Carpenter v. City of Snohomish, 2007 WL 1742161 (Wash. W.D. 2007)*

Saturday, June 23, 2007

* This post is published here under the Creative Commons License. The post was authored by Keith Ganey and originally published to his blog at Ganey is a 2008 graduate of the University of Washington School of Law.


Last week, Judge Coughenour closed the federal case brought against the City of Snohomish by the owners of the BBQ Shack.  Located in Snohomish’s downtown historic district, the BBQ Shack is a new restaurant featuring simple food.

Under the historic district rules, the art and architecture of the area are meant to evoke a feeling of the 1880-1930. Nevertheless, the owners had a friend paint murals on the BBQ Shack without receiving design approval from the city. The BBQ Shack’s murals feature “several dancing pigs, one pig on a grill, a hot air balloon, and, on the other side of the building, a classic car.” Some unpleasantness followed. The BBQ Shack was forced to cover its murals for months before the city acquiesced and agreed to drop its objections.

The case is fairly straightforward, but I found the following of note:

(1) The BBQ Shack was suing for lost profits due to the delay in unveiling their murals and opening their business. While such a claim can be powerful and is appropriately lodge in federal court, it rests on the delay being illegal. Since the BBQ Shack eventually received design approval, then it had to show either the design ordinance itself was illegal or that the approval took longer than allowed. Both are fairly uphill claims.

(2) The City of Snohomish supplemented its design ordinance with photographs in addition to textual descriptions. Many design regulations have been struck down for vagueness since they often amount to little more than a formal pronouncement that a committee will know a bad design when presented with one. By including photographs of both acceptable and unacceptable designs, the City was able to capture more of that gut feeling for judicial review. Smart move.



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