Local News

Lawsuits filed against GMA board, King County

lawsuits filed by Jeff Switzer
The Coalition for Public Trust and Friends of the Law, two grassroots organizations fighting the two urban planned developments (UPDs) on Novelty Hill, jointly filed a lawsuit against King County on Jan. 9.
   The action was precipitated by the Metropolitan King County Council's approval of Blakely Ridge in December.
   The lawsuit concerns issues of appearance of fairness, the zoning reclassification of the Blakely Ridge site, the alleged invalid one-acre alternative in the Blakely Ridge Final EIS, and the "loophole" provision in the Growth Management Act.
   "The Coalition has contended since the Aug. 28 public hearing before the council that councilmembers have allowed selective access and violated the appearance of fairness," said Steve O'Donnell, president of the Coalition for Public Trust (CPT).
   "We had hoped that the council would adhere to the laws of the state and that we would not have to take the County to court, but CPT is committed to holding elected officials accountable to their constituents and oath of office," O'Donnell said.
   "Thanks to tremendous public support, we have raised substantial funds to win these lawsuits, and the fundraising continues."

FOTL sues GMA Hearing Board
   Friends of the Law (FOTL) filed a lawsuit Jan. 2 against the Growth Management Hearings Board arguing that the board should have issued a notice of invalidity, and that the "island" urban growth area (UGA) is illegal, given the large and excessive capacity for growth in the rest of the unincorporated UGA.
   FOTL argues that if the board had issued a notice of invalidity, the County Council could not have approved Blakely Ridge.
   "We have great confidence that the legal issues in these suits are very solid and factual," said Joseph Elfelt, president of Friends of the Law.
   "In the lawsuit against the GMA Board, if we win on the notice of invalidity issue, the court will void Blakely's approval; and if we win on the 'island' UGA issue, the UPDs stay away because the county cannot reapprove them as fully-contained communities," Elfelt said.
   "As for the lawsuit against the county, we feel that we have a very strong case," Elfelt added. "We hope that Snohomish County Superior Court will provide us with a level playing field and give us a fair and reasoned decision."
   In the suit against the county, CPT maintains that one or more councilmembers did not disclose the "substance" or "content" of their ex parte communications--discussions with proponents or opponents during the quasi-judicial process, where the council acts as 13 judges on land-use issues--nor did the council allow the opposite side a chance to rebut. Charges of bias and pre-judgement are also included in the suit.
   CPT claims the council passed the ordinance deleting the phasing policy while the hearing examiner was considering whether to recommend a zoning reclassification to delete the zoning condition which also called for phasing.
   CPT also maintains that the council had made up its mind to approve the zoning change before receiving the examiner's report and before the quasi-judicial period and the examiner's recommendation.
   Also alleged in the suit is that the county did not comply with the criteria to approve a zoning reclassification: The change is in the public's interest or the conditions had changed since January 1995. CPT and FOTL continue to maintain that the 1-acre alternative in the EIS is not vested.
   The final issue in the suit concerns the GMA "loophole," through which the county's comprehensive plan remains valid during the remand period, a provision CPT is challenging as unconstitutional. CPT says the "loophole" meets the judicial test of an "unreasonable law" and potentially violates the separation of powers.