In 2007, Clark County expanded the urban growth areas of the Cities of Ridgefield and Camas, among other areas. Environmental groups challenged those expansions, arguing that the land still qualified as viable agricultural land. Under the Growth Management Act, agricultural land meeting statutory and regulatory definitions cannot be included in UGAs. The challengers first filed their appeal with the Growth Management Hearings Board.

In a preemptive move while the appeal was pending at the Growth Board, the cities annexed these lands into the cities. Despite the annexation, the Growth Board issued an order finding that the annexed lands should be removed from the UGAs. On further appeal to superior court, the parties stipulated that the annexation did have the effect of depriving the Growth Board of any authority to remove the lands from the UGAs. The result of this decision was to keep the annexed lands not only in the UGAs but in the cities.

Still, on further appeal, Division II of the Court of Appeals reversed and held that a county’s decision to include land in a UGA is not final until all appeals are exhausted; any annexation before that time is ineffective. Despite this ruling, the court of appeals did not expressly rule that the lands must come back out of the UGAs. Many land use attorneys around the state believe the court of appeals left the remedy unstated. In a fourth bite at the apple, and perhaps to clarify what the effect of annexing property is while an appeal is pending, the Washington Supreme Court just accepted review of the case and has framed the issue in this way:

Whether the Growth Management Hearings Board and courts lost jurisdiction to review Clark County’s decision to add certain lands to its urban growth area when those lands were annexed by cities within the county.

Briefing is underway, and the court will likely hold oral argument next year. The case is Clark County Wash., et al. (petitioners) v. Western Wash. Growth Mgmt. Hearings Board, et al.(respondents), No. 85989-2.