Find Out What You Can Do with a Property
Before you apply for a permit, the two most important things to know about the property you're planning to use: its zoning and which (if any) critical or environmental areas are mapped on it. After that, there are other important project considerations you'll want to be aware of. See list below.
Step 1 Look Up Permitting Jurisdiction & Zoning
- Go to the Property Information Sheet
- Enter the property address or parcel number to open the data sheet.
- Print the data sheet or write down what you find as you go. (You'll need zoning details later in this step.)
- Look up Jurisdiction
- Permitting Jurisdiction - COUNTY means this property is in county jurisdiction.
- If the property jurisdiction is not COUNTY, we don't issue permits for it.
- Check Zoning (two steps)
- Look for Jurisdiction of Influence (part of zoning despite the name).
- Most county-permitted properties show "Same as Permitting Jurisdiction" or "OLYUGA," or "TUMUGA" or "LACUGA."
- If there is any other UGA listed, use "Same as Permitting Jurisdiction."
- UGA stands for Urban Growth Area. Which is an area in unincorporated Thurston County.
- Next look for Zoning which can be letters, numbers or words or a combination of any of those (Example: RRR 1/5, Rural Residential/Resource).
- Look for Jurisdiction of Influence (part of zoning despite the name).
Step 2 See if Your Project is Allowed in the Property's Zone
- Identify your project type - What general project type do your plans fall under? The zoning code title lists allowable project types. Common project types are:
- Residential - Building/remodeling house, family member unit, garage, barn, shed, shop, septic, accessory dwelling unit, etc.
- Non-Residential or Commercial - Building/remodeling an office building, apartment complex, warehouse, etc.
- Subdividing Land - Subdividing, consolidating or adjusting your boundary line.
- Tree Cutting - Cutting down trees, logging, forestry or converting a forested area to another use. (LINK TO TREE PAGE),
- Special Uses - Cell tower, mining, family day care, mobile home park, concert, wedding venue, special event, home-based business, etc.
- Other - If you don't see your project type, keep going. The codes include uncommon project types not listed here.
- Check the Zoning Code - Go to the county zoning code title that matches the property's jurisdiction of influence.
- For Same as Permitting Jurisdiction - go to Thurston County Code Title 20
- Scroll through Title 20 to find the Zoning that's listed on your property's data sheet. Each Zoning has its own chapter.
- Then see if your project type (what you want to build or do) is listed as a Primary Use, a Special Use or Prohibited in your property's zone.
- If you didn't find your Zoning or project type, go to Chapter 20.54.065 and scroll down to check Table 1: Special Uses - Distribution in County Zoning Districts.
- For LACUGA go to Title 21
- Scroll through Title 21 find the zoning that matches Zoning on the property's data sheet. Each Zoning has its own chapter.
- If you don't find your Zoning or project type, check Special Uses in Chapter 21.66 to see if what you want to do is listed.
- For TUMUGA go Title 22
- Scroll through Title 22 to find the zoning that matches Zoning on the property's data sheet. Each Zoning has its own chapter.
- If you don't find your Zoning or project type, check Special Uses in Special Uses in Chapter 22.56 to see if what you want to do is listed.
- For OLYUGA - Title 23
- For residential projects, go to Chapter 23.04 and scroll down to Table 4.01 Permitted and Special Uses to find Zoning and allowed uses.
- For non-residential / commercial projects, go to Chapter 23.06 and scroll down to Table 6.01 Permitted and Conditional uses to find Commercial Districts and conditionally-allowed uses.
Step 3 Check for Critical Areas & Regulated Land & Waters (IMPORTANT FOR ALL PROJECTS)
- Critical Areas/Regulated Lands & Waters include: flood, wetlands, shorelines, habitat conservation plan, bluffs, trees/forested areas, critical areas ordinance.
- The best method: Go to County Maps and follow instructions for Property Critical & Environmental Areas Look Up to see if these areas are mapped on property.
- Another method: You can find some critical and environmental areas listed on a property's data sheet. It's easier to find in the list, but the lists are often incomplete.
- Look on the property information sheet for YES or Unknown next to wetlands, all flood-related listings, high groundwater, groundwater sensitive areas, all hazard listings, prairie soils, all Mazama pocket gopher info, Oregon vesper sparrow, Taylor's checkerspot butterfly, and Oregon spotted frog and Marine Riparian Review.
- More about Critical Areas & Regulated Lands
- List of regulated critical and environmental areas* include:
- Aquifer recharge areas (land that drains into a drinking water acquifer), flood (all flood & high ground water areas), habitat conservation plan species (Mazama pocket gopher, Oregon spotted frog, Oregon vesper sparrow, Taylor's checkerspot butterfly) prairie plants and habitat, shorelines (all lakes, rivers, streams & Puget sound), geological hazards (bluffs, steep slopes), wetlands, other special or protected water and land areas, and/or any combination of these. *The state legislature and federal government may add more to the list.
Step 4 Get Critical and/or Environmental Area Reports
If the county's map shows critical or environmental areas on the property, you may need experts to prepare environmental reports.
Expert reports detail the exact size and location of these areas so you can plan your project to avoid them.*
These reports must be submitted with your permit application and site plan. Reports depend upon the critical / environmental areas you found mapped on your property or adjacent properties, and may include the types or reports listed below:
- Wetland Delineation - if you find wetlands on or near your property.
- GeoTech reports - if your property has bluffs and steep slopes.
- Habitat Assessment - for development near shorelines, flood areas.
