Washington Legal Roundup: Supreme Court
Gold Star Resorts, Inc. v. FuturewiseDespite the name, this case has nothing to do with resorts, gold, or stars. Rather, this case represents another chapter in a longstanding challenge to Whatcom County's comprehensive plan. Counties planning under the Growth Management Act (GMA) must revisit and update their comprehensive plans every seven years. When the time for update comes, the revised plan must confirm not only to the original GMA, but any and all amendments made thereto in the intervening years.
Whatcom County failed to properly conform its comprehensive plan revisions to a specific GMA amendment dealing with rural development, and so that portion of its comprehensive plan was struck down by the Court. The GMA allows for something called a "LAMIRD," which stands for a limited area of more intense rural development. LAMIRDS are pre-existing areas of development, such as a rural crossroad, or an industrial cluster, or an existing rural neighborhood. The LAMIRD provisions accept the reality that these developments dot the landscape, but instructs counties to plan for their containment within existing "logical boundaries." Where Whatcom County went astray was in its failure to
consider the statutory LAMIRD criteria when defining its designations for more intensely developed rural areas and . . . attempt to analyze the logical outer boundaries of the areas under RCW 36.70A.070(5)(d).
So, Whatcom County must revise it's comprehensive plan to conform to the LAMIRD provisions in the GMA.
Moreover, the Court applied it's recent holding in Thurston County v. Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, 164 Wn.2d 329, 190 P.3d 38 (2008) barring "bright-line" density rules to reverse the court of appeals and remand back to board for further consideration. In brief, a Growth Management Hearings Board is no longer allowed to judge a county's comprehensive plans rural development component by a bright-line density computation. Here, the Board applied a bright-line of one dwelling unit per five acres to invalidate Whatcom County's rural plan portion. The standard now is whether the densities placed in the plan were clearly erroneous under the GMA. Because no determination was made under that standard, the case must be remanded to the board.