• Development Dispatch: What Is The Washington Legislature Up To In 2010?
  • February 18, 2010 | Author: LeAnne Bremer
  • Law Firm: Miller Nash LLP - Vancouver Office
  • In what we hope is an ongoing series during this year's legislative session, we will highlight pending bills related to land use and environmental law and provide a recap at the end of the session on important legislation signed into law. All the following bills are currently in committee:

    Government's Ability to Condemn Property May Be Restricted. House Bill 2425 states that private property may be taken only for public use and that the taking of private property by any public entity for economic development does not constitute a public use. Specifically, if this bill passes, no public entity may condemn property for economic development even if it pays for it. "Economic development" is defined as any activity that is designed to increase tax revenue, the tax base, employment, or general economic health. There are exceptions in the bill, including one that allows condemnation for economic development if in fact the public entity possesses, occupies, and uses the property. This bill is likely in response to recent, highly criticized cases in which courts have ruled that government can in fact constitutionally condemn property under community revitalization and anti-blight laws even if the condemnation benefits private developers and even if nonblighted property is included. This bill seeks to limit the reach of those cases.

    The Economic Downturn Could Give Property Owners More Time to Subdivide Their Land. Senate Bill 6544 recognizes that preliminarily approved plats could expire because owners do not have the resources or market to finalize their subdivision plats and create salable lots. Sponsors of the bill believe that allowing these plats to expire would make it difficult for the state to meet its housing needs in the future, cause owners and staff to duplicate work already done, and further reduce the number of family-wage jobs in the land development and homebuilding industries. Under current law, owners have five years to finalize a plat after preliminary approval. Finalizing a plat requires a significant investment in installing roads and utilities and paying for other improvements necessary to serve the finished lots. SB 6544 would extend the period to seven years.

    The Legislature Wants to Make It Clear That the Shoreline Management Act Controls Over the Growth Management Act When It Comes to Critical Areas Located Near Shorelines. As written about in a previous Development Dispatch last year, we alerted our readers to the Kapo case in which the court of appeals ruled that the Shoreline Management Act (SMA), and not the Growth Management Act (GMA), regulates critical areas (e.g., wetlands and floodplains) within 200 feet of the shoreline of major water bodies such as the Columbia River and Lacamas Lake. The significance of this ruling is that the SMA would allow more development than the GMA in these critical areas. The Kapo court invited the Washington Supreme Court to weigh in on the debate. Perhaps as a preventive measure before the supreme court acts, the legislature is considering House Bill 2924.

    HB 2924 recognizes that the blending of GMA and SMA leads to significant confusion and litigation costing governments million of dollars annually. The legislation's intent is to separate overlapping obligations of these two acts to finally ensure that SMA, and not GMA, governs activities within the shorelines of the state even if these shorelines contain critical areas normally regulated under GMA.

    Watch this space soon for a summary of additional bills in the 2010 legislature.