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Noble Manor Co. v. Pierce County

filed: April 5, 1996.

NOBLE MANOR COMPANY, A WASHINGTON CORPORATION, APPELLANT,
v.
PIERCE COUNTY, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, RESPONDENT.



Superior Court of Pierce County. Superior Court Docket No. 93-2-04890-0. Date Filed In Superior Court: May 13, 1994. Superior Court Judge Signing: Thomas Felnagle.

Bridgewater, J., Morgan, J., Turner, J., concur

Author: Bridgewater

BRIDGEWATER, J. -- Noble Manor Company appeals a superior court order granting summary judgment for Pierce County. Noble Manor sued for damages resulting from the County's stop work order on construction of two duplexes in which Noble Manor claimed vested rights to develop. We hold that the submission of a completed short plat application vests the right to develop, not merely divide, the land under the regulations in effect at the time of the submission. We reverse.

Noble Manor submitted a completed short plat application to Pierce County to subdivide one lot into three. The application expressly stated that the developer proposed to build three multifamily residential units. At the time of the application, PCC ยง 18.10.311 provided that the minimum lot area for a duplex was 13,500 square feet. Thereafter, Planning and Land Services (PALS accepted one but refused to accept two other building permit applications pending approval of the short subdivision.

Before the short subdivision was approved, the County passed the University Place Interim Zoning Ordinance. The ordinance increased the minimum lot size for duplexes from 13,500 to 20,000 square feet.

Eleven months after Noble Manor submitted its completed short plat application, PALS approved the short plat for three lots. Thereafter, however, PALS refused to accept applications for the two remaining building permits

on the basis that the proposed construction would violate the interim zoning ordinance. Two weeks later, after PALS issued only one permit, a PALS' counter technician, unfamiliar with the history of the case, issued the other two building permits to Noble Manor, and Noble Manor commenced construction. PALS subsequently "red-tagged" the errant building permits, stopping construction.

A hearing examiner reversed PALS, concluding that Noble Manor's development rights in the three duplexes vested before passage of the interim zoning ordinance. Noble Manor completed its projects and sued the County, claiming delay damages for the four months that Noble Manor was prohibited from constructing the two duplexes. The superior court granted summary judgment to the County, concluding that the Legislature, by adopting RCW 19.27.095 and RCW 58.17.033, intended that an application for land division under RCW 58.17.033 limited vesting to rights to divide, not develop, the land.

This court reviews the order of summary judgment de novo, performing the same inquiry as the trial court. Simpson Tacoma Kraft Co. v. Department of Ecology, 119 Wash. 2d 640, 646, 835 P.2d 1030 (1992). Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." CR 56(c).

First, we explain the common law doctrine of vested rights. Prior to 1987, the vested rights doctrine applied only to building permits. Washington's common law doctrine of vested rights entitled developers to have a land development proposal processed under the regulations in effect at the time a complete building permit application was submitted, regardless of subsequent changes in zoning or other land use regulations. Erickson & Assocs., Inc. v. McLerran, 123 Wash. 2d 864, 868, 872 P.2d 1090 (1994). The doctrine was defined as follows:

[A] builder's right to develop in accordance ...


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