This month marks the start of a 3 article series on barn and arena building in the Pacific Northwest. November's article:
The number one question I'm asked as an equestrian property specialist
"This property is great, but can I build a barn and/or riding arena on it?"
This seemingly simple question typically requires a very complicated answer, usually beginning with "It depends". Just because a property looks flat and usable for horses, doesn't mean that it is. If you are interested in a property, and the acreage seems suitable for horses, the first thing you need to do is take the parcel number (or "Tax ID") to the appropriate county permitting office. A trip to the county office can seem daunting if you've never done it before, but I assure you it is very easy and can actually be fascinating.
Both King and Snohomish Counties have a walk in, no appointment policy. Since it is first come first served, be prepared to spend a little time waiting for your turn. I've been seen as fast as 5 minutes and also have waited up to an hour. To be clear, this is not a visit your real estate agent can do for you. As the interested party and potential deed holder you have to be present and asking the questions yourself, though your agent can be there for moral support.
Bring the address and parcel number with you, as well as a list of questions. You simply tell the clerk that you have identified a property you are interested in purchasing, and want to see if it is ok to permit for a barn or arena. They will connect you to the appropriate county representative.
Certainly for many areas of King County and parts of Snohomish County, there are quite a few types of critical areas to take into consideration, including septic and well areas on properties. A critical area can be a wetland area, a creek, or a full -on salmon-bearing stream. It can be a migratory path for wildlife or just a boggy wetland inappropriate for building. Each critical area has a different rating, limiting construction or drainage options. If a critical or sensitive area analysis has never been done on the property the county will have less information on it than if one has been done in the past. Each critical area will have a different distance setback associated with it. A setback defines how far a possible buildable site must be from that critical area. Some critical areas have a small 60 foot setback or "buffer" others can be as large as 300 feet. For reference, on a 5 acre parcel 300 feet can impact almost the entire acreage. Many properties have at least some sort of topography that must be taken into consideration for building. If there are no critical areas on your property, you can breathe a sigh of relief as you have just crossed a huge hurdle. To confirm options for a property you like, just dive into the process. You can do this!
Next month's article: The County said ;'maybe' now what?