“TRANSPARENCY IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT”
With the stunning 7-2 Supreme Court decision for JZ Knight last week against the City of Yelm, one could not help but notice that The Arab Spring arrived here with an explanation point, “The Yelm Fall”. One citizen prevailed through persistence against Mayor Harding, Yelm’s City Council, Community Development Director Beck, developers and the local newspaper, who all used intimidation calling her “anti-development”.
Whatever your opinion of Knight and her Yelm-based School, there were many people who have no association with her yet sided with a citizen’s rights to protect their property from the encroachment of developers, who in their ignorance, “threw their bags” in with the city. One of the developers had plans to more-than-triple the size of Yelm with a proposal for a 5,000 home development.
The issue became very simple – the City of Yelm simply did not want to prove they had the water rights to supply water via their city’s water system at the time a Preliminary Plat for a development was submitted, rather wanting to prove water at the time of a building permit for an already submitted plat. The building permit could come years after the Preliminary Plat and if the city had not enough water rights at that time, there would be no building approval, yet the developers would have then spent thousands of dollars to Plat a development, then be unable to build.
Knight saw the potential harm to her property from 5 developments totaling 588 proposed homes, located a mere 1,300 feet away. Yet the harassment of Knight began in earnest:
– Mayor Haring described Knight as being “anti-development”
– The Thurston Highlands, LLC developers hired repeated helicopter overflights of Knight’s property to photograph what they perceived as Knight’s violations of her School’s operating permit. They filed numerous complaints with Thurston County, who sent staff out each time to investigate the School’s grounds. All complaints were investigated and were unfounded.
At the time, local environmental experts Ed Wiltsie (now deceased), a geologist and Bill Hashim, a more than 25 year veteran of state Environmental planning issues were rebuffed by the Yelm City Council on several occasions when they provided advice and comment to the Yelm City Council. And, the City Council adjourning regularly into closed-door Executive Sessions and away from the public so often that raised even more questions about their motives.
However, the WA. Supreme Court decision affirmed Knight’s contention:
– Page 19
“The importance of preliminary plat approval within the scheme of planning and approving new development demonstrates that the injury Knight alleges is immediate and specific. ‘A preliminary plat application is meant to give local governments and the public an approximate picture of how the final subdivision will look. It is to be expected that modifications will be made during the give and take of the approval process.’
– The Court went on to say, page 20:
“A local decision-making body cannot conditionally approve a preliminary plat and then disapprove a final plat application for a project that conforms to the conditions of the preliminary approval. Id. The failure to challenge environmental issues at the preliminary plat stage could result in decisions by the local land use authority that have a binding impact on interested parties without their consent or participation.”
“In this case, while the hearing examiner conditioned approval of Tahoma Terras preliminary plat on a showing of adequate provision of water at the final plat approval stage, the City Councils Resolution 481 did not contain such an explicit statement. Instead, Resolution 481 indicates that the City complied with RCW 58.17.110, removing any burden on the City to make a showing of adequate water supply at the final plat approval stage.”
– Finally, on page 21 –
“Knight was entitled to clarification of the City Councils decision and an opportunity to challenge the Citys evidence of water provisions before final plat approval, and that is exactly what the superior court provided when it stated that all requirements must be satisfied and confirmed in writing before final plat approval, when it provided Knight notice of any final plat approval proceedings, and when it remanded to the City Council for modification.13 Knight also satisfied RCW 36.70C.060(2)(b) because her interests were among those that the City Council was required to consider when it granted preliminary plat approval to Tahoma Terra.”
The Court also noted the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), which is the compilation of all permanent laws now in force.
“RCW 58.17.110(1) requires a local governmental body to inquire into the public use and interest proposed to be served by a new development and to determine [i]f appropriate provisions are made for . . .the public health, safety, and general welfare . . . [and] potable water supplies . . . .
“Determining whether there are adequate water sources to serve the Tahoma Terra development is certainly within the public interest the City Council must consider before approving the plat application.”
Reported in the Nisqually Valley News:
“Yelm Mayor Ron Harding said the decision is a moot point because it didnt make any new law in regards to water.
‘We will continue to operate the way weve been operating,’ he said.”
To say: “We will continue to operate the way weve been operating,” is ridiculous!
What an ignorant comment!
Who is Harding kidding?
The Court’s decision cited state law from which the city can no longer sidestep or dance around:
“RCW 58.17.110(1) requires a local governmental body to inquire into the public use and interest proposed to be served by a new development and to determine [i]f appropriate provisions are made for . . . [and] potable water supplies . . . .
“Determining whether there are adequate water sources to serve … development is certainly within the public interest the City Council must consider before approving the plat application.”
The City of Yelm has been put on notice that state law must be adhered & continuing “to operate the way weve been operating” quoting Mayor Harding, is no longer an option!
As Knight’s attorney Keith Moxon stated, “The Court not only agreed that Knight had the right to challenge the City of Yelm’s approval of these subdivisions, it agreed that the City failed to meet the water availability requirements of state law.”
Knight vs. Yelm WILL be a case quoted for years on water law in this state.
KUDOS TO KNIGHT!
were it not for Knight’s persistence and deep pockets with her will to continue this fight, we would not have this new state ruling upholding that municipalities must provide for the public’s interest. Many property rights issues fall by the wayside allowing governments to become too intrusive just because of the huge toll in legal expenses and intimidation for a citizen to move forward.
Obviously, others in the community agree, as reported on Knight’s website:
“Local praise in support of Knights Supreme Court win”