About the Hearing Examiner

User's Guide to the Hearing Examiner System


The Whatcom County Council uses the Hearing Examiner system to help the council hear, evaluate, and decide on land use issues, disputes, and development proposals. This guide outlines that system in order to foster public understanding and participation.

The Hearing Examiner system started in federal agencies, was first adopted by local government in 1965 (a county in the State of Maryland), was first used in the State of Washington in 1969 by King County, and was launched in Whatcom County in 1978. The system has spread to become common nationally and is widely used in Washington and Oregon.

The Hearing Examiner System

The Whatcom County Council delegates to the Hearing Examiner the task of taking evidence at hearings on land use matters. The Hearing Examiner makes decisions regarding zoning, shoreline conditional use permits, variances, shoreline substantial development permits, preliminary plats, appeals from county determinations of whether a project requires an environmental impact statement, and appeals of county administrative determinations involving the various land use regulatory codes and policies of the county, including the Shoreline Management Program.

The Hearing Examiner recommends action to the County Council on major development permits, development agreements, and planned unit developments. The County Council is the final decision-maker after a recommendation by the Hearing Examiner on these matters.

The Hearing Examiner has no authority in any matter that requires a legislative action. Zoning changes and comprehensive planning matters are processed by the Planning Commission.

Hearings are public, and you may attend other hearings in advance of your own. A combination of such advance attendance and a review of this guide and the Business Rules can make your participation at your own hearing more effective.