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Peter Schroeder Architects v. City of Bellevue

August 19, 1996

PETER SCHROEDER ARCHITECTS, AIA, A SOLE PROPRIETORSHIP, RESPONDENT,
v.
CITY OF BELLEVUE, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, APPELLANT.



Superior Court County: King. Superior Court Cause No: 94-2-17138-1 SEA. Date filed in Superior Court: May 12, 1995. Superior Court Judge Signing: Hon. Michael Hayden.

Written by: Hon. Walter E. Webster. Concurred by: Hon. Susan R. Agid; Hon. Mary Kay Becker.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Webster

WEBSTER, J. -- Under the Bellevue Land Use Code (BLUC), "minor structural elements" may intrude into a property's setback area. Peter Schroeder Architects developed plans for an addition to a residence, a portion of which intrudes into the property's setback area. At issue here is whether that portion of the addition is a minor structural element. The BLUC provides that bay windows are permissible minor structural elements. Because the intruding part of the addition falls within the common definition of "bay window," we agree with the trial court that it is a minor structural element. Accordingly we affirm.

FACTS

Peter Schroeder Architects prepared plans for a sun room addition to an existing Bellevue residence. The residence is on property zoned R-3.5, which requires a 25-foot rear-yard setback -- the distance from the house to the property line. BLUC § 20.20.010. The proposed sunroom would extend five feet into the setback and would be approximately 25 feet long, comprising about 27% of the back of the house. The entire rear wall would be composed of glass windows. Seating, approximately two feet wide, would run the length of the rear wall. The intruding part of the room would be cantilevered over the setback area, rather than on a foundation.

In response to Schroeder's request for a code interpretation, the Director of the Department of Community Development (DCD) determined that the proposed addition would not qualify as a "minor structural element" under the BLUC. The Bellevue hearing officer affirmed the Director's interpretation. Schroeder requested a writ of review from the superior court. The court reversed the hearing officer, concluding that the plans complied with the BLUC and that the code provision was not unconstitutionally vague.

Discussion

"Minor Structural Element"

As a question of law, we review the interpretation of an ordinance de novo under the error of law standard. See RCW 7.16.120(3); Hilltop Terrace Homeowner's Ass'n v. Island County, 126 Wash. 2d 22, 29, 891 P.2d 29 (1995). We give considerable deference to the construction of an ordinance by the agency charged with its enforcement, but do so only when the ordinance is ambiguous. Hoberg v. Bellevue, 76 Wash. App. 357, 360, 884 P.2d 1339 (1994).

Former BLUC § 20.20.025.C.3 allowed "minor structural elements," including bay windows, to intrude into the required setback:

Minor Structural Elements:

Subject to paragraph 20.20.025.C.3, minor structural elements including patios, platforms, eaves, trellises, open beams, fireplace chimneys, decks, porches, balconies, lanais, bay windows, greenhouse windows, and similar elements of a minor character may intrude into a required setback as follows:

1. Any portion of a minor structural element which equals or exceeds 30 inches above finished grade at its location may intrude into a required setback a distance no greater than 20% of the minimum dimension of that setback, or at least 18 inches, whichever is greater. *fn1 (emphasis added).

The code does not define "bay window." We give undefined terms their plain and ordinary meaning, which may be found in dictionary definitions. Cf. Flanigan v. Department of Labor & Indus., 123 Wash. 2d 418, 426, 869 P.2d 14 (1994). A bay window is "a window or series of windows forming a bay or recess in a room and projecting outward from the wall in a rectangular, polygonal, or curved form. . . ." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 189 (1986). After examining Schroeder's plans, we determine that the portion of the sunroom that extends into the setback falls squarely within the plain ...


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