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Pritchett v. Picnic Point Homeowners Association

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

March 19, 2018

THADDEUS C. PRITCHETT, Respondent/Cross-Appellant,
PICNIC POINT HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, a Washington nonprofit corporation, Appellant/Cross-Respondent.

          DWYER, J.

         Thaddeus Pritchett sought to remodel his house and increase the height of his roof by seven feet, obstructing the view of Puget Sound from at least one neighboring house. After the Picnic Point Homeowners Association (the Association) denied his proposal, Pritchett sued. Concluding that the neighborhood's restrictive covenants could not be enforced as written, the trial court reversed the Association's decision and entered judgment in favor of Pritchett for $298, 784. Because the plain language of the covenants and the relevant extrinsic evidence supports the Association's enforcement decision, we reverse.


         The Picnic Point development, located in Snohomish County, is governed by Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) that set forth the standards for development and maintenance of property in the development. The intent of the community in adopting the CC&Rs is set forth in the document's Statement of Purpose:

In adopting these Covenants, the homeowners of Picnic Point seek to preserve their community as a panoramic and tranquil alternative to city living. The homeowners seek to create a neighborhood that is safe and hospitable for families and children, where the natural beauty of the common areas is enhanced and where the spectacular views of Puget Sound and the Park areas are maintained. The Picnic Point homeowners understand that the most essential ingredient to a good neighborhood is good neighbors. The legal requirements set forth in this Declaration are therefore not intended to replace good neighborliness as a community ethic, but rather set threshold standards to preserve the proprietary interests of the community as a whole.

         The CC&Rs established the Association, a nonprofit corporation governed by a Board of Directors (the Board). The CC&Rs also established the Picnic Point Design Committee (the Committee), which is responsible for ensuring that the construction or modification of any structure in the community complies with the requirements of the CC&Rs and the Picnic Point Design Rules. Accordingly, homeowners in Picnic Point who are seeking to make major improvements on their houses or landscape must first submit design plans to the Committee for approval. Upon compliance with the terms of the CC&Rs and the Design Rules, the Committee must approve the plans or notify the owner in writing that the plans are denied and the reasons for disapproval.

         In 1996, the CC&Rs were amended to incorporate Section 7 -View Protection. Section 7.1 incorporated View Control Plans, to "protect the existing Puget Sound or Park views" in Picnic Point. The View Control Plans are parcel-specific plans that established restrictions on the maximum height for structures built thereon.[1] Section 7.4 of the CC&Rs provides that no structures "may be constructed or modified on any Parcel to a height which would, (i) exceed the height limitations of the View Control Plan, or (ii) obstruct the Puget Sound or Park view of any other parcel."

         Thaddeus Pritchett purchased his house in the Picnic Point development in 1999. Pritchett's house is located roughly two blocks east of a bluff above Puget Sound. North of his house is a row of houses, behind which is a large, undeveloped area designated by the County as a native growth protection area. Southeast of Pritchett's house is an area known as the Park Place neighborhood, located on a ridge that provides a panoramic view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

         In 2008, Pritchett sought to commence an extensive remodel of his house. Pritchett hired an architect and moved to Bothell pending the completion of the remodel. Pritchett initially sought to expand his house southward but scrapped those plans after his neighbors to the east objected. Instead, Pritchett developed plans that, if completed, would increase the height of his roof by approximately seven feet. Pritchett consulted a topographical map and walked around the neighborhood to confirm that no neighboring views would be affected by the height increase.

         On May 1, 2009, Pritchett submitted his final design plans to the Committee. The Committee was chaired by James McArthur, an aerospace engineer who was capable of reading plans such as those submitted by Pritchett, but who had no experience with land use planning or real property covenants. Upon receipt of the remodel plans, McArthur e-mailed six homeowners, describing the project and seeking comments and concerns. A majority of the homeowners surveyed approved of the remodel. McArthur also personally canvassed houses in the area adjacent to Pritchett's house and determined that the remodel would not impair those homeowner's views.

         On May 27, 2009, McArthur e-mailed Brian Bookey, the president of the Association.[2] McArthur stated that he still had to interview two more homeowners but that, so far, he could see "no reason not to approve the remodel." Greg Oliver, the vice president of the Association, replied that the Pritchett remodel was an "easy call" as there were no covenant violations. Bookey replied that the remodel may be subject to maximum height restrictions set forth in the View Control Plan and must comply with Section 7.4 of the Declaration, which would be violated if the height of the roof "impacts another homeowners' view, " though he noted that "[apparently it won't impact any views unless you have failed to inquire with someone who might be impacted."

         The following day, McArthur wrote to Bookey to explain that Pritchett's house-like other houses in that particular area-already exceeded the View Control Plan's height restrictions. This suggested to McArthur that the height restrictions had been ignored when Pritchett's house was built. McArthur stated his belief that "as long as there is no view impact resulting from the remodel I would judge that the Design Committee has no recourse other than to approve the plans. So far we find no view infringement."

         Later that evening, Bookey e-mailed McArthur stating that the proposed remodel might obstruct the view from Bookey's own house. Bookey asked McArthur to wait until the next board meeting on June 15, 2009, before making any decisions about the Pritchett proposal. Bookey stated that "I can see the roof of one of the houses on that block from my deck. If it is Lot 55, then there is a view issue from multiple houses on my street if the roof is to be higher than it is now." Bookey's house was located in the Park Place neighborhood, one-quarter mile uphill from Pritchett's house.

         Around the same time, McArthur also learned that there was a potential view obstruction from the Phillips house, located near Pritchett's house. McArthur went to observe the potential impact, but it was too hazy outside to see Pritchett's house. McArthur suggested returning to the Phillips house on a clear day to observe the full impact of the remodel. This was never done. McArthur also noted that the view from the Phillips house was already obscured because of trees growing on several properties. McArthur and the Board members agreed that the trees should be trimmed or removed and that, once removed, the Pritchett remodel could not be allowed to block the view of Puget Sound from the Phillips house.

         On June 7, 2009, McArthur asked Pritchett if he would be willing to place stakes on the roof of his house to help determine if any houses in the upper parts of the development would be impacted by the remodel. Pritchett agreed. Three Committee members subsequently went to Bookey's house to inspect the view of Puget Sound and determine whether the remodel would result in a view obstruction. The group was not able to clearly see the stakes with the naked eye. After using a telescope, the group determined that the stakes were "clearly visible" and that the remodel would obstruct the view from Bookey's house.

         The Committee took photographs of the stakes using a telephoto lens. The Committee concluded that any increase in height on Pritchett's house would impact views and that any view obstruction was a violation of the CC&Rs. The Committee turned over its recommendation to the Board, which denied Pritchett's proposal. Having concluded that any height increase would result in a view obstruction in ...

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