Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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Granite Northwest sought to expand its mining operations in Yakima County, Washington. The Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation (Yakama) opposed the expansion, arguing it would disturb ancient burial grounds and a dedicated historical cemetery. Despite these objections, Yakima County issued a conditional use permit and a State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), ch. 43.21C RCW, mitigated determination of nonsignificance to Granite Northwest. Yakama challenged both in superior court. The court later stayed the SEPA challenge while Yakama exhausted its administrative appeal of the conditional use permit as required by the Yakima county code. In Yakama’s administrative appeal, the hearing officer modified the conditional use permit to require a separate permit from the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation but affirmed Yakima County’s issuance of the permit. Yakama appealed the hearing examiner’s decision to the county board of commissioners. On April 10, 2018, at a public meeting where Yakama representatives were present, the board passed a resolution affirming the hearing officer’s decision and denying Yakama’s appeal. Three days later, a county planner sent an e-mail and letter to Yakama with the resolution attached. The letter noted the county code required written notification of the decision and stated that the administrative appeal had been exhausted. On May 2, 2018, 22 days after the resolution was adopted and 19 days after the county planner’s letter, Yakama filed a new petition in superior court. Yakima County and Granite Northwest (collectively, Granite NW) moved to dismiss the second petition as untimely under RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) because the 21-day filing period began on the date the board of commissioners passed its resolution and Yakama’s petition was 1 day late. Granite NW also moved to dismiss the previously stayed petition, arguing the stay was conditional on Yakama timely filing its administrative appeal. Yakama responded that RCW 36.70C.040(4)(b) was inapplicable and instead RCW 36.70C.040(4)(a) governed the filing period, which began when the county planner transmitted the written resolution to Yakama. The superior court agreed with Yakama, finding Yakama’s land use petition was timely filed, and accordingly, did not dismiss Yakama’s earlier petition. The Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished decision, concluding the later petition was not timely and did not address the previously stayed petition. After review, the Washington Supreme Court concluded Yakama's petition was timely filed. The Court of Appeals was reversed. View "Confederated Tribes & Bands of the Yakama Nation v. Yakima County" on Justia Law

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More than 70 years ago, two railroad companies helped the United States Atomic Energy Commission build a track to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in return for the right to use the track without paying rent. After the nuclear reactors at Hanford were decommissioned, the United States transferred nearly 800 acres, including the track at issue, to the Port of Benton (Port), subject to existing agreements and potential reversion to the United States if certain conditions were not met. The Port continued to honor the agreements and operate the railroad. The Port’s decision not to charge rent was challenged by a taxpayer, Randolph Peterson, as an unconstitutional gift of public funds. This challenge was dismissed at summary judgment. After review of the trial court record, the Washington Supreme Court found no constitutional violation and affirmed dismissal. View "Peterson v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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This case concerned whether the city of Tacoma (City) could be held liable for damages for imposing an unlawful condition on a building permit. The Church of the Divine submitted an application to the City to build a parsonage on property it owned. A single-family residence had previously been located on the property, but it had been demolished in 2012. City staff reviewed the permit application and placed a number of conditions on it, including, at issue here, a requirement that the Church dedicate a 30-foot-wide strip of land for right-of-way improvements to a street abutting the property. While the existing street was generally 60 feet wide in other areas, it was 30 feet wide next to the Church's property. This lack of uniformity had existed for around 100 years. The Church challenged the permit conditions, and the City eventually removed most of them but kept the requirement for a dedication. The Church appealed the decision to the City's hearing examiner, and the hearing examiner granted summary judgment in favor of the City. The Church appealed under the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA), in which it challenged the hearing examiner's decision and also sought damages under RCW 64.40.020. In addressing the propriety of the dedication, the court confined its review to the administrative record that had been before the hearing examiner and acknowledged that, in that record, the stated purpose by the City for imposing the dedication requirement was to create a uniform street. The court held that this reason was insufficient to justify the requirement and reversed the hearing examiner, invalidating the condition. A trial court denied the Church’s request for damages and the Church appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Washington Supreme Court revered however, finding that the City's subjective belief that the dedication was lawful did not determine what it objectively should reasonably have known. The Court of Appeals erred in reasoning otherwise. The matter was remanded for a new trial. View "Church of the Divine Earth v. City of Tacoma" on Justia Law

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A recall petition was filed against the Mayor and three Cathlamet council members; charges stemmed from Cathlamet’s purchase of a parcel of property at 20 Butler street. The petition alleged a violation of the Washington Constitution as a gift of public funds to the seller of the Butler Street property, Bernadette Goodroe. One additional charge against one town counselor alleged violation of RCW 42.23.070(2), prohibiting municipal officials from giving or receiving gifts related to their official capacities. The Washington Supreme Court determined the charges in the recall petition was legally insufficient, because acquisition of real property is a fundamental government purpose and discretionary act that was not manifestly unreasonable under the circumstances of this case. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court. View "In re Recall of Burnham" on Justia Law

