Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 19, 2008

Washington Supreme Court Upholds Redesignation of Agricultural Lands to Commercial Overturning Growth Management Board

The Washington Supreme Court ruled there was evidence to support a county’s redesignation of land zoned agricultural to urban commercial, and the regional growth management hearing board committed error in not considering the evidence. The current case is the latest chapter in a years-long struggle over the status of a 110-acre parcel of land located north of Arlington in Snohomish County, bordering the interchange of Interstate 5 and State Road 530. It is part of an area known as Island Crossing. The land was designated and zoned agricultural in 1978 and redesignated urban commercial in 1995. The superior court overturned that decision, finding it was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. The county then changed the designation back to agricultural.

                                    

Dwayne Lane, a Seattle-area auto dealer and the owner of 15 acres of land bordering the interstate, askedthe Growth Management Hearings Board to review the county’s decision. It upheld the county, and on appeal, the superior court affirmed. On further appeal, the court of appeals upheld the board’s ruling, finding the record contained substantial evidence supporting a conclusion that Island Crossing was capable of being used for agriculture. In 2003, the county council amended the county comprehensive plan to add 110.5 acres of land in Island Crossing to Arlington’s urban growth area, changed its designation to urban commercial and rezoned it general commercial. On appeal, the growth management board ruled the evidence did not support the county’s action. In its decision, the court observed, the board found the county’s redesignation of the land erred in determining it had no long-term commercial significance for agriculture production. The court disagreed, saying there was evidence in the record supporting the county’s determination and the board wrongly dismissed that evidence. The board therefore erred in not deferring to the county’s decision to redesignate the land. The board said the county relied primarily on anecdotal evidence from a former dairy farmer in the area, who testified she sold out because the crops that could be raised on the land did not generate enough revenue to cover the property taxes. It pointed to contradictory evidence from the county planning department, a soils report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the recommendation from the county’s agricultural advisory board as supporting a conclusion that the land was agricultural land of long-term commercial significance.

 

But, the court pointed out, Dwayne Lane hired a consulting firm to carry out an analysis similar to that performed by the planning department, which reached the opposite conclusion. Specifically, the consultant’s report pointed out the area is served by public utilities, and all but one of the parcels in the area are smaller than 20 acres and are being assessed by the county at tax rates that reflect “freeway influence.” That suggested the county believed the land had a higher and better use than agriculture. It noted the optimum size for agricultural parcels in that part of the county was 40 acres, with a 20-acre minimum for crop production. Relying on a 1998 state supreme court decision, City of Redmond v. Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board, 959 P.2d 1091, the board rejected this report on the ground it was a reflection of landowner intent. The board’s analysis was incorrect, the court said. Redmond holds only that a landowner cannot control whether his land is primarily devoted to agriculture by taking it out of production. It does not say the board may dismiss evidence supporting the county’s decision merely because it was obtained at the request of an interested party. Because the report supports the county’s conclusion that the land was not of long-term commercial significance to agricultural production the board must defer to the county and affirm its decision, the court concluded.

 

City of Arlington v. Central Puget Sound Growth Management Hearings Board, 2008 WL 4512849 (Wash.10/9/2008).

 

The opinion can be accessed at:

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=803951MAJ

The concurrence opinion can be accessed at:

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=803951Co1

The dissenting opinion can be accessed at:

http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.showOpinion&filename=803951Di1

 

Special thanks to James Lawlor, Esq. of the Land Use Legal Report for this summary.  For more information about this bimonthly newsletter, contact Jim at landlaw@verizon.net.


Responses

  1. The facts in this case are similar to an ongoing controversy involving the piecemeal rezoning of agricultural land to commercial in the South Valley of Bernalillo County, New Mexico, surrounding Albuquerque. The County seeks tax revenue from commercial land, and many residents of the Valley also want more retail opportunities. Other residents want to retain the cultural characteristics of this agricultural area, and have been involved in projects to increase the economic viability of agriculture.


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