/Tag: Municipalities

Moratoria Handbook for Municipalities

Association of Washington Cities
Risk Management Services Agency


Carol A. Morris
Morris Law, P.C.
3304 Rosedale St. N.W., Suite 200
Gig Harbor, WA  98335
(253) 851-5090


The focus of this Handbook is to provide guidance on moratoria.  Information has been included on the purpose of moratoria, the difference between the various types of moratoria and how to adopt a moratorium.  Explanations have been provided of the purpose and importance of each step in the process, with tips on how to complete them.  Form ordinances are attached to guide moratoria adoption.

We hope you will find the format and content of this Handbook helpful in your work, whether you are a municipal attorney, a member of the legislative body for a municipality, planner or city clerk.  Feel free to contact the author, Carol Morris, at to ask questions or provide comments on this Handbook.

The Association of Washington Cities Risk Management Service Agency funded this Handbook.  Member cities may call Carol Morris on the toll-free Land Use Hotline at 1-877-284-9870.  The Land Use Hotline may be used for questions on moratoria, pre-litigation issues or other land use matters.


I.  DEFINITIONS:  What is a Moratorium?


A moratorium is an emergency measure adopted without notice to the public or public hearings, designed to preserve the status quo.  A moratorium suspends the right of property owners to submit development applications and obtain development approvals while the local legislative body considers, drafts and adopts land use comprehensive plans and/or development regulations (or amendments thereto), to respond to new or changing circumstances not addressed in current laws.


A “permit moratorium” is usually adopted pending adoption of  amendments to a comprehensive plan or development regulations.  Permit moratoria have the following purposes:


—  to prevent a potential rush for permits whenever a community decides to review and update its comprehensive plan or development regulations (there is a possibility that the new regulations could reduce the development level);


—  to bar the submission of applications during the moratorium period and thereby prevent an applicant’s ability to vest rights under the existing development regulations, so that development inconsistent with the new regulations is not approved.


A “public facility moratorium” or “utility moratorium” may be adopted on an emergency basis without notice to the public or public hearings, when a community faces a utility-related shortage (such as sewer and water).


What is Interim Zoning?  An ordinance that may be adopted on an emergency basis without notice to the public or public hearings, to adopt interim zoning regulations or change the land use designation or zoning classification of property, limiting the property to uses that will be compatible with a zoning proposal under consideration by the municipality.  In a case decided prior to the adoption of the Growth Management Act, the Washington courts defined “interim zoning: as follows:


Interim zoning describes a process whereby a governmental body in response to an emergency situation temporarily establishes an ordinance to classify or regulate uses of land pending either revision of the existing zoning code or adoption of a final, comprehensive zoning plan.

2017-01-12T22:43:41+00:00 April 25th, 2013|Land Use Law|