Shoreline Master Program


What is the Shoreline Master Program?

Shoreline Master Programs are local land use policies and regulations that guide the use of Washington shorelines. SMPs apply to both public and private uses. They protect natural resources for future generations, provide for public access to the shorelines, and plan for water-dependent uses. SMPs implement the 1971 Washington State Shoreline Management Act. Kirkland's SMP applies to land within 200 feet of Lake Washington's ordinary high water mark and within wetlands connected to Juanita Bay and Yarrow Bay. 

Every local SMP is updated at regular intervals through either the Comprehensive or Periodic Update Process. Each update process follows the update rules established by the Washington State Department of Ecology.  The current SMP received final periodic update approval from Ecology in September 2020, which was an update of the Comprehensive 2010 SMP.

Juanita Bay image

How does the SMP affect existing uses and development?

SMP regulations are not retroactive. SMP regulations apply to new development and uses. Existing uses and developments legally established may be repaired, maintained and operated. The SMP applies to proposals for expansion or alteration of existing uses and structures. 

Structures and uses that were legally established in the past may become legally nonconforming due to new shoreline rules that are adopted over time. Current SMP regulations provide specific allowances and thresholds for these previously built structures and established uses to continue.

How do shoreline regulations apply to land use and development?

Shoreline regulations apply to any change in land use or development activity that occurs within the shoreline jurisdiction. Development regulated by the SMP includes:

  • New or expanded structures, such as houses, sheds and decks;
  • Land development and alteration, such as clearing, grading, dredging or filling; and
  • Other activities along the shorelines, including restoration (e.g. riparian planting, bank stabilization), trail construction, and public access.

Public Access Requirements

Public access is a preferred use per the Shoreline Management Act. Public access can include physical access (e.g., trail) and/or visual access (e.g., view corridors). Public access standards apply to new development, not existing development. Generally, new public access is only required for private uses of certain sizes (e.g., large subdivisions, multifamily projects, etc.) and for public uses. Public access requirements do not allow for trespass on private property.

What is No Net Loss?

The SMP Guidelines establish the standard of no net loss. No net loss means that over time, the Citywide existing condition of shoreline ecological functions should remain the same as when the SMP is implemented. Simply stated, the no net loss standard is designed to avoid or minimize impacts resulting from new shoreline development. The City must achieve this standard through both the SMP planning process and by appropriately regulating individual developments as they are proposed in the future. Any amendments to the SMP that may occur through the periodic update process would need to comply with the no net loss standard or future standards established by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Public Trust Doctrine

The Public Trust Doctrine is a legal principle derived from English Common Law. Under this doctrine, the waters of the state are a public resource owned by and available to all citizens equally for:
  • Purposes of navigation
  • Conducting commerce
  • Fishing
  • Recreation and similar uses
The Public Trust Doctrine protects public use of navigable water bodies (Lake Washington, Puget Sound, etc.), but does not allow the public to trespass over privately-owned uplands to access the tidelands.  More information: Washington Department of Ecology Public Trust Doctrine

The City of Kirkland Planning Division considers the public trust doctrine concepts in our Shoreline Master Program, comprehensive plan, and development regulations. The Public Trust Doctrine is common, not statutory law, meaning the extent of its applicability can only be determined by state court decisions. For an introduction to state case law see The Public Trust Doctrine and Coastal Zone Management in Washington State (October 1991).

View from lake with trees and mountain on horizon


Kirkland Shoreline Regulations - Highlights

  • Shoreline setback standards are tailored to various areas of the City based on existing construction and differences in parcel depth (KZC Section 83.180)
  • Options and alternatives provided in several of the regulations.  Examples are:
    • Alternative single-family pier design options if approved by permitting Federal and State agencies (KZC Section 83.180)
    • Demonstration of need not required for a bulkhead to protect against erosion for an existing home located 10 feet or closer to the lake (KZC Section 83.300)
    • Shoreline setbacks may be reduced if certain shoreline improvements are made (KZC Section 83.380)
    • Alternative native planting option (KZC Section 83.400)
  • Thresholds for major vs. minor repair of piers (KZC Section 83.270 - 83.290) and bulkheads (KZC Section 83.300)
  • A decision tree of options for shoreline stabilization measures based on building setback, bulkhead height, lake depth at bulkhead, nearshore slope, and upland slope (KZC Plate 43)
  • Projects exempt from the State Substantial Development Permit (SDP) must be submitted to the City for review of compliance with the SMP and issuance of an exemption form (KZC Section 141.40)
  • Replacement of hard shoreline stabilization with soft shoreline stabilization or natural shoreline is preferred and exempt from an SDP (KZC Section 141.40)

Benefits of and Ideas on Creating a Green Shoreline

Selecting Northwest Native Plants for Shorelines

View resources to aid learning about northwest native plants.

 Natural shoreline with gravel beach

Shoreline Policies

Shoreline Management Area (SMA) Designations Map(PDF, 5MB)
- Comprehensive Plan Chapter XVI - Goals & Policies

KZC Chapter 83 - Shoreline Management
KZC Chapter 141 - Shoreline Administration
KZC Chapter 180 (Various Informational Plates)

View of lake and trees at park

Shoreline Permits

Shoreline Exemptions

Proposals identified in WAC 173-27-040 are exempt from obtaining a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit (SDP). However, prior to any construction or activity, an applicant must submit a completed exemption application to the City to demonstrate that the proposal is exempt and complies with the City's shoreline regulations found in Kirkland Zoning Code (KZC) Chapter 83.

The City makes the decision on the exemption. Other agencies with jurisdiction, such as the Army Corps of Engineers or Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, may provide comments or conditions on the proposal, which will be incorporated in the final City decision. If approved, a copy of the exemption approval is sent to the State Department of Ecology.

For more information, download the Shoreline Exemption Checklist

Apply here 


A decision on an exemption can be appealed using the City's Process I appeal process in KZC Chapter 145.


Shoreline Public Process Permits (SDP, SCUP, Variance)

Shoreline Substantial Development Permit (SDP) - Information Checklist

The State Shoreline Management Act requires any proposal not exempt under WAC 173-27-040 to receive approval of a SDP. 

The City makes the decision on the SDP as described in Kirkland Zoning Code (KZC) Section 141.70.1 using the Process I review.

The applicant has the burden of proof to show that the proposal meets the following criteria:

Shoreline Conditional Use Permit (CUP) - Information Checklist
Certain proposals require a CUP based on the use and the shoreline environment.  See KZC Section 83.170 for those uses requiring a CUP. 

The City makes the decision on the CUP as described in KZC Section 141.70.2 using the Process IIA permit review.  The City's decision is sent to the State Department of Ecology for its review and approval/disapproval jurisdiction under WAC 173-27-200.

The applicant has the burden of proof to show that the proposal meets the following criteria:

Shoreline Variance Permit - Information Checklist
A proposal that does not meet the regulations in KZC Chapter 83 requires a Variance Permit.

The City makes the decision on the Variance as described in KZC Section 141.70.3 using the Process IIA permit review.  The City's decision is sent to the State Department of Ecology for its review and approval/disapproval jurisdiction under WAC 173-27-200.

The applicant has the burden of proof to show that the proposal meets the following criteria:

Apply for a SDP, SCUP, or Variance here 

Note: All three public process shoreline permits (SDP, SCUP, and Variance) require a Pre-submittal meeting prior to application. 

A decision on the SDP, CUP, and Variance may be appealed to the State Shoreline Hearings Board.  See KZC Section 141.70 for the timeline to appeal as set forth in RCW 90.58.180.