Woodinville v. SHARE/WHEEL, Ct. of Appeals Div. I Case No. 58296-8-I (July 16, 2007)*

Monday, July 16, 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 http://www.walaw.org. Ganey is a 2008 graduate of the University of Washington School of Law.


SHARE/WHEEL violated its 2004 contract with Woodinville by failing to apply for a tent city permit far enough in advance. Therefore the city properly blocked the 2006 effort to locate Tent City 4 in Woodinville. Excluding Tent City 4 did not violate Northshore United Church of Christ’s (“the church”) exercise of religious freedom.


A persistent theme runs through Judge Cox’s opinion, the theme of an underdeveloped trial record. Several issues in the case would have intellectually benefitted from further argument at the trial level. It is doubtful, though, that more facts would have changed the opinion.

The heart of the issue in this case is Tent City 4’s perpetually short/urgent timeline. SHARE/WHEEL and the church had promised Woodinville in 2004 that they would not locate a tent city in Woodinville without first applying for a permit in a timely fashion. When the organizations sought to return Tent City 4 to Woodinville in 2006, though, they applied for a permit fewer than thirty days in advance. The city normally requires between thirty and forty days to process a special use application. Tent cities are more complex and contentious than run-of-the-mill special use permits making every day of advance notice useful. The private agreement between the church, SHARE/WHEEL, and Woodinville guaranteed Woodinville the full length of planning time and when SHARE/WHEEL applied late, no other reason for blocking the tent city was necessary.

As a secondary argument, the church argued that Woodinville’s denial of the permit impermissibly burdened its exercise of religion. Caring for the poor is traditionally considered an exercise of religion and is therefore privileged. Sheltering the poor, though, is but one way to care for the poor and is not specially protected. This was the argument that would have most benefited from more facts. In order to win this argument, the church needed to show one of three things: greater protection for its religious exercise under the Washington state constitution than under the Federal constitution; or that the restriction was solely intended to restrain the church; or that the restriction effectively restrained only the church. SHARE/WHEEL did not thoroughly discuss the Washington constitution nor did it offer evidence of Woodinville’s intent. SHARE/WHEEL also failed to demonstrate that others had avoided Woodinville’s moratorium on special uses in residential zones. Since the city had treated SHARE/WHEEL and the church exactly as it treated all non-religious organizations, the claims to special religious privilege failed.

The opinion closes with a short discussion regarding the city’s attorney fees. Based upon the course of the case, both sides are responsible for their own fees.


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