- King County Assessor’s office. This provides information about the assessed value, sale history, and the age and square footage of any buildings. The assessed value is often lower than the asking price, but it provides some idea. At the bottom of the screen, you can sometimes see if there’s been an appeal of the assessed value, whether it was granted, and why. The sale history may be revealing as well – if the property has changed hands multiple times but no one has built on it, find out why. It may be that prior owners have decided it is too costly or impractical, based on site conditions.
- King County Recorder’s Office. This allows you to search for documents that have been recorded to the title. Pay particular attention to any documents that list King County as the grantee. These may reveal easements, notice of critical areas (wetlands, streams, steep slopes), or past code enforcement cases.
- Department of Permitting and Environmental Review. Click on the “Permit Status” link on the right side. Create a new (free) account if you’re a first-time user. From here, search by parcel number, and learn if there are any previous permit applications on the property of interest or surrounding properties. If you find anything of interest, contact King County to learn details.
- WDFW Salmonscape. Many streams that are used by fish, at least seasonally, don’t look particularly robust, especially during the summer and early fall, but will have large, undevelopable buffers. This website shows many (but not all) of the streams that are known or assumed to be used by fish.
- King County iMap. There are many useful layers to explore. Look elevation contours and Environmentally Sensitive Areas in particular. Be aware that only a small fraction (30%?) of wetlands show up on iMap.
- Web Soil Survey. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has mapped the soil types for all of King County. Many common soil types, such as the Alderwood, Tokul, or Kitsap series, don’t reveal much about whether a site is wetland or not, but soil types with the word, “muck” in their name, are likely to be wetland.
- Talk to a drainfield designer. If the site is not on sewer, but site conditions are unsuitable for onsite septic, the site could be unbuildable.
- Understand the King County Zoning Code, particularly if your plans include something other than a single-family home. If you need to clear a lot of property for livestock, or build a second house or riding arena, or wish to conduct a home business, be sure you understand whether your intended use is allowed.
- Most importantly, have someone inspect the site. There is no better way to understand the potential limitations on a parcel.
Purchasing undeveloped land can be very stressful. How can you be sure that you’ll be able to do what you want? The maze of regulations is confusing. Here’s a guide to research you can do to help you make a good decision.
If your property is in unincorporated King County, in certain instances, a Critical Areas Designation (CAD) is mandatory. This post explains what a CAD is and whether you need one.
What is a CAD?
The Critical Areas Designation process is used to determine what critical areas are present on a parcel, and the regulatory implications of those critical areas. The process is mandatory on all sites that will need a new on-site septic system or well. It’s optional in other cases.
One of the benefits of the CAD is that the decisions made during that process are vested for five years. This protects you from changes to code (and buffer widths), and potential staff errors. You can proceed in designing your site with certainty about constraints.
Why would I get a CAD if I don’t have to?
Situations when you might opt to do a CAD, although it’s not mandatory:
The application form can be found here.
It is currently at least 8-weeks for King County to complete a CAD, so plan ahead.
What do I need in order to submit for a CAD?
All you need is a parcel number and a check, but it can potentially make the process smoother if you have a letter from a consultant describing conditions on the parcel. This is particularly true if there are wetlands or streams onsite.
I'm excited to start a new venture. I've done wetland-related consulting for most of my adult life -- at various consulting firms, as a government employee, and as a sole proprietor. This all started with a love of plants, and a desire to protect the environment.
Over the years, my focus has broadened, and my perspective has changed. I went to college with someone who only used rice paper umbrellas and wore only cotton shoes, because rice and cotton were less harmful than synthetics. Rice paper, as you might imagine, isn't the best substance to protect someone from the deluge, but he slogged around with this soggy thing over his head as a badge of his commitment to the earth. I don't think it has to be that way.
In my consulting work, I hope to help you focus on what's right about land-use regulation and work through the bureaucratic maze in an effective way. No rice paper umbrellas, but maybe I can work with you to help minimize harm, and move through the process quickly.
Land use and land use regulation sounds dry and boring at first, but when you think about it, it's really about where and how we live. What's could possibly be more interesting?