About the Hearing Examiner

The Hearing Examiner serves as a quasi-judicial officer to hear, evaluate, and decide specific land use and development proposals.
  • Files are available for public review by appointment.
  • No legislative function - applies laws and ordinances passed by the County Council.
  • Public hearings are generally held weekly, as needed. Please call for current schedule and hearing location.

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 and development proposals. This guide outlines that system in order to foster public 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 a hearing on land use matters. The Hearing Examiner decides on zoning and shoreline conditional use permits and 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 and planned unit developments. The County Council remains the final decision-maker either after a recommendation by the Hearing Examiner or by deciding on appeals from the Hearing Examiner´s decision.

A key distinction to the user of the system is to notice that the Hearing Examiner has no authority in any matter that requires a legislative action. Zoning and comprehensive planning matters are processed by the Planning Commission.