BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Dec. 15, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- In a landmark 7-2 decision, the Washington Supreme Court confirmed that JZ Knight had standing to oppose five large residential subdivisions in Yelm. The Supreme Court held that Knight had established that Yelm's erroneous land use decisions were likely to prejudice her senior water rights.
Knight said, "I am elated to know that the Supreme Court saw the potential harm to property owners who have legal rights to the aquifer that would serve these proposed developments. This decision sends a clear message to municipalities who make land use decisions without due consideration of the consequences to people who will be adversely impacted, even when those people own property outside of their jurisdiction."
Knight's attorney, Keith Moxon, said, "I am very pleased that the Court affirmed what JZ Knight has been saying since 2007 about the City's failure to show water availability for proposed subdivisions. The Court not only agreed that Knight had the right to challenge the City of Yelm's approval of these subdivisions, it agreed that the City failed to meet the water availability requirements of state law."
The Court cited evidence presented by Knight's consultants and the Department of Ecology that Yelm has been exceeding its water rights since 2001 and described the City's evidence of water supply for these subdivisions as "conjectural."
"It's a good day for citizens of the State of Washington when courts uphold the rights of private property owners to challenge unlawful land use decisions that endanger precious water resources," said Moxon.
In 2007, the City of Yelm granted preliminary plat approval to five developers to clear land and put in infrastructure to pave the way for five subdivisions with up to 586 houses, which would have increased Yelm's water connections by 25 percent.
Knight appealed the City Council's approval of the subdivisions to Thurston County Superior Court in 2008. Superior Court Judge Chris Wickham affirmed Knight's legal standing to challenge the City's land use decision and ruled that the City's subdivisions approval were based on "an erroneous interpretation of the law" regarding water availability. The City and one developer appealed to the Court of Appeals, which overturned Knight's win in Superior Court and, in an unusual move, awarded attorney fees and costs to the City and developers.
Knight petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case, which was granted. Oral argument was presented in May of this year.
Protecting existing owners
Throughout the years, Knight has consistently stated that she is not opposed to development. Knight said her concern was about "the City of Yelm's attempt to approve five proposed new developments without adequate proof of a sufficient water supply."
While Yelm and the developers have not been happy about Knight's challenges to these subdivision approvals, the state Department of Ecology has supported Knight's efforts. In 2008, Ecology concluded that the city had been overcommitting its water allocations since 2001. The department argued that mere promises to obtain water in the future before building were not acceptable under state law, citing a previous Supreme Court decision that obligations to determine the legal availability of water in addition to the physical availability of water is nothing new when making land use decisions.
"In rural areas, well water is all we have. Most folks could not afford to drill deeper if new developments nearby caused a lowering of the water table," Knight said.
SOURCE Levine Communications Office