Pin It

Plugging Loopholes 

Democrats take aim at Washington’s developer-friendly vesting law

Washington state has a quirk that developers love, but land-use advocates hate: As soon as a developer’s predevelopment paperwork is in, their property is “vested.” No matter what happens to the zoning of the property afterward, that development is unaffected.

“Washington has one of the strongest and best vesting laws in the country,” says Michael Cathcart, government affairs director for the Spokane Home Builders Association.

In 2013, Spokane County became an object lesson in what that means for managing growth: Last year, Spokane County expanded its Urban Growth Area — the region where high-density development can be built — but a few months later, the Growth Management Hearings Board struck down the expansion, finding the county had run afoul of public participation requirements.

For vast quantities of land, the reversal hardly mattered. About 640 lots, across six different properties, had already vested. Ultimately, land-use advocates saw it as a clear way for developers to get around requirements of the Growth Management Act. “This is such a giant, gaping wound in the growth management act,” says the Center for Justice’s Rick Eichstaedt.

Asked about the loophole last year, County Commissioner Todd Mielke pushed back, arguing in the Inlander, “If you really don’t like the vesting process, change the law.” 

That’s exactly what Spokane Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli are trying to do. “This is at least my second time dealing with my frustration over what happens under current law,” Ormsby says. “This is not uncharted territory.”

They’ve introduced legislation to prevent vesting in new areas until 60 days have passed after the expansion of an Urban Growth Area. And if there’s a challenge to expansion before the Growth Management Hearings Board, properties wouldn’t be able to vest until the board gave the county a green light.

Simultaneously, from the west side of the state, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, has put forward another bill that would have an even more dramatic effect, allowing zoning to be changed even for vested properties if the Growth Management Hearings Board strikes down a UGA expansion entirely.

It would allow the state “to put the genie back in the bottle,” Fitzgibbon says.

Even if either bill gets out of committee, the opposition that sponsors face from developer groups will be fierce.

The entire point of vesting, Cathcart says, is to give property owners some assurance that it’s safe to make investments. He worries that new restrictions could cripple investors.

“It’s just going to be driving uncertainty. It will just hurt the property owner. Now suddenly, they’ll have to be left waiting for months or years or more to get their investment off the ground,” Cathcart says. “They’re always trying to make this out to be about big, bad developers… It’s not just the developers that are going to be hurt, it’s the individual property owners that are going to be hurt.”

Ormsby dismisses such criticisms, arguing his bill would, at most, delay development by eight months. He and his allies don’t have much time more to make such arguments: The cutoff for getting most non-budgetary bills through committee is this Friday. ♦

Tags: ,

  • Pin It

Speaking of Development

  • Lane Ends Ahead
  • Lane Ends Ahead

    Spokane wants to improve a mile-long section of Monroe — but that means taking away two lanes
    • Jul 7, 2016
  • Masters of 
Eminent Domain
  • Masters of Eminent Domain

    The city relies on a rarely used power to force a property sale — but was forcing the issue really necessary?
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • Too Late for Two-Way?
  • Too Late for Two-Way?

    Advocates for a two-way Main hold out hope, but city remains stuck on one-way course
    • May 19, 2016
  • More »

Latest in News

  • Token Democracy
  • Token Democracy

    Would letting Washington voters give taxpayer money to politicians reduce the power of interest groups — or just subsidize politicians?
    • Oct 20, 2016

    Breaking down some of the issues you'll get to vote on this year
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • Shea's World
  • Shea's World

    As Matt Shea seeks re-election, his presence may be felt more in other local races than in his own
    • Oct 20, 2016
  • More »


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon
National Geographic Live: Rhinos, Rickshaws, and Revolutions

National Geographic Live: Rhinos, Rickshaws, and Revolutions @ INB Performing Arts Center

Wed., Oct. 26, 7 p.m.

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Daniel Walters

Most Commented On

  • The Do-Over

    After failing to pass a bus service tax hike last year, Spokane Transit Authority has a plan to get you to vote for it again
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • Pants on Fire

    U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers can't see the forest for the trees when it comes to climate change
    • Oct 6, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

election 2016


green zone


trail mix

Readers also liked…

  • Manufacturing Fear
  • Manufacturing Fear

    Spokane's Republican sheriff says members of his own party are dangerously dividing people
    • Aug 12, 2015
  • Death, Lies* and Videotape
  • Death, Lies* and Videotape

    A Spokane case highlights an American dilemma: Who polices the police?
    • Mar 11, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation