Thurston County v. Futurewise: Immediate Comments

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thurston County had not updated its Comprehensive Plan in over a decade years. When the County expanded the the UGA by 200+ acres in 2004 despite Futurewise's on record comments that the local circumstances did not warrant the expansion (and in fact, a reduction was in order), Futurewise sued. Before the Western Board and Court of Appeals, Futurewise won on (1) section 130 arguments that the County failed to "review and, if necessary, revise" its Comp Plan and UGA, (2) failed to use a market factor to justify the over-size, (3) failed to protect agricultural lands, and (4) failed to appropriately designate rural lands, among other issues.

The arguments before the Supreme Court principally centered on whether the hearings boards had jurisdiction to review noncompliant UGAs under section 130's "review & revise" requirement. Thurston County argued the boards don't have jurisdiction because the section 280 only permits review of "acts" that are noncompliant, hence, only Thurston County's expansion of the UGA, not failure to reduce its UGA, would be subject to board review. Futurewise argued the boards do have jurisdiction because in Skagit County Land Surveyors (the first GMA case decided by the Supreme Court), explicitly held that hearings boards have jurisdiction to review both acts and failures to act.

Most members of the Court seemed unpersuaded by the County's arguments. If the Court were to rule otherwise, hundreds of decisions by growth boards could be overturned as they have relied on Skagit County Land Surveyors. Board review of both acts and failures to act is important to ensure that comprehensive plans remain compliant throughout time with the goals and requirements of the GMA. Petitions to growth boards are the only mechanism for enforcing the GMA goals and requirements. Washington does not have a statewide agency to approve local actions. Thus, if the Court were to rule against Futurewise, counties need only never adopt substantive changes to their comprehensive plans in order to obfiscate the GMA goals.


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