- Other types of reports - depending upon the property.
- Consider the county's Critical Areas Determination (CAD) application process as a first step. The CAD isn't a development permit, it's a process to help you identify where you can build to avoid impacts to critical areas and their buffers. Special reports may be requested through this process.
- *Expert report may not be needed IF you are able to avoid impacts to critical/environmental areas and buffers.
Step 5 Familiarize Yourself with the Project Considerations Below
Check Septic System & Wells or source of drinking water & sewage treatment
The first permits for many building projects are septic permits. The quality of the water in existing wells (or planned wells) must be tested, and the condition of the septic system must be determined. Any problems must be resolved before a project can be permitted. Much of the land in Thurston County drains into aquifers which are the source of drinking water for 90%+ of the people living and working in Thurston County. Septic rules are developed to protect public health.
- Link to details Septic, Sewer, Water & Well information & regulations.
- Understanding the code Generally, septic system must be the right size for the residences and structures being served by the system and in good repair. Typically, septic systems are sized based on the number of bedrooms they serve.
- If adding bedrooms, homes, or rental units to a property you must have a septic system large enough to accommodate all existing and new wastewater flows before other permits can be issued. It is also important to determine if the property can accommodate additional residences; this is done through looking at soils, property size, and drinking water source.
- New single family home or new construction If your project needs well and/or septic, county code requires you to obtain approval for these permits first.
- Septic permit forms need many details Permit application forms ask detailed questions about a property's source of drinking water and method of sewage treatment. Be prepared to do some research using the county's online look up (on the page linked above) or hire a licensed septic system designer.
- Water Saving Systems Thurston County allows for the use of composting and incinerating toilets approved by Washington State Department of Health. It is important to keep in mind that graywater is considered sewage in Washington State and must be addressed through the use of a permitted septic system regardless of the use of composting or incinerating toilets.
- New property purchase with existing septic system, the seller of the property will need a Time of Transfer Report (application form at link above) and septic system inspection and pumping by a certified pumper and completed within the previous 12 months. The septic system may need testing, repair or replacement if indicated by the inspection report.
- Be prepared You may need your septic system inspected, and if necessary pumped, within the previous three years prior to submitting a building application which requires Environmental Health review. A detailed site plan showing all septic system components, wells, water lines and structures is also required. If you have one, the septic system record drawing (or as built) may aid in locating these items for your site plan.
- Professional Guidance Thurston County does not allow homeowners to design or install their own septic systems, including placing tanks. It is recommended that you obtain the services of a certified septic system designer or installer to help guide you through the process and provide expert assistance to determine your specific needs and options.
- Department in charge of this Environmental Health division of Public Health & Social Services Department.
You May Need a Professionally-Designed Stormwater Drainage & Erosion Control Plan
- Check out the stormwater drainage & erosion control requirements.
- Understanding the code The county gets 60+inches of rain per year. Development alters the natural flow and filtration of rainwater runoff (called stormwater in county code). That's why most building projects need a professionally-prepared drainage plan and drawings showing how runoff will be directed, collected or filtered through the ground (usually storm ponds, pipes & drains).
- If building a new house or adding any buildings You must have a drainage and erosion plans that meets standards in the 2022 Drainage Design & Erosion Control (DDEC) Manual (PDF).
- Find checklists, standards information and other supporting forms on the 2022 DDEC supporting forms web page.
- Stormwater regulations apply at the construction site, too, and inspectors do on-site inspections during construction. See what inspectors look for & how to prepare.
- Department in charge of this the Development Review in collaboration with the Stormwater Utility of the Public Works Department
Look up & plan for a property's access to county roads
- Link to available details Grading, Road Access & Easements
- You need a permit to build a driveway and connect to an existing county road (called encroachment in county code).
- You also need a permit to relocate an existing driveway.
- Department in charge of this Development Review division of the Public Works department.
Check for Easements on the Property
- See if there’s already an easement on a property (This process is administered by Thurston County Auditor’s Office).
For commercial projects, include fire safety requirements in your plan
- Link to details Fire Information
- All new construction and interior remodels require carbon monoxide alarm & fire alarms for code compliance. (WAC 51-51-0315).
- The county fire marshal conducts yearly fire inspections of commercial buildings &rental properties to make sure they meet code.
- Permits required for burning yard waste, but those permits don't come from us. Check with Olympic Region Clean Air Agency to get a burn permit.
- Fire District - To see what fire district a property is located in, check the parcel info sheet (see Step 1 above).
Check property boundaries, tax records & tax incentives, liens & deeds
- Look up online Auditors Office Property Records, or contact the Auditor's Office.
- Look up your property tax online at Thurston County Tax Assessor.
- Property Tax Incentives for Conservation, programs managed in part by the Community Planning division of Community Planning & Economic Development Department.
Property addressing, past permits & other general information
- For new construction, addressing is usually part of the building permit process, but if you need an address assigned before then, or have another address-related need go to Property addressing, change or verification.
- You can learn a lot about a property by checking past permits. See if permits have been issued for a property in the past.
Step 6 Prepare Your Application Packet
Go to What to Do Before You Apply to find the next steps in the process.
WEBSITE FOR INFORMATION ONLY. The descriptions, maps, links, and information on this website are for informational purposes only. Every property and project is unique. Maps may not accurately represent current ground conditions at a property now or at the time of application. Maps, regulatory descriptions, information, explanations suggested steps, etc. don't meet legal, engineering or survey standards. Consult with your own experts before making decisions.