GMHB Finds "De Facto" GMA Amendment in County's Planning Action for Point Wells Sewer Service

March 7, 2017

By Duncan Greene 

On January 25, 2017, the Growth Management Hearings Board (GMHB) issued a decision overturning a Snohomish County sewer plan amendment, related to the ongoing controversy surrounding a proposed mixed-use development in Point Wells, an unincorporated area of Snohomish County on the shoreline of Puget Sound immediately north of the boundary between King County and Snohomish County. 

In 2010, the owner of the Point Wells property, BSRE Point Wells, LLP (“BSRE”), proposed a mixed-use “Urban Center” development in Point Wells featuring more than 3,000 residential units and over 100,000 square feet of commercial and retail space. Since that time, Point Wells has been an area of contention among municipal entities in King County and Snohomish County and the subject of extensive litigation and rulings in court and administrative proceedings. The rulings include a 2004 Court of Appeals decision holding that both the City of Shoreline (in King County) and the Town of Woodway (in Snohomish County) may designate Point Wells as a “potential annexation area,” as well as a 2014 Washington Supreme Court decision holding that BSRE’s development rights “vested” in 2011, when BRRE submitted its permit applications. 

In its January 2017 decision, the GMHB held that Snohomish County violated the Growth Management Act (GMA) when it attempted to approve an amendment to a sewer plan designating Olympic View Water and Sewer District (“Olympic View”) as the sewer provider to Point Wells. The Board held that Snohomish County erred when it failed to process the sewer plan amendment as a GMA amendment, because it was a “de facto” amendment to the County’s Comprehensive Plan. The GMHB also held that, because the County’s existing Comprehensive Plan relied on Ronald Wastewater District (“Ronald”) as the provider of sewer service to Point Wells, it was inconsistent for the County to attempt to designate Olympic View as the sewer provider. The GMHB remanded the sewer plan amendment to the County for further compliance action consistent with the GMA.

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