County commissioners consider changing ‘Legal Lot of Record’ status in Jefferson County | Guest Viewpoint

Lizanne Coker
Posted 10/3/22

This past Monday, the Board of County Commissioners reviewed the new code regarding “Legal Lots of Record” for Jefferson County that will affect more than 1,900 landowners. 

The …

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County commissioners consider changing ‘Legal Lot of Record’ status in Jefferson County | Guest Viewpoint


This past Monday, the Board of County Commissioners reviewed the new code regarding “Legal Lots of Record” for Jefferson County that will affect more than 1,900 landowners. 

The new code referring to both Lots of Record and Legal Lots of Record is as follows:

“Lot of record” means a lot or parcel of land that was created by a metes and bounds description or through platting or other means, and met all applicable zoning and subdivision requirements in effect at the time of lot creation. A lot of record is not necessarily developable or buildable but may be conveyed (SOLD) pursuant to chapter 58.17 RCW.

“Legal lot of record” means any lot that is determined to be a legal lot of record pursuant to chapter 18.12 JCC and is the same as “legal lot of record” referred to in WAC 246-272A-0320(5)(e)(i).

The confusion starts for most people who incorrectly believe that “Lot of Record” are “Legal Lot of Record” because they possess a parcel number, is recorded with Jefferson County, and that the owner of said lots can legally (convey) sell, donate or transfer them to another person.

However, owning a Lot of Record does not ensure that you can develop it (i.e., build a house or structure on it). Building permits are issued by the Department of Community Development  and all structures must be permitted for safety and health reasons. 

Which brings about the obvious question: How has the department been handling the legal review of Lots of Record before the moratorium which has now resulted in the code change? 

The answer is rather simple: The department has been reviewing them with the county to verify they were legally formed in accordance with the law at the time they were created. In other words, the determination process has been handled by the  office for several years.  

Why all this new process? Well, it turns out that in the moratorium it was suggested that many different county offices were still determining what was a Legal Lot of Record when it appears that the department was the office determining most, if not all, of the Legal Lot of Records in Jefferson County for the past 20 years.

Most illegal lots are created in one of the following ways:

• A lot or parcel is created solely by a tax lot segregation because of an assessor’s roll change or for the convenience of the assessor;

• A lot or parcel created by an intervening section or township line or right-of-way; 

• A lot or parcel created by an unrecorded subdivision; or 

• A parcel created by the foreclosure of a security interest.

I know several of you have been paying taxes on your lots for years and you assumed that they were Legal Lots of Record because Jefferson County recorded the purchase of your land for a fee. Sadly, that is not the case. The recording fee is just that, a paperwork fee, and under the new code that will still be the case. 

However, every application for a building permit will now require a Determination of Legal Standing prior to a site plan review which will be prior to the building permit submittal, which will start what is known as “vesting” rights.

So how does this determination process come to affect 1,900 landowners in Jefferson County?

The simple answer is the Department of Community Development  stated that 1,900 postcards went out to everyone they believed would be affected by the new Code. Given that many of these people have partners, we are talking about 3,000 individuals, or 10 percent of the population of Jefferson County.

These landowners own lots that were created legally prior to 1969. Under the new code, these lots may be considered “substandard lots” because they are smaller than the current zoning allows.

When this code passes, these landowners will have to combine all of their contiguous parcels into one lot if they own less land than zoning now allows for in that zone.

Here’s an example of how this change could impact these landowners:


Let’s say that Mr. Jones owns a lot that has six small parcels of 10,000 square feet each (together he owns 60,000 square feet of land). Let us further state that he legally built a home on two of the parcels 30 years ago and has maintained the septic and well on those two lots.

Fast forward to now, and Mr. Jones is 70 years old and wants to sell two lots to his son and two lots to his daughter so that they can build homes next door to him. (Current building codes allow for a septic to be placed on a lot of at least 12,000 square feet.)

Under the new code, this would not be allowed as the lots have to be combined into one lot. So, the only option for Mr. Jones is to combine all the lots into one and then add an ADU. However, adding an ADU will require a new septic to be installed for the house and ADU that only one child can live in. 

Result: Only one child can assist on-site with their parent.

Oddly enough, this new code also addresses inherited Lots of Records and requires them to also consolidate the parcels into a single owner. 

This means that if Mr. Jones passes away, his land will automatically be converted to one lot and then the brother and sister will have to share ownership or sell the land, but they can’t divide it and live as neighbors.

Neither of these solutions supports housing, care of seniors, or family land.

At a time when we as a nation are in a severe housing crisis, we might consider hitting the “pause button” on codes that create more work for the Department of Community Development, in effect restrict housing in Districts 2 and 3, which is exactly where all the affordable land is left in this county.

If you received a postcard from Jefferson County in the past four months, you probably need to contact the Department of Community Development and your county commissioner to better understand how this will impact your property and the property that you want to leave your children.

Full disclosure, I serve as the executive director for the Jefferson County Home Builder’s Association. I also facilitated the creation of the five-year plan for Emergency and Affordable Housing for Jefferson County and I served as a fundraiser for United Good Neighbors. 

So please believe me when I say that housing is a major factor in family stability and economic comfort, and we need to support it, rather than over-regulate it.

(Lizanne Coker is director of the Jefferson County Home Builders Association.)