Active Legal Appeals

Futurewise engages with counties across the state to improve comprehensive plans and shoreline master programs. When plans don't meet the requirements of the GMA, Futurewise may appeal to bring them into alignment. In a typical year, we work on 15-20 legal appeals across the state. Check out these highlights of our current legal work.

Grays Harbor County

Grays Harbor County residents and fish and wildlife habitats will be more severely affected by sea level rise than any other Washington county. Grays Harbor has large areas of estuarine and terrestrial habitat that are vulnerable to sea level rise. Marshes and wetlands will migrate inland as sea level rises. However, if the SMP regulations are not updated to allow the vegetation to migrate landward in feasible locations, wetlands and shoreline vegetation will decline harming fish and wildlife. It will also deprive marine shorelines of vegetation that protects property from erosion.

The official shorelines advisory committee for the SMP update agreed that the impacts of sea level rise are a serious concern to the residents of the county. Sea level rise was addressed 14 times in the draft the committee approved. However, the only mention of sea level rise in the SMP approved by the county and Ecology is to note that the public raised the issue. Futurewise and the Friends of Grays Harbor first appealed Ecology’s approval of the SMP update to the Shorelines Hearings Board in 2020. We have seen this case work its way through the courts, and now we are taking the case to the State Supreme Court.

For more information, check out our #TimTalk or read the amicus curie brief submitted by the Quinault Indian Nation on the case.

King County

In 2019, King County adopted a new ordinance to regulate wineries, breweries and distilleries in the Sammamish Valley. The ordinance was drafted to address increased concerns from residents and farmers in rural King County regarding the illegal operation of wine or beer production facilities and tasting rooms on properties zoned for agricultural and rural uses and to legalize some of the tasting rooms. (More information in Wonkabout Washington) However, Futurewise believed the ordinance as adopted was insufficient in protecting working farms and water resources.

For the past 3 years, Futurewise has been advocating, along with our partner, Friends of Sammamish Valley (FoSV), to protect small farms, including a number of immigrant owned and BIPOC owned farms, in the Sammamish Valley from speculation and development. We won our appeal before the Growth Management Hearings board, arguing that the wineries ordinance violated the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA). However, this win was overturned at the Court of Appeals. Now we, along with our partners, FoSV, are bringing petitions for review to the State Supreme Court. Our petition focused on SEPA violations and the Friends of the Sammamish Valley (FoSV) petition focused on GMA violations. The main issue is whether or not the GMA requires adequate protection for agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance in the uses allowed on agricultural lands. (Read our petition for review and FoSV’s petition for review)

Snohomish County

In May 2022, Futurewise appealed an ordinance adopted by Snohomish County that would have doubled the capacity for development in rural areas in the county, contributing to sprawl, increased greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, and overdrawing limited water resources by legalizing detached ADUs in rural areas.

Our primary concerns with the ordinance were about overdrawing limited water resources, and increasing development in areas that are
not served by transit and which will contribute to longer commutes, more
traffic, and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

In June 2023, the Growth Management Hearings Board ruled in our favor! Read our blog post for more information about the case.

Franklin County

In Franklin County, we are currently at odds with the county on the issue of whether or not a county can de-designate agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance based on a staff interpretation that the land was never designated agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance. (Need a refresher on what “de-designation” and “long-term commercial significance” mean? Check out this blog post.) Similar to our work in King County, we won our appeal before the Growth Management Hearings Board, but lost before the Court of Appeals. We have brought a petition for review to the State Supreme Court on this case as well. (Read the petition for review)

Read more about the appeal in our blog post.

Central to our argument was that it was illegal under the GMA for the comprehensive plan to "dedesignate" agricultural land in the county. What does "dedesignating" mean? In a nutshell, it just means changing the land use from one use to another use. So land that was previously designated as agricultural land, protecting it from development, was dedesignated, making it vulnerable to sprawl and conversion to housing or industrial uses.

The Board agreed with us that 2,521 acres of the Pasco urban growth area (UGA) expansion had been designated "Agricultural" and was agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance that must be conserved. Since the 2020 Franklin County Comprehensive Plan dedesignated this land, the plan violated the Growth Management Act. Further, since they are agricultural lands of long-term commercial significance they cannot be included at all in the urban growth area.