By Tim Ramis
Yesterday, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously reversed a land use opinion from the Washington Court of Appeals Division II. Shareholder Jamie Howsley's work on this matter led to a favorable result for his clients and others in Washington.
In 2007, the Clark County Board of Commissioners adopted new urban growth areas for six of seven cities in the county with Howsley representing dozens of property owners in the process. Futurewise, a statewide public interest group, appealed to the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ("Growth Board") alleging some of the property inclusions were improper because they de-designated resource lands. Undeterred by the appeals, Howsley theorized that if certain lands could be annexed to a city prior to the Growth Board ruling on the case it could take jurisdiction away from the Growth Board since Comprehensive Plans are valid in Washington up until the point an order of invalidity is issued.
Many property owners applied this theory in Camas and Washougal with Howsley representing all but one property area. His clients also signed development agreements with these cities. They managed to get the properties annexed approximately one month before the Growth Board invalidated three of the areas. Howsley maintained that the Growth Board did not have jurisdiction, later obtaining an affirming ruling to this effect from the Clark County Superior Court.
Other properties and issues moved up to the Court of Appeals, but after the briefing had been submitted on other issues, the Court of Appeals sent letters to the cities of Ridgefield and Camas and others requesting a statement explaining their authority to annex. This was not sent to the annexed property owners. The Court of Appeals sought out this annexation issue sua sponte (of their own accord) determining that the Growth Board still had jurisdiction over the annexed properties.
Several petitions for review were filed and the Washington Supreme Court granted review of the case to determine whether the annexation issue was properly before the Court of Appeals. Seven of the nine justices ruled that the Court of Appeals overstepped appellate process by issuing the sua sponte decision, as nobody appealed the jurisdictional issue. In a concurring opinion, two of the justices held that since no challenges to the annexations had taken place it would be improper to do so in a Growth Management Act case.
So what does this mean? Over 1,000 acres of property are now protected in Camas and Ridgefield, including large acreage employment-based lands.
This result was reached through Jamie Howsley's tireless effort and perseverance. I offer my sincere congratulations. The decision handed down not only serves Jordan Ramis's clients, but will help spur important development in the region.