Joe Tovar



Joe Tovar, FAICP, is a Lecturer in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning & Policy, College of the Environment, at Western Washington University and an Affiliate Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Design & Planning, College of the Built Environment, at the University of Washington.  

Joe began his career in 1976 as a planner for the City of Kirkland.   In 1989, as Kirkland Planning Director and President of the Washington City Planning Directors Association, Joe participated in drafting the Growth Management Act (GMA).   From 1992 to 2004, he interpreted the GMA, Shoreline Management Act and State Environmental Policy Act in over 300 cases as a member of the Washington State Growth Management Hearings Board.  Between 2004 and 2012 he applied these state laws as a planning director for the cities of Covington, Shoreline, and Bainbridge Island. 

Between 2012 and 2017 Joe provided consulting services to public and private sector clients including amendments to comprehensive plans, subarea plans, development regulations, shoreline master programs, professional ethics training, and expert witness testimony.  

Between 2017 and 2019, Joe was a project manager at the William D. Ruckelshaus Center which was retained by the Washington State Legislature to undertake a statewide review of Washington’s statutory framework for planning.  The resulting report, A Road Map to Washington’s Future, identified systemic and transformative changes needed to state planning laws, policies, and institutions.  From 2020 to 2021, Joe was project manager at the University of Washington for Updating Washington’s Growth Policy Framework, a sequel to the Road Map effort.   These two statewide reports provided the foundation for further work preceding the 2022 Legislative Session which resulted in over a dozen GMA and SEPA reforms addressing housing, climate change, racial equity, and tribal inclusion in planning.  

From June 2022 to July 2023 Joe served as the Middle Housing Policy Lead at the Washington State Department of Commerce, providing technical assistance to cities, preparing a toolkit of objective design standards, and drafting portions of HB 1110, Washington’s middle housing legislation. 

Joe is a past president of the Washington Chapter of the American Planning Association and a member of the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners. 


MA, Urban Planning, University of Washington; BS, Environmental Planning and Management, University of California.