Land Use and Stretching the Law

June 18, 2008

Yesterday the Washington Court of Appeals published a case that might be of interest to some.  Milestone Homes v. City of Bonney Lake shows a developer’s creative effort to get around a density limitation and it shows the uncertain legal ground you stand on when you do do not break the law but arguably violate its spirit.

Here the City of Bonney Lake passed an ordinance that limited the number of homes that could be built in a development on a “per acre” basis.  The developer wanted to squeeze in as many houses as possible and was just a little bit short of having enough land for one more house.

The answer was to include some lots that were already developed.  These were of sufficient size to allow one more house on the developer’s land.  At least one of the neighboring home owners was apparently paid a large amount of money to go along with this.

There was nothing in the ordinance that prohibited this, but the City saw it as an improper way of trying to get around the ordinance and avoiding the limitations that the City was trying to impose.  The Superior Court disagreed, holding that since it wasn’t prohibited the developer could do this.

The Court of Appeals disagreed with the trial court, holding that this was impermissible and if condoned would frustrate the City’s purpose in passing land use laws and could lead to unwanted results.