A Washington statute, RCW 82.02.020, allows property owners to challenge local land use regulations if those regulations are the equivalent of a tax, fee, or charge, imposed on the development of land and if the fee is not reasonably necessary to remedy a direct impact of the development. For instance, if a property owner wishes to expand its small business resulting in more customers, cities or counties often require that business to pay transportation impact fees or make a road improvement to accommodate the expected additional traffic. If the fee or improvement is not necessary because the increase in customers is negligible or if the improvement or fee is excessive compared to the impact the expanded business will have on the transportation system, then the property owner can challenge the exaction as unlawful under RCW 82.02.020. According to its terms, RCW 82.020.020 cannot be used to challenge state regulations, only local regulations.
On August 18, 2011, the Washington Supreme Court in the case of Citizens for Rational Shoreline Planning v. Whatcom County limited the reach of RCW 82.02.020. Every city and county in Washington State must adopt shoreline master programs and regulations to protect the shorelines of the state. These local regulations limit development along shorelines and establish a significant permitting structure. Despite the fact that these are local regulations and vary county to county and city to city, a unanimous court ruled RCW 82.020.020 cannot be used to challenge them:
“While local jurisdictions play a role in tailoring [Shoreline Master Programs] to local conditions, the Shoreline Management Act dictates that the Department of Ecology retains control over the final contents and approval of SMPs. Therefore, SMP regulations are the product of state action and are not subject to RCW 82.02.020.”
Property owners can still challenge shoreline land use regulations and permit conditions under other authority, including the federal and state constitutions, but the loss of RCW 82.02.020 as an enforcement tool eliminates a more direct path to a remedy. Read more atCitizens for Rational Shoreline Planning.