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In 2012 and 2013, petitioners submitted permit applications to the San Juan County Department of Community Development. The county code listed 19 items that a party must submit to complete an application, one of which is paying "[t]he applicable fee." Petitioners paid the applicable fees, and the permits were issued. On March 18, 2015, almost three years later, petitioners filed this lawsuit, seeking a partial refund of the fees they now characterized as "illegally excessive" in violation of RCW 82.02.020. They sought certification as a class action lawsuit for everyone who paid San Juan County for consideration of land use and building permits, modifications, or renewals during the preceding three years. Petitioners requested a declaratory judgment, payment to the putative class reaching back three years for any amount found to be an overcharge, and attorney fees. The trial court dismissed the suit, finding the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA) governed, and a failure to file suit within 21 days barred the action. Finding no reversible error, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Cmty. Treasures v. San Juan County" on Justia Law

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The Washington Supreme Court affirmed lower courts' decisions in four cases which all presented the same issue: whether Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority could condemn Seattle's electrical transmission line easements located in the city of Bellevue to extend the Transit's regional light rail system. The Supreme Court held that Sound Transit had the statutory authority to condemn the easement, and the condemnation met public use and necessity requirements. The Court remanded the cases back to the trial court, however, for consideration of the prior public use doctrine, and for a finding on whether the two public uses were compatible. View "Cent. Puget Sound Reg'l Transit Auth. v. WR-SRI 120th N. LLC" on Justia Law

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Between 1853 and 1995, the Port Gamble Bay facility in Kitsap County, Washington operated as a sawmill and forest products manufacturing facility by Pope & Talbot and its corporate predecessors. Close to four decades after Puget Mill Co., predecessor to Pope & Talbot, began operating the sawmill, the legislature authorized the disposal of certain occupied state-owned aquatic lands, including the tidal lands within Port Gamble Bay. The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued the first lease for Pope & Talbot's use of the Port Gamble Bay submerged lands in 1974. In 1985, Pope & Talbot transferred 71,363 acres of its timberlands, timber, land development, and resort businesses in the State of Washington to Pope Resources, LP, which in turn leased the mill area to Pope & Talbot. Pope & Talbot ceased mill operations in 1995. Pope sought to develop their Port Gamble holdings for a large, high-density community with a marina. However, the Port Gamble site was contaminated, in part from the operation of sawmill buildings to saw logs for lumber, operation of chip barge loading facilities and a log-transfer facility, particulate sawmill emissions from wood and wood waste burning, in-water log rafting and storage, and creosote treated pilings placed throughout the bay to facilitate storage and transport of logs and wood products. After entering into a consent decree with the Washington Department of Ecology in 2013 for remediation of portions of the site exposed to hazardous substances, Pope/OPG filed a complaint in 2014 seeking a declaration that DNR was liable for natural resources damages and remedial costs, and for contribution of costs. The Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of DNR in 2016. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that DNR was an "owner or operator" with potential liability under the Washington Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA). DNR appealed, and the Washington Supreme Court reversed, finding DNR was neither an "owner" nor an "operator" of the Port Gamble Bay facility for purposes of MTCA. View "Pope Res., LP v. Dep't of Nat. Res." on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a city council's restrictive zoning decision was judicially reviewable under chapter 36.70C RCW, the Land Use Petition Act (LUPA), where the ordinance targeted a single property with a sole owner and was not an amendment to the city's comprehensive plan. Because such a land use decision was a site-specific rezone and therefore reviewable under LUPA, the Court reversed and remanded to the Court of Appeals to proceed on the merits of the city's appeal of the superior court's decision and for other proceedings. View "Schnitzer W., LLC v. City of Puyallup" on Justia Law

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The University of Washington (UW) owned property in City of Seattle but contended the City’s “Landmark Preservation Ordinance” (LPO) could not apply to any of the University’s property. UW wanted to demolish a building on its Seattle campus that was nominatd for potential landmark designation pursuant to the LPO. The City disagreed that the ordinance did not apply. UW filed a declaratory judgment action asking for a judicial determination that the LPO did not apply to any of UW’s property as a matter of law. The Washington Supreme Court determined all of UW' s arguments either failed as a matter of law or could not be decided in the first instance by a state court of general jurisdiction. Therefore, the Court reversed the trial court and remanded for entry of summary judgment in favor of the City. View "Univ. of Wash. v. City of Seattle" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Chelan Basin Conservancy (Conservancy) sought the removal of six acres of fill material that respondent GBI Holding Co. added to its property in 1961 to keep the formerly dry property permanently above the artificially raised seasonal water fluctuations of Lake Chelan. At issue was whether the State consented to the fill's impairment of that right and, if so, whether such consent violated the public trust doctrine. After review, the Washington Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals correctly concluded that the legislature consented to the fill's impairment of navigable waters under RCW 90.58.270 (the Savings Clause), but the Court of Appeals prematurely concluded such consent did not violate the public trust doctrine. Because the trial court never reached the highly factual public trust issue, the Court reversed and remanded to the trial court to determine in the first instance whether RCW 90.58.270 violated the public trust doctrine. View "Chelan Basin Conservancy v. GBI Holding Co." on Justia Law