Seattle, WA Planning and Zoning

Seattle, WA Planning and Zoning

Planning and Zoning – Seattle, WA

Major Urban Agriculture Legislation

Effective Sept. 23, 2010, the Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn signed an urban farm and community garden ordinance that promotes local and regional food sustainability and security through improved access to locally grown food. The urban agriculture legislation, titled Ordinance 123378, removes many Land Use Codes that had previously been barriers to urban agriculture. The laws specifically address the following issues:

Farm stand sign for United People’s Farm, a regional “farm incubator” at Red Barn Ranch in Seattle

United People’s Farm, a regional “farm incubator” at Red Barn Ranch in Seattle | Flickr: e pants (creative commons licensed)

  1. A new definition for “urban farm,” which allows homeowners to grow and sell food from their backyard.
  2. A new definition for “community garden,” which is now a permitted use in all zones, with some limitations in industrial zones.
  3. Rooftop greenhouses can have a 15 foot exception to height limits if the greenhouse is dedicated to food production (applies to MF/C/I/SM/Downtown zones).
  4. An increase in the number of chickens allowed per lot from three to eight, with additional chickens allowed for large lots associated with community gardens and urban farms.
  5. ban on new roosters; existing roosters are subject to regulation through the noise ordinance.

For more information about the bill and ordinances, see:

Key Resources
Selected Codes

The above list is not exhaustive; it is a compilation of codes most relevant to urban agriculture projects in various forms and in various zones. For more information or for a particular topic area not covered in these codes, search the Seattle Department of Planning & Development’s Zoning Codes here and Seattle Zoning Maps here. Be sure to reference the Urban Agriculture CAM (also listed under Key Resources above), and the text of Seattle’s Urban Agriculture Code Ordinance 123378.

Definition of Key Terms
  • “Accessory structure” means a structure that is incidental to the principal structure.

    "Garden In Progress" | Seattle, WA | Flickr: anarchitect

    “Garden In Progress” | Seattle, WA | Flickr: anarchitect (creative commons licensed)

  • “Agricultural use” means any of the following:
  • “Animal husbandry” means a use in which animals are reared or kept in order to sell the animals or their products, such as meat, fur or eggs, but does not include pet daycare centers or animal shelters and kennels. Examples of animal husbandry uses are poultry farms and rabbitries.
  • “Aquaculture” means a use in which food fish, shellfish or other marine foods, aquatic plants, or aquatic animals are cultured or grown in fresh or salt waters in order to sell them or the products they produce. Examples are fish farms and shellfish beds.
  • “Community garden” means a use in which land managed by a public or nonprofit organization, or a group of individuals, is used to grow plants and harvest food or ornamental crops from them for donation or for use by those cultivating the land and their households. Examples include P-Patch community gardens administered by the Department of Neighborhoods.
  • “Horticulture” means a use, other than an urban farm, in which plants are grown for the sale of them or their products or for use in any business, and in which other customarily incidental products may be sold. Examples include nurseries with greenhouses and garden stores.
  • “Urban farm” means a use in which plants are grown for sale of the plants or their products, and in which the plants or their products are sold at the lot where they are grown or off site, or both, and in which no other items are sold. Examples may include flower and vegetable raising, orchards and vineyards.
  • “Agricultural use” does not include landscaping or gardening that is incidental to a residential use or business if plants or their products are not sold.
  • “Amenity area” means space that provides opportunity for active or passive recreational activity for residents of a development or structure, including landscaped open spaces, decks and balconies, roof gardens, plazas, courtyards, play areas, and sport courts.
    • “Amenity area, common” means amenity area that is available for use by all occupants of a residential use.
    • “Amenity area, private” means amenity area that is intended to be used only by the occupants of one dwelling unit.
  • “Landscape section” means a section of the right-of-way of a freeway, expressway, parkway or scenic route, at least one (1) side of which is improved by the planting, for other than the sole purpose of soil erosion control, of ornamental trees, shrubs, lawn or other vegetation, or at least one (1) side of which is endowed by nature with native trees and shrubs that are reasonably maintained, and which has been so designated by this Code.
  • “Landscaping” means live planting materials, including but not limited to, trees, shrubs, vegetables, fruits, grass, vines, ground cover or other growing horticultural material. Landscaping may also include features intended to enhance a landscaped area, including water features, pathways or materials such as wood chips, stone, permeable paving or decorative rock.
  • “Use, accessory” means a use that is incidental to a principal use.
  • “Use, conditional” means a use or other feature of development that may be permitted when authorized by the Director of the Department of Planning and Development (“administrative conditional use”), or by the Council (“Council conditional use”), pursuant to specified criteria.
  • “Use, nonconforming” means a use of land or a structure that was lawful when established and that does not now conform to the use regulations of the zone in which it is located, or that has otherwise been established as nonconforming according to section 23.42.102.
  • “Use, principal” means a use that is not incidental to another use.

Source: Seattle Municipal Code Chapter 23.84A Definitions

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Acknowledgements of Contribution:
Yassi Eskandari

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