Wednesday, May 11, 2011

WA Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Fire District, Upholding Lone Council Member

Last Friday the Washington State Supreme Court issued a decision regarding an appeal filed by Fire District 21 in Whatcom County. The Court ruled that development projects should have been denied by the county because the Fire District had determined that it could not serve the projects and maintain the level of service (response times) they had determined A number of development projects were proposed within the Fire District service area and the fire district would not issue a service letter. The district claimed that they could not maintain an adequate level of service in the district if the development projects went forward.

The County approved the developments anyway stating that, "on a more likely than not basis, that the Fire District will be able to continue to provide an adequate level of fire protection and emergency response services to the district, even with significant new growth, based on the currently authorized funding mechanisms available to the Fire District and increased taxes and fees paid by the new growth."

The County approval of the development was granted despite the county's own code which states, "No subdivision, commercial development or conditional uses shall be approved without a written finding that: (1) All providers of water, sewage disposal, schools, and fire protection serving the development have issued a letter that adequate capacity exists or arrangements have been made to provide adequate services for development, and (2) No county facilities will be reduced below applicable levels of service as a result of the development."

Goal 12 of Washington State's Growth Management Act. "(12) Public facilities and services. Ensure that those public facilities and services necessary to support development shall be adequate to serve the development at the time the development is available for occupancy and use without decreasing current service levels below locally established minimum standards."

The Washington State Supreme Court ruling may impact the direction of growth in Washington State toward areas where efficient delivery of service is more readily achieved and to areas where developers are willing to cover the costs that the development will have on a service provider. There is plenty of case law that service providers can not be arbitrary and capricious in denial of service as foot noted in the Court decision. An interesting take on the ruling and possible consequences by Tada Lisielius of GordonDerr is HERE.

On a personal note I heard the initial appeal of one the County approvals in 2007. It is nice after standing alone against the Hearing Examiner, County Planning Department, County attorney and my fellow council members to have the Washington State Supreme Court see things the same way I saw them.

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