Grading Permit

See also: Grading CodeGrading Season ExtensionsStormwater Code

What Is It?

Grading is the process of excavating or placing soil on your property.

You may need a grading permit if your project includes any of these activities:

  • Excavating, removing, or adding soil on your property
  • Moving soil from one part of your property to another
  • Removing roots or stumps from steep slopes
  • Installing new pavement

If your grading project is part of a construction permit application, you do not need a separate grading permit.

For a complete list of work that needs a grading permit, and for possible exemptions, see the Grading Code. In general, you will need a grading permit if your project will include any of the following:

  • Change the existing grade (the ground level) by more than 4 feet vertically and
    • the combined volume of material excavated or added is more than 50 cubic yards, or
    • if the result is a permanent slope steeper than a ratio of 3 horizontal to 1 vertical, or
    • if the result is a temporary slope cut steeper than a ratio of 1 horizontal to 1 vertical.
  • Excavate, move, or add soil if the combined volume of material is more than 500 cubic yards.
  • Disturb land in an area that is 5,000 square feet or larger. Land disturbing activity is any action that results in movement of soil, change in soil cover (both vegetative or non-vegetative), or change in the existing topography (e.g. clearing a site of trees or vegetation, removing a hard surface (building, pavement, walkways, etc.), re-grading of soils, etc.).
  • Add new or replace a combined 750 square feet or more of a hard surface, including pavement.
  • Create a stockpile of soils, aggregates, etc. that is large enough to meet the criteria listed in one or more of the bullet points above.
  • Install a well for groundwater dewatering (e.g. well point dewatering for construction, wells for treatment of contaminated groundwater, etc.).
  • Change the existing grade by more than 3 feet vertically on private property adjacent to the street right-of-way (i.e. within a 1:1 slope up or down from the right-of-way / property line).
  • Modify the ground in-place (e.g. soil stabilization, etc.).

In addition to shoreline permitting requirements, you will need a grading permit for work in a shoreline district (the land within 200 feet of the ordinary high water mark of most lakes and bays and the Puget Sound) if:

  • You are grading any land covered by water
  • You are disturbing land within 100 feet of the ordinary high water mark
  • Your project has a combined volume of more than 25 cubic yards of excavation, filling, and other movement of earth within 100 and 200 feet of the ordinary high water mark

You will need a grading permit, and you may need an environmental review, for work in the following environmentally critical areas (ECAs) and buffers:

  • Riparian corridors, wetlands, wetland buffers, and shoreline buffers
  • Liquefaction-prone areas, abandoned landfills, seismic hazards areas, peat settlement-prone areas, and volcanic hazard areas, if you meet or exceed thresholds listed in SMC 22.170.060.A.1
  • Steep slope areas, landslide-prone areas, flood-prone areas, and fish and wildlife habitat conservation areas if the combined volume of excavation, filling, and other land disturbance is more than 25 cubic yards, or if grading reaches any threshold in subsection 22.170.060.A.1

You will need a grading permit in all other ECAs and buffers not mentioned above if:

  • The combined volume of excavation, filling, and other movement of earth material is more than 25 cubic yards
  • Any of the other standard thresholds for a grading permit are reached

Note: If there will be rockeries or retaining walls that are 4 feet tall or higher or if structural shoring will be used, a construction/building permit (new construction, addition/alteration, shoring & excavation) is required, and the grading permit will be an element of the construction permit. Also, any grading in a floodplain requires a floodplain development permit.

Whether you need a permit or not, you need to meet all code requirements such as restrictions on land disturbance in ECAs and their buffers.

How Much Does It Cost?

The fee for review a grading permit is based on the time it takes us to complete the review. Our review fee is based on the SDCI hourly rate. All fees are subject to an additional technology fee. See our Fee Subtitle for details.

How Long Does It Take?

How long it takes us to review your grading permit application depends on the Next Available Intake Appointment Times and the complexity of your project. See Step 3. Submit Plans below for more information on project screening and scheduling a construction permit intake date. Note: the Intake Express Lane option described in Step 3 often allows for intake of complete applications much earlier than scheduled.

Once the intake is approved, SDCI's goal is to complete the initial review for simple/medium complexity permits in 2-4 weeks and complex projects within 8-12 weeks. However, depending on SDCI workload, reviews may take longer. See the Frequently Asked Questions About SDCI Review Status and Target Due Dates that includes updates for the current initial review timelines. Factor in additional time for each additional correction review cycle.

