Facebook page that announces hearings that are planned for important land use decisions. Several Board Members attend hearings and urge others to join them.  We also provide information to the public about how the decisions will affect them.

GMA Goal (12) Public Facilities and Services. Ensure that those public facilities and services necessary to support development shall be adequate to serve the development at the time the development is available for occupancy and use without decreasing current service levels below locally established minimum standards. Friends of Clark County Board Members warn decision makers about possible conflicts with developments where the infrastructure is not adequate for the proposed developments.

GMA Goal (13) Historic Preservation. Identify and encourage the preservation of lands, sites, and structures, that have historical or archaeological significance. Friends of Clark County Board Members monitor developments that might destroy historical or archeological sites and call attention to those problems when they may have been otherwise overlooked by county officials.


Here are some helpful links to get more engaged with Growth Management Issues:

Department of Commerce administers the state Growth Management Act.

Department of Commerce: Growth Management Services – The go-to resource for guidebooks, grants, training, and other resources to help jurisdictions comply with GMA

Department of Commerce: A Short Course on Local Planning – Very helpful online resources and in-person training courses on most aspects of local planning in Washington, including a downloadable guidebook and a series of short videos.   – Sightline Institute is committed to making the Northwest a global model of sustainability, with strong communities, a green economy, and a healthy environment and promote smart policy ideas as well as monitor the region’s progress towards sustainability.

Here is a link to a comparison of growth management in Oregon and Washington