Growth Management Hearings Board sends The Villages and Lawson Hills Black Diamond projects back to city | YarrowBay plans appeal

Map of Black Diamond showing The Villages and Lawson Hills sites. - Graphic courtesy YarrowBay Holdings
Map of Black Diamond showing The Villages and Lawson Hills sites.
— image credit: Graphic courtesy YarrowBay Holdings

A ruling by the Growth Management Hearings Board has one side popping corks and the other poring over legal documents.

The Central Puget Sound Region Growth Management Hearings Board ruled the city of Black Diamond did not comply with “its own adopted public participation procedures for GMA (Growth Management Act) amendments as set forth in the BDMC (Black Diamond Municipal Code)” regarding ordinances approving the YarrowBay master planned developments, The Villages and Lawson Hills.

The board sent the ordinances back to the city for compliance with the Growth Management Act.

David Bricklin, the attorney representing the petitioners, Toward Responsible Development, said during a phone interview Tuesday, “This is a huge victory for the citizens. It’s a vindication for all these citizens.”

Megan Nelson, director of legal affairs for YarrowBay, stated in a release, “YarrowBay intends to file an immediate appeal to the State Superior Court of the Growth Management Hearings Board’s erroneous decision.”

The petition was brought before the hearings board by the Black Diamond group, Toward Responsible Development, against the city and YarrowBay, a Kirkland developer, planning two master planned developments, The Villages and Lawson Hills.

The two developments would add about 6,050 residential dwelling units along with retail, office and light industrial.

The Villages and Lawson Hills were approved by the City Council Sept. 20, 2010 following open record public hearings before the city’s hearing examiner.

The council deliberated in a quasi-judicial closed record hearing before approving the applications for the developments.

One of the issues raised by the petitioners was they did not have open access to council members because of the quasi-judicial restrictions. The members were advised by legal staff to not discuss the issues concerning the applications outside the closed record hearing. A closed record hearing means there is generally no new testimony or evidence presented.

In the board document it stated, “Petitioners assert the City, by processing the proposals as a quasi-judicial permit application rather than a legislative amendment to its comprehensive plan or development regulations has used the incorrect public process.”

In a legislative process amending the city’s comprehensive plan, the citizens could have discussed the issues of the master planned development proposals with the council members.

The board document noted the petitioners stated the correct process should have been a public hearing before the city’s Planning Commission. The commission would then forward its recommendations to the council.

The board document stated, “Petitioners assert that because of the erroneous process the city followed, the City ‘established rules that greatly circumscribed the public’s ability to communicate directly to the City Council.’”

The board’s analysis noted the city did an “accomplished, exceptional effort to involve the public through their quasi-judicial process.”

However, the board concluded that a hearing before the Planning Commission to receive public comment and to make a recommendation to the council was missing. The board decided because of the missing steps, the master planned development approval ordinances must be remanded or sent back to the city “for compliance with the GMA.”

Bricklin said the ruling means the city used the “wrong process.” He also noted citizens should be allowed more than three to five minutes in a public hearing.

“You get to sit and talk and have a conversation with City Council members,” Bricklin said.

The board ruling gives the city 75 days to comply with a due date of April 29.

Nelson wrote in the release the process the city used to approve the MPDs was part of a 2009 ordinance.

“The GMHB’s decision effectively invalidates the MPD review process, and is therefore an impermissible collateral attack on the validity of the 2009 ordinances; and the Villages and Lawson Hills MPD Permit Approvals are not GMA legislative actions...”

Toward Responsible Development also filed a land use petition act or LUPA appeal against the developments in superior court.

Hearings Board Ruling

YarrowBay Appeal Decision Statement

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