Steps to Get Your Permit

Get your property information. Find property information to help you plan your project.

Determine restrictions to your project. Research the codes to determine requirements and limits for your project.

Determine if you need an environmental review. You might need an environmental (SEPA) review in addition to a grading permit. We need several months to do a SEPA review, which must be submitted before you apply for a grading permit.

Attend a coaching session. We offer 20 minutes of free video coaching through the Applicant Services Center to answer drainage, land use, geotechnical, or construction permit questions. If you need a longer coaching session, we offer one-hour sessions for a fee.

Start your application. Complete the Building & Land Use Pre-Application online using the Seattle Services Portal. You will need to upload a site plan and a complete legal description for your site.

Request a pre-application site visit. You need a pre-application site visit if you will disturb more than 750 square feet of land or disturb any land on a site with an environmentally critical area. Request a pre-application site visit online through your Seattle Services Portal. You'll receive an email once we have added the pre-application site visit (PASV) fees to your project. After you have paid the fee, we will perform the inspection. Our report will include information from the utilities about your specific site and proposal. Our report will also identify potential project stoppers.

Request a pre-submittal conference (optional). We recommend pre-submittal conferences for very complex projects, including buildings with unusual structural systems, substantial alterations, or work in environmentally critical areas or shorelines. One-hour pre-submittal conference fees vary based on the type of conference you need.

Apply for exemptions. You may need an exemption from code requirements if your project is located in an environmentally critical area or near the shoreline.

Prepare your plans. Plans should be to scale and easy to read.

Fill out and upload forms.

Coordinate with other agencies. You may need permits or approvals from other agencies. These are the most common agencies you may need to work with for your permit type:

Get your project screened. We screen your application to make sure it is ready to submit. Screening is available through your Seattle Services Portal. You may schedule an appointment without screening if you are a consistently prepared applicant with a rating of 80 percent or better.

Schedule an intake appointment. Schedule an electronic intake appointment through your Seattle Services Portal. You must upload all application documents by 7:00 a.m. on the day of your appointment. You do not need to be onsite during your intake appointment. However, you do need to be available for questions. We may call or email you on your appointment day for more information.

Tip: Submit your completed application early to be eligible for an earlier appointment in case of a cancellation. Once you submit your application, we'll add your project to The Intake Express Lane. This means your application will likely be taken in well ahead of your scheduled appointment. We can usually take in your application within 2-3 weeks after you upload your complete application.

Submit Your Permit Application. Submit electronic permit application materials through your Seattle Services Portal before 7:00 a.m. the day of your appointment. You do not need to come to SDCI for the intake appointment. If you submit all your application materials before your scheduled intake day, your application may be screened and processed earlier.

Pay fees. You will pay an initial fee for one hour of review. Fees are due on the day of your intake appointment and must be paid within 48 hours or your intake may be rejected. We will add other reviews (e.g. geotechnical review) depending on the scope of your project. All reviews will be at our hourly rate.

Make corrections and resubmit your plans. After your permit application, we review your plans. Once all of our reviews are done, you will receive an email telling you that corrected and/or additional documents can be uploaded into your portal. Your project may require multiple correction rounds before our reviews are complete

Pay final fees. We will notify you if you need to pay any final fees before we issue your permit.

Print your permit. We will notify you when we have issued your permit and the documents are available in your Seattle Services Portal. Print the permit and approved plan set and have it on site for our inspector.

Display your permit. Place your permit in a visible location on the project site.

Get related permits. You may need to get additional permits or approvals from other departments.

Renew your permit. Your permit is valid for 18 months after the issue date. If your project is taking longer than that, you need to apply for a renewal.

Request an inspection. See the construction inspections page for when to call us and how to schedule your inspection.

Get special inspections. If we assigned special inspections as part of your grading permit, some parts of your project will need to be inspected during construction. See the special inspections page for more details.

Close out Special Inspections for your project. See the special inspections page for information on how to submit a final letter to us for review.

Close your permit. Your permit information will be archived in our electronic document management system.

Construction and Inspections

Nathan Torgelson, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 34019, Seattle, WA, 98124-4019
Phone: (206) 684-8600
Phone Alt: Violation Complaint Line: (206) 615-0808
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SDCI issues land use, construction, and trade permits, conducts construction and housing-related inspections, ensures compliance with our codes, and regulates rental rules. SDCI is committed to an antiracist workplace and to addressing racism through our work in